April 14, 2015 § 2 Comments
It was a difficult winter and I’ve neglected to post. I’ve neglected many things. Like haircuts: I’ve had a single trim since I started work in September. I rarely food shop anymore. Instead I buy things piecemeal at the 24 hour bodega, or go late at night to the regular grocery store to avoid losing sacred weekend time. For all its fluorescence, a grocery store at 10 pm (only in NY) feels like a catacomb. But on the plus side, shopping now doubles as exercise. Same with walking 5 blocks from the office to court. I now consider making copies calisthenics.
…To say nothing of my friends. I try to write emails on the subway, but often I forget, or I just can’t think of anything worthwhile to say. My husband suffers a similar neglect. I am an introvert to begin with, so by the time the criminal justice system and the 16 month old are through with me, you can imagine how much I have left.
I do not have time to write anymore, or even to think, except while I am on the train. I scribble into a spiral notebook and do my contemplating on my hour commute in the morning, and then again at night. I should tell you, there are madman on the train, talking to themselves, shouting at the walls, twitching. There are musicians singing or playing and grating on my nerves (even the good ones). There are women cleaving their stilettos between the frangible bones of my feet. If I’m being honest, it doesn’t feel like the ideal space for creative, wholesome thinking.
You’ll forgive me this listicle of complaints, I hope. I only mean to say: working in this way isn’t working anymore. I love my job. Actually, it’s the first job I can say I’ve ever loved. It’s exciting and multi-dimensional and fraught with tension and it keeps me from giving life to my own nonsensical preoccupations, which is a BIG FAT PLUS.
Except, it’s a scorched earth situation. The job extinguishes my peevish inner voice…and everything else.
I am a bookend mom. An hour in the morning, an hour at night. And even though I enjoy just about the most humane schedule a young lawyer could have, I have no room for the things that make me sing. There is no room for the world to resonate with me, or for me to resonate with the world.
Also, I’m just about the luckiest parent alive (although I may not be unique in feeling that way). Max enchants me. And the world does the same for him. Everything is magical: manholes, twigs, magnets, empty yogurt cups, naked lightbulbs. His laugh sounds like a bell. He is the purest person I’ve ever met, and he’s my son. Sometimes, when that thought hits me all at once, I feel like sitting down to catch my breath.
Meanwhile, he runs around, speaking some combination of English words and Max-isms, pointing at things and stating, with apparent authority: “Mama, Dada, meomay, miche.”
I’d be lying if it didn’t mean something to me when people call and say, “Counselor?” Or when a judge turns to me and says, “People?” To be the people is very appealing, as I’m sure you can imagine. I love the courtroom smells: ancient wooden benches, old tinging radiators, and everything coated in bleach. It’s pre-war New York, through and through. Part of me enjoys descending into the tubes and emerging in a different world–a different self.
But all of that entails a lot of forgetting–suspending one role in favor of another. And gradually, to my horror, and against my best efforts, one role takes over.
When I became a mom, I was stunned by what if felt like to live for another person. I’m sure for some parents, particularly those with fewer hours or greater capacity, parenting and working can balance each other out. But the way my game is set up, they don’t… at least not for me.
I am choosing: every day I descend into the subway and play role at the expense of another. I feel my mothering recede, I put it aside, and I don’t think about it until my short hour before Max sleeps. I feel myself becoming inured to the separation. It breaks my heart, that forgetting. I ask myself: am I doing what I ought to be doing if it hurts this much to think about?
February 13, 2015 Enter your password to view comments.
January 5, 2015 § 2 Comments
It just gets better. We got lucky: happiness is Max’s default mode. He expresses it most often now by scrunching up his nose and grinning. If you don’t make a commensurate expression, he’ll wait for it, face frozen. I’ve heard this referred to as first child syndrome.
But if he gets a glut of attention, he gives it back… to everybody–especially old ladies in surrounding church pews. One of these, Barbara, recently took us aside to say she always goes to the 5:45pm mass and would we please try to go then as well, just so she could see his scrunchy smile?
Max in church is a delight and a liability. This morning (alas, Barbara, the 5:45 falls squarely during his dinner and is the mass of last resort) he pulled off his sock, slid off my lap and started running down the aisle towards the alter. Before the service had started a (curmudgeonly) couple moved up several pews to get away from Max’s noisemaking. It was hard to ignore this crusty pair giving us the hairy eyeball as Max careened towards the host, which had recently been brought up and was teetering in holy hands as it was lifted to the air. I caught Max just in time, but we were definitely getting more attention than the priest. As I picked him up and brought him back down the aisle, he raised his arms to the sky and squealed a blessing to all the congregants.
As I mentioned, he’s running. In the last two weeks he went from wobbling to sprinting, although he still moves along with his arms straight out in front of him like Lurch. Christopher calls him “Frankenbaby.”
He especially loves to be chased. Is this hardwired into the humanoid? It must be, because we did nothing to teach him the game. I can imagine the thrill he gets when one or both of us is coming at him growling, “I”m gonna get you.” He howls with excitement and then burrows his face into whatever pair of shins arrives first. Often, the chase is percipitated by Max grabbing something, pretending to pass it, then snatching it back just before the handover is complete. And then, he runs.
I think Max’s walking has made things easier on Lupe, too. She spent some time at Grandma’s house in Connecticut because she was terrorizing the nanny and everybody who came through the door. She also barked sharply at Max a few times when he surprised her by sitting on her tail, which was odd because she also took to licking him with so much enthusiasm that his whole head would be wet. Her behavior worried us a lot: we had her hearing checked and her eyes checked and the vet suggested that she might simply be confused about her place in this new dynamic. Fair enough–she’s been with Christopher and I since 2007 and has had the run of the place. Then comes a peeping, hooting creature about whom she feels both protective and jealous, plus working parents and a new nanny. Happily, she seems much calmer since her return on Friday. Perhaps Max’s two-leggedness helps her understand that he is a person, not a large creeping squeak toy.
In a tie for my two favorite new affectations are: 1) Max saying, “Mom, mom mom,” every time he wants to eat or sleep or take a bath and 2) Max shoving the crown of his head into everything and everybody to express his affection. A few weeks ago Mom went with him to music class and reported that he did this loving headbutt to a peer, wrapping his arms around her, kissing her face and shoving his head into her chest. If I’d have been there I would have surely felt jealous of Celine, my 12 month old competition. I might have whispered in his ear, as soon as she started shaking her maraca, “Sure, she’s cute, but who’s going to go home and smear Desitin you-know-where?
December 18, 2014 § 3 Comments
It’s been a month of firsts. The only one I can say for sure happened on December 2nd, and that was the birthday–and the birthday cupcake.
It was a tiny little thing, which I bought from the local bakery the morning of. It was too small for the “1” candle I bought months ago, in anticipation of Max’s birthday. Anyway, I remember clearly his first dessert. But otherwise, I’ve found firsts elusive.
On the biggest developmental front, we’ve got steps and we’ve got words. But they’ve evolved so smoothly that I can’t recall the first of either. Max’s first steps were hardly the Chariots of Fire event I envisioned. It was more like, pet pet, plop. Or even just one pet and a plop. And so many of those first steps were camouflaged by Max holding onto the side of the couch and perhaps–for a second–letting go as momentum carried him forward. I can say, though, that on December 17th, he really took off, as if he woke up that morning and decided, “I’m going to walk across the room.”
And I wonder with the words, too. At what point does baby babble, which has always been a muddle of consonants and vowels, become speech? It has for us recently (I think), as we’ve noticed Max pointing at Christopher and saying “Dadadada,” or reaching for me and saying, “Mumomumoma,” or looking at the pup and saying, “Do.” And surely those are word-ish expressions, though I can’t say with any confidence which one came first–and not just because I am a diplomatic wife.
I have to work against the impulse to hoard these experiences. I wanted to be there for the first steps–back when I thought Max would one day recognize the power of his legs and suddenly launch himself up and away. I wanted to be there for the first thing he decided to articulate, although I suppose it’s been evident for a while that his mumbles are meaningful to him, whether or not I get the point. I would be a liar if I said I knew the moment when his language merged with my own.
Frankly, it’s a relief. Its so liberating to know that these milestones unfold, rather than springing out, unexpectedly. You don’t have to be on high alert that you’ll miss something. Milestones are reached in bits and pieces, au fur et a mesure.
Still, the milestones accrue. I’d say the first steps happened just a week or two before his birthday (these were tiny, hesitant moves–often, I didn’t know what I was looking at until they evolved into something else) and now, a few weeks later, Max can wobble, arms up to the sky, from one room to the next, like a miniature drunk.
As for the words: I’ve been told he points at pictures of us when we’re gone and says, “mama” and “dada.” I’d like to believe that’s true, although I’m acutely aware that babysitters and grandmas like to make working parents feel special upon their return home. Still, he does it when we’re with him, so I shouldn’t be so skeptical. Frankly, it’s hard to doubt or worry about anything when your child reaches for you and says your name, as if it could go on forever: “Mamamamama.”
November 23, 2014 § 3 Comments
I wrote this post on Sunday afternoon after a great weekend with Max and Christopher. I posted it. I got in bed. And then I got out of bed, crawled to my phone, and turned it back into ‘draft’ mode.
I was lying in the dark, adrift in melancholy and guilt. I’m a phony, I thought. All I could think of was how sad it would be to leave in the morning for work. I could do nothing but imagine the back of Max’s head, his uneven never-been-cut hair, and the way he cruises along the coffee table in his haphazard, lopsided way.
It was with heavy legs that I emerged from my Monday morning train. And such pathetic fallacy, too. All wetness and cold. For the first time since I returned, I wondered whether it was worth it.
And then Monday ended and Tuesday came. I got caught up in the energy of the office, of going to court, of working with new people and making new friends. I got happy again. And then I re-read the post and realized that I was not such a liar after all: there’s room for imperfection and sadness. But mostly, I’m happy. What a gift it is to know that.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
From Sunday, November 23rd:
Before I went back to work, I had an existential crisis. Sometimes when Max and I played on the floor, I would have this sinking feeling, as if pulled down by 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 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 experience the house as empty, his mother a shadow? Would he remember my absence more than my presence?
I fleshed out two variations of this drama. My first iteration wore clogs, trimmed herb bushes in the country, baked pies and set holiday tables. At evening’s end, I saw myself blowing out the candles, and smiling with satisfaction over the gaggle of children asleep upstairs.
In the second version, I imagined myself teetering in high heals all day long, pointing to the sky and shouting, “Objection!” At the end of those days, I’d eat takeout alone on the living room floor, hours after the nanny put the kids to sleep.
I would unfurl this projection not just five or ten years hence, but out thirty, even forty years forward. I saw the herb-cutter turn sad and lonesome–a member of one too many garden clubs. Meanwhile, the frazzled lawyer became increasingly satisfied: 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 dampened the good time I was having with Max. Every time I made a choice, I felt relieved and at ease. But something would inevitably pop up and change my mind again. The gears scrapped and ground against each other every time I shifted my “identity” to accommodate the alternate version of myself. Homemade pies or hearings and trials. A lonesome empty nest or a personal renaissance at the dawn of the kids’ college years.
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 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 imagining, was that doing what I love enhances my mothering. I would rather miss Max than indulge in a frustrated debate about the meaning of life–or worse, resent him for ‘keeping’ me home. Work prevents me from doing that. Instead of worrying about my purpose in the world, I’m worrying about how to pick up a rotisserie chicken when I get out of the subway. I am liberated by the simplicity of that concern. And I certainly don’t have time to imagine myself at retirement age anymore. I mean… what 30 year old imagines her 70 year old self? That can’t be healthy.
Recently, I was riding the 6 train 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. That’s pretty much a living celebration.
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.