Do You Have To Work?

So there I am, at a family event (an in-law family event), sticking out like a Janis Joplin poster at a Conway Twitty concert, wondering how a city-girl, albeit moderately big city (but I cherish dreams of vanishing into obscurity in a behemoth of a city some day) married a small-town boy from a farm family.  I’m too opinionated,  too anti-authority, and too liberal to really fit in. I think some of them are a little scared of me. I might corrupt to many young minds with my high-falutin’ ways, and, honestly, I’m a pretty consistent high-faluter.
I was hanging out in a corner, overseeing an intense and heated game of Spiderman Sorry!, when I was introduced to a friend of my husband’s uncle. She was a bright interesting woman, with a ready smile, and I liked her. We chatted away about kids, board games, and the weather, until she sprang the question, in a sympathetic and warm-hearted way, “Do you get to stay at home with the kids, or do you have to work?”
Now, I’m no shrinking violet. I’ve done my time. All told, I’ve spent 12 years as a stay-at-home parent. 7 years with the first family, and 5 years with the next. I’ve wiped bums and noses, made more grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches than should be legal, organized, and avoided, play-dates, and seen enough episodes of Barney and Caillou to drive me to the verge of hari-kiri, but, after years of miserable self-sacrifice, and even more miserable moaning about it, I still felt the soul-compressing guilt of going back to work.  If it wasn’t for my husband, who forcibly insisted I work, and friends who told me if I didn’t go back to work they’d hurt me, I might have let my guilt, and the looks on people’s faces that told me I’m only a good mother when I am with my kids 24 hours a day, keep me home. 
So here is my answer: It’s not easy. But for me, now, today, it’s not do I get to stay home? It’s do I have to, do I really have to stay home?   
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