November 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
Before I went back to work, I had an existential crisis. Sometimes when Max was on the floor and it was about 3pm (always my blue hour), I would have this sinking feeling: the weight of the decision. Would I be a working mom or not? I built the option up until it became a metaphor for too many things, rather than the answer to a simple question: what will make Isabel happy?
I turned the choice into a symbol of women’s liberation and personal power; a reflection of my ego; a projection of whether or not I could ‘handle’ it all; whether or not I was cut out to be the person I’d spent years preparing to be. And if I did go, would Max would replace his attachment to me?; would he would remember the house as empty, his mother a shadow? Would he remember my absence more than my presence?
I fleshed this character out in two variations. In the first drama, I wore clogs, trimmed herb bushes in the country, baked pies and set holiday tables. At evening’s end, I would blow out the candles, smiling with satisfaction, thinking of all the many children asleep upstairs in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.
In the second version, I rushed through the echoing halls of a court room, wearing a pants suit and uttering a perfectly timed “Objection!” And then I would eat takeout alone on the living room floor after the nanny put the kids to sleep.
And, of course, I would unfurl this projection into not just five or ten years hence, but into thirty, even forty years forward. I saw the herb-cutter as sad and lonesome–a member of one too many garden clubs, and one too many volunteer projects. I saw the frazzled lawyer as the head of an organization–happy to see her kids off and independent, not longing at all to refill the empty bedrooms of her now cavernous house. These are elaborately false images, I know, but when I project I really put my back into it.
By the end of the summer, as my deadline to return loomed, the weight of the decision brought me down. It dampened the good time I was having with Max because it was all I could think about. When I would choose to go or not go, things got easy again. But something would inevitably pop up and change my mind. The gears scrapped and ground against each other every time I had to shift my “identity” to accommodate the alternate choice. Homemade pies or Hearings and Trials. A lonesome empty nest or a personal renaissance upon sending Max to college.
Honestly, if I hadn’t gone back to work, I would be happy. Life would be fun and rewarding. I wouldn’t feel shot out of a cannon at 5:30 every morning, and we’d eat scrambled eggs less often for dinner. I would read books during Max’s naps and play and go to museums and see friends with little people. I might even have an herb garden. But I would still be chewing on the idea of work vs. not work. Because I am not good with quiet–even though I’d like to be. When I have the time, I think myself into oblivion, driving my mind into remote, theoretical places.
What I didn’t see, despite all of my projections, was that doing what I love enhances my mothering. I would rather miss Max than resent him, or indulge in a frustrated debate about the meaning of life. Work keeps me from doing that. Instead of worrying about my purpose in the world, I’m worrying about how to pick up a rotisserie chicken on my way home. I feel grateful for the simplicity of that concern.
Recently, I was riding the subway home and it all came together. Nobody has a perfect life, I thought. Nobody gets everything he or she wants. But my life is 90% what I want it to be. Yes, I wish I could give Max his baths and go to farmer’s markets. Instead, I have a fulfilling career. For me, it’s pretty simple: better to go to work in the morning than to have an extended existential crisis.
And, happily, I have not had to eat takeout alone on the floor.
November 5, 2014 Enter your password to view comments.
October 18, 2014 § 4 Comments
Going to work has been a wonderful experience for me. I can’t believe that I worried about it as much as I did. Those of you who know me know that I tortured myself (and anyone who would listen) over the prospect of returning.
We could make it work financially for me to stay home. I loved being home. Why would I mess it up? But at one point, my mother wisely asked: “Why put a limit on your happiness? Why assume there’s a cap?”
She knows me well. She knows my curious brain, my competitive spirit, my need to work with people and to cross things off a to-do list.
Still, I loved the motherhood to-do’s: for the first time in my life, I got (most of) my thank-you notes written on time, bought all the groceries, and put dinner on the table every night. I wrote a lot. I got into great shape. I was really happy.
But I worried about losing my currency and my relevance. I worried about getting stir crazy this winter. I worried that I might look back and regret letting go of a really great opportunity. At one point, (before Max was an apple in anyone’s eye) I burned with excitement about being an ADA. That version of me was still viable. I worried that she might come out later–maybe even years later–resentful of having been ignored.
Then again, what if I missed Max’s first words, his first steps, or worse, important falls that required a doctor’s attention? Would it feel like death by a thousand paper cuts to know that I was missing those quotidian events?
I went back and forth on those considerations for months. The indecision made me nuts and it made me blue. It started getting in the way of the time I did have with Max. Ultimately, I realized that I’d never know what the choice really was if I didn’t go back to work.
So I went. And for right now, it’s great. Mom was right: I am even happier now than I was before–and I didn’t believe that was possible.
Here are a couple of the things that feel especially good about working:
1. The time I spend with Max is all special. When I was home with him, it was special, too, of course. But now, it feels precious. I feel hungry for our time. When I leave him, I want to stay. When he goes to bed, I can’t wait for the morning. I remember every minute because they are all charged with meaning.
2. I have become hyper-efficient. My friend Sarah pointed this out recently, and she was right: when you are balancing work and a family life, every minute gets used–most of them for multiple purposes. I play on the floor with Max while putting on my makeup in the morning. I jog with the dog and the baby on the evenings when I get home with light left in the day. I pump and write direct examinations. I catch up on calls while doing the dishes (sorry to those of you on the other line, I know that the tap sounds like Niagra Falls over the phone). I know that multi-tasking can be the death knell for “being present,” but for the moment, I feel alert and purposeful.
3. As a corollary to the above, I realize just how much I am capable of. I feel like Wonder Woman when I get in bed at night. Yes, I have to do more around the house because I get home earlier than Christopher, and yes, sometimes I put on my martyr shroud about that. But for the most part, I feel satisfied and empowered.
4. I worry less. I read about this in an article on the Huffington Post by Lisa Endlich Heffernan. Lisa writes about why she regrets being a stay at home mom (note: a very good counter-piece was written in response by Jamie Davis Smith.) I don’t know how I’ll feel about this decision in twenty years, or even if I’ll keep working for the rest of Max’s young life, but I can relate to Lisa on this one.
Part of the benefit of staying home was that I put everything into Max and our home life. It was an integrated and rewarding feeling. And I do miss being the person to make every decision about his day. The downside of that, though, was that I put nearly all of my focus on his well-being. Sometimes, I let this take a negative turn: I had the time to let my mind wander down various dark tunnels, imagining a series of grizzly and terrifying scenarios. (See: The Under Toad.) Don’t get me wrong… I still think constantly about my family’s safety and happiness. But I have a lot less time to develop dark, terrifying fantasies about all of our mortality. And that is a good thing.
5. I put less pressure on my family. For example, I no longer feel or sad if Christopher can’t get home in time for dinner. I love to eat with him, but our meal isn’t the ne plus ultra of my day, as it was before. My life has a trajectory outside of the apartment, and that takes some pressure off of the other people who live here. That is also a good thing.
Obviously, all of this may change. For now, Max’s needs are simple. He naps, he plays on the floor, he takes a bottle and a bowl of fruit and vegetable mash. He is not acting out or getting bullied in school. My job hasn’t progressed to the point of deep-stress (as I’m sure it will at times). If those variables were on the table, I’m sure my point of view would be different. But for now, working works. I can’t believe my luck.
October 8, 2014 Enter your password to view comments.
September 22, 2014 § 3 Comments
I just finished reading The World According to Garp by John Irving. Have you read it? I found it more difficult to get through than some of his other books (one of my favorites is A Widow for One Year). I thought Garp an unsympathetic hero. But I would recommend the book, in the end, just because Irving is such an adept storyteller.
Irving writes a lot about parenting and the fear of losing a child. In this book, one of Garp’s two boys, Walt, is often warned about the undertow at his grandmother’s house by the sea. Later, Garp and his wife, Helen, realize that Walt thought all along that there was a toad under the water, waiting to eat him up. The under toad.
Eventually, the term becomes something Garp and Helen refer to when they feel foreboding. I think that’s wonderful–the best part of the book, in my opinion.
I have been feeling a lot of under toad lately. If you are awake at 3am, give me a ring. I’ll be up, thinking about brain aneurisms, drowning, car accidents, dog bites, etc. By 4am, I’ll be worrying that I’m actually manifesting this parade of horribles by thinking about it so much.
I had an illuminating conversation with my dear friend Kinnon yesterday about this. (Interestingly, she’s also the person who recommended A Widow for One Year.) She told me about her brother’s friend, who was recently killed on a bicycle. I spend many hours imagining Christopher in a bicycle accident. I told Kinnon about that fear, and also about the under toad who creeps up under my bed at night and stays too long. She said something really smart. To paraphrase: “Isn’t it nice that when we can’t reach our husbands, we think they’ve been in an accident instead of assuming they’re off having an affair?” And that’s true: I’m so glad my under toad is a safety monster, not an infidelity monster. That’s something to be grateful for.
We also talked about separating the dread from the reality. Just because I can invent things to worry about doesn’t mean they’re foreshadowing a tragedy. Sometimes, it’s just my mind, spinning and spinning and spinning. It doesn’t have to be more than that. And what’s the point of spinning for spinning’s sake?
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to stop worrying about hypotheticals, which I fear (there I go again!) could be a terrible habit in the making. And it might only get worse: imagine when Max is riding bicycles! Or driving a car!! I don’t want to be the kind of mother who frets and nags, or the kind of person who keeps herself awake. So, I’m going to try something: when I start feeling the pull of that dread, I’m going to count my blessings instead of my fears. I’ll think in elaborate detail about the wonderful people in my life, rather than envisioning their broken bones or hospital rooms. Maybe I can manifest more good things that way. Or maybe not. But no matter what, I’ll get more sleep.
September 16, 2014 § 8 Comments
I don’t want to hit you with a snark attack here, but I have to say a few things about a blog that I discovered two weeks ago. Princess Burlap has changed my life. I found the blog through an ad on another site. It was promoted by a little brown panel with pastel cursive that read: “Autistic husband. Beffudled ovaries. A love story.” And I thought it was some wonderful wit making fun of women’s bloggery. Until I went there, and I realized… no.
The only thing I find more mind boggling than Princess Burlap is the mommy blog upon which her ad floated. I’m not sure why I was there, really, but I can picture myself now, bug-eyed and transfixed, thinking: how does this woman think it’s appropriate to turn her five babies into internet darlings? Is there nothing sacred?
And then I thought, Oh shit.
Yes, yes, we can all agree that Max is way cuter than most e-babies, but still. Does the web need another doting mother? I know my blog isn’t garnering a million views a day, but even so, I feel compelled to scale back. Discretion is the theme: I don’t want my life to be a public life. I have purposely chosen a career where being public for public’s sake is not part of the game.
Also, I am going back to work in two weeks (!) and I will be working as a civil servant. Specifically, as a prosecutor in one of the busiest offices in New York. (Read: in a county with lots of crime.) The courthouse is a public space, where anyone can visit. And, when there’s a trial, people turn out. In droves. Anyone can follow a prosecutor home. At the end of the day, we ADAs are just people, walking out of the security gates, and away from the peace officers, and down into the subway. We are dispersed by these veins and arteries through the body of New York. I will not be protected when I leave work, and I want my family to be sheltered from the ancillary public aspect of what I do. I don’t want Max or Christopher to have living profiles online–at least not profiles perpetuated by me.
Another piece of this, and the one that various mom blogs–or would-be mom blogs–have me considering, is that Max did not choose this. If Max wants me to work to propel him to Internet stardom someday, then he and I can have that discussion. (To that end, I will encourage him to find help in someone who at least maintains a facebook account.) I’ve been able to control how much I share about myself and my family in this space. But Max has not had that ability. Perhaps he’d make different choices about what to reveal, and what to withhold. The point is: who am I to say? If I have to ask myself that question, I probably ought to shut up.
The purpose of this blog was never to garner readership, although I am so happy and grateful that a few of you seem to come back. Instead I write here to hold myself accountable to memorializing this special time. So, I will keep writing it, but I will mark the posts with photos and personal stories as private. If you’d like to read those, please email me. I will figure out a way to share them.
With love and gratitude to all.
September 4, 2014 § 4 Comments
This month has been so much fun in the land of Max. His growth and curiosity are so headlong, I have trouble keeping apace.
The most exciting development is that we often have dinner as a family. (!) Max frequently has his solid food supper at 6:30 or 7, then sits in his chair while I make a meal for Christopher and myself. If schedules align, Christopher and I can sit down for a grown-up meal at 7:30, while Max has a little teething biscuit for ‘dessert.’ Then, I do the dishes and Christopher does the bath, and Max goes down at about 8pm. Naps have gotten pushed back, too. And now there are solidly two of them, usually at 9 or 10 am (3 hours from waking) and at 2 or 3pm.
Max is eating all and sundry. He’s had whole eggs, almond butter, olive oil, flax seeds and dates mixed in with his yogurts, fruits and vegetables. My strategy is mostly this: mix a packet of organic, pre-made baby food with either yogurt or baby rice cereal and then add in some fresh fruits if I have them–mostly mushed banana, peach or avocado. I always add a bit of fat, too, so that his meals tide him over. Max especially likes wheat germ toasted with butter and mixed with peaches and yogurt. I definitely stole a few bites from that bowl.
I have noted that Max eats much more enthusiastically when he has little puffs to administer himself between spoon-feeding. So, he always has a little smattering of baby cereal on his tray, and he’s gotten very adept at moving them around with his pointer fingers and grabbing them between his pointer and his thumb. I often see him dropping them on the floor when Lupe lingers around (as she always does). I thought it might be purely accidental, until yesterday, when he put one of his baby puffs directly into my mouth. I saw him lifting it up towards me, so I opened wide, and in it went. You’ll understand the thrill of that moment if you’ve ever had a baby. If not, it must seem outlandishly trivial.
The high chair has really been the hot seat of interaction, because he’s tethered to it and isn’t off exploring. Max slaps the tray when he wants more to eat, bounces up and down with excitement, and raises his arms to reach for you when you’re too far away. The reaching has also turned into an ambiguous wave, and I am hoping he’ll get there soon. I think my knees will buckle the first time he actually greets me by waving.
The rest of the time, Max is a wildly enthused explorer. I find him disassembling all manner of things around the house–boxes, humidifiers, stacks of books–and then putting most of the bits into his mouth. I let him, mostly, but I do draw the line at knocking over garbage cans and chewing on their contents or rims. He finds that irresistible.
Also, Max is lifting and lowering himself successfully along many surfaces, and I love that he doesn’t seem afraid of falling in the least. It makes me realize that 1) he’s brave and 2) he’s been successfully protected. Someone swoops in to catch him before he falls almost every time. Still, there have been some tumbles, and that devastating ‘knock’ of his head against the floor or a wall, which I’ve realized, tends to make the fall sound worse than it is.
Finally, a few details: Max no longer abides the changing table. He twists and turns like a pinned down wild animal, and often I have to wipe his butt while he stands on all fours on top of the dresser. He prefers to ride in his carriage standing up and turned around, which I let him do as long as someone can hold onto his t-shirt. He has nearly 5 teeth. He can climb up stairs and slide down slides. He’s a little kid, in the making.