Mother at home

Sunday, January 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:32 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

‘Do you want to read the story with me?” Traci Stiles asks her 3-year-old daughter, Gillian, while brushing the bangs back from the child’s eyes.

Within seconds, the story of Madeline comes to life in a mother-daughter chorus. Traci and Gillian say the words at the same time, their voices rising and falling like music. Traci holds the book while Gillian snuggles next to her, arms wrapped around her teddy bear. Gillian’s 4-month-old sister, Libby, gurgles happily on the floor.

Halfway through the book, Gillian stops and thrusts her small finger at her mother’s face.

“Mommy, you have to kiss,” she demands.

“An ow-ee?” Traci asks, tenderly taking hold of the injured hand.

“Yes.” Gillian is satisfied with the power of Mommy’s kiss, and they continue reading.

Though her eyes often leave the page, Gillian’s lips never stop moving until the end of the story. She has it perfectly memorized after reading it several times a week for four months. “Madeline” was given to her as a big-sister present when Libby was born, and it’s one of Gillian’s favorites.

Traci Stiles didn’t always plan to be an at-home mother. Though she knew she wanted children, she didn’t know whether she wanted to be at home with them full time. Traci worked in public relations until Gillian turned 2, when she decided to make the transition.

“I felt like I was missing out on a lot going on with her,” Traci says. “I was missing her.”

So Traci talked her husband, Michael Stiles, into the change. Rather than rushing off to day-care and then to the office, Traci now rushes around getting her girls dressed, fed and entertained. Breakfast is closely followed by lunch, naps, trips to the library or the park or play groups. Days are packed.

“Once you get into the routine, you’re more comfortable with what you’re doing and why you’re here,” Traci says.

Of course, there are crazy days — days when she has to fight Gillian to get her to eat breakfast, when she can’t get dressed until noon, when just getting somewhere is a battle. “You just feel like you’re going stark-raving mad,” Traci says.

When that happens, she reaches out to other at-home mothers. “When you have a shared experience with another stay-at-home mom, it makes you feel like you’re not alone,” Traci says.

The little things that come up during the day make her decision worthwhile, like when Gillian makes up words or shares her 3-year-old’s vision of the world — such as calling the Christmas wreath on the door the “round Christmas tree.”

“I just like being here and seeing all the nuances of her personality come out,” Traci says.

Traci tries to do something with crafts every day. On this day, after “Madeline” is finished, Gillian and Traci pull out the Playdough and Gillian takes off creating hearts and horses. Her imagination galloping, Gillian tells her mom about the giant mouse she’s molding. Meanwhile, Libby relaxes into her mother’s lap, her blue eyes following Big Sister’s every move.

Traci imagines she’ll return to work outside the home when the kids start school, possibly going into teaching. But today Libby needs to be changed, then fed, and Gillian needs a snack.

“I’m never off work,” Traci says. “I’m always on call.”

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