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A Mommy Divided

Madeleine’s six months now, and I’ve been back working a couple nights a week while Brian watches her since she was four months old.  When I first started back, I really looked forward to leaving the house, getting out and mixing with adults, using a different part of my brain than the area required to do all the silly voices for Bear Snores On.  I also felt liberated to be back in the work force; not in a burn-your-bra, I’m-as-good-as-a-man sort of way, but in an actual released-on-parole sort of way.

This is making me sound like a horrible mother who doesn’t love her child, so let me go back one more step before I go forward.

When Maddie was maybe six or eight weeks old, I was pumping and keeping bottles on hand so I could get out of the house briefly for grocery shopping and such.  I naively thought it would be ok; Brian’s hugely hands-on with her and a better parent in many ways than I am.  But she’d melt down, crying inconsolably, and the only thing that would fix it would be me.  Brian and my mother tried to imitate the way I held her, the way I rocked her, everything, and nothing worked.  She was at the height of her colic stage and when she got worked up enough, nothing brought her down from the ledge except for me.

Far from being flattered, I felt trapped.  It’s one thing to be highly desired by someone; it’s another entirely to be so nakedly needed, so unambiguously necessary in their life.  The stress of being unable to go to the gym for a swim or run to the post office without her was intense, and I envisioned a future that was just more of the same and panicked.  I was sure that Brian wasn’t trying hard enough or long enough before surrendering and handing her back to me, when the reality was that I was all she’d known for nine months and I was what she needed.  If someone could have pointed to a date in the future – say, three months – and say, “By this age she’ll be fine.  You’ll be more independent, I promise,” I could have handled it better.  But there was no way of knowing that’d be the case (though my girlfriends all assured me it would.)

So when I started planning my return to limited teaching, it was as if I was reopening a door that had been shut for a while; I wasn’t trading off one part of my life for a new one in having a baby, I was adding another facet to it.   I could do this!  Work!  Motherhood!  Wifedom!  I will have a little nibble of every slice of cake.

But here’s the kicker – by the time I went back to work, I didn’t want to so much.  Maddie and I found our groove, and I started seeing days with nothing to do but be with her and take care of our household not as endless repetitive drudgery, but luxurious pearls stretched out before me.  I fell deeper in love with my daughter, and work was not the exciting thing I thought it’d be.

Why am I talking about this now?  Because I worked a 9-5 day today, and will again for the next two days. 

I’m teaching a special course that I often taught pre-Maddie.  The income definitely helps and I get to mentally stretch myself again.  My mom agreed to take three vacation days and watch Madeleine for us, and yes, I know, I’m incredibly lucky.  But I don’t feel as satisfied, as fulfilled as I think I should.  I walked away from the house today before she awoke and missed two nursings, two fruits, a vegetable, two naps, one stroller walk, and who knows what else.  I missed her warm sweetness when she first wakes up, her cackling delight during book time, her exhilarating crowing during our walks, her trusting head burrowing when she was ready for a nap.  I missed her.  And what will I miss tomorrow?  I’m terrified I’ll miss the first tooth, the first crawl.

I don’t know what the solution is here for me, how to satisfy all the different parts of myself.  How can I be a full-time mother, yet keep the “work” me mentally in shape?  How can I feel my unencumbered joy at having an hour to walk around the city and shop without being laden with stroller et al, and yet be with her every moment as I often long to be?  I know that our generation of mommies has acknowledged the fallacy of the idea that we can have it “all”; we know that any solution we come up with comes with consequences and really, nothing is ideal.  In those moments of mommy despair, when you look down that long corridor of your future and see nothing but being known as someone’s mommy, you ask yourself,

“Who am I and how do I let that person out?”   One of my girlfriends called me sobbing when her second child was only four weeks old, saying, “What on earth am I doing with my life?  Is this all that I will be forever?”

I obviously don’t have the answers.  I wish I did.  Once I got to work, I truly enjoyed teaching again and even had a blast doing a bit of holiday shopping on my way home.  But I’m not going to lie to you; on the way home, my steps quickened as I walked the final stretch, and I can’t say for certain that I wasn’t jogging the last block.


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