The reality has set in that my four-month maternity leave is ending . I have seven days left with my little man before I pack up his diaper bag and send him off to daycare. I have been a lucky woman to enjoy months, not weeks, of maternity leave. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I returned to school after only six weeks. In hindsight, I think of my colleagues who have done the same, and I should have been more sympathetic. And I didn’t even breastfeed for that long. (You know who you are Orange Hall neighbor. I owe you a Snickers when we get back.)
The fact that I will return to work shortly has inadvertently triggered a reflection of what my life as a mom has been like up until now. I have gone through such a roller coaster of emotions over the last four months. In the moments before and after Parker was born I went from actual terror about having to push a BABY out of my you-know-what, to amazement that I pushed a BABY out of my you-know-what, and that he was beautiful despite the journey he had just taken. I have been filled with an overwhelming happiness and love to be a mom. I’ve been plagued with frustration and panic that I might not survive another night. I’ve laughed as I watched Parker pee straight over his head and onto the far wall (what aim!). I was Scary Lady angry when my fancy Keurig coffee maker shit the bed at six o’clock in the morning. Today I cheered my face off when he [accidentally] rolled over onto his stomach and then purposefully rolled back the other way.
Lately, I struggle with the sadness I feel because I’ll be sending my child off to be cared for by another person. I always said that I would never want to be a stay-at-home mom. I went to school for a long time to get the education I needed to become a teacher. I also think I’ve become a pretty good teacher – although other people may tell you otherwise (I assume those people are mainly fifteen year olds who hate the fact that I assign and grade writing, I don’t let them text, tweet or act like jerks in my classroom, and I call them out in front of their peers when they text, tweet or act like jerks in my classroom). I like talking to adults. I like making other people laugh. I like pretending that I don’t like to gossip. And I like dressing up for work! If I were to stay home, would I get to do all of those things? For that reason, I always said that I didn’t think I could stay home.
And then I had a baby.
And then I realized I had some very specific ways in which I wanted to raise that baby.
Now, I need to trust a complete stranger with the task of helping me to raise my child in the way that I want him to be raised. I don’t want him to watch television. I don’t buy into the idea that babies need exersaucers, walkers, swings, and any other plethora of over-stimulating toys. I give him lots of tummy time every day. We read books even though he just eats the corner while I try to turn the page. I know what that “Mommy, I really need a nap” grumpiness looks and sounds like. He’s not on a tight schedule, but rather, he eats when it seems like he’s hungry. And now I have to put all of my faith in this woman that she will carry out my plan. Of course we’ve interviewed her and called references and I wouldn’t have chosen to put him in this child care if I didn’t feel like it was somewhere that he would thrive and be safe, but it’s still a terrifying thought that I am sure every working mother has experienced.
Strangely enough, I know that he will be safe and I’ve never questioned that part of the equation. I think this might be because I am a teacher and a life-long camp counselor and director. I know what it feels like when parents don’t trust you and think they know more than I do.
In the end, I keep telling myself that this is the best thing for me and for Parker. I think he will have social skills that I might not have been able to foster in him, had he stayed home with me all day, no matter how many play dates I set up with other stay-at-home-moms and kids. I think he might not have such a problem with attachment when he’s older, and maybe he’ll like sleeping at friends’ houses and going to summer camp. I think he’ll get a heck of a lot of energy out and maybe that will make our time together more meaningful as he gets older, because maybe I won’t just be trying to entertain him, but rather, we will devote our attention to each other. I know that the time that we WILL have together will be much more meaningful. I also know that I have my school vacations and my summers when I can steal some extra time together.
I think what makes this transition more difficult is the number of women who ask, “But won’t it be so hard/terrible/sad/dreadful to send him to daycare??” (It’s always women who have never sent their kids to daycare and they always ask you in a way that signifies multiple question marks, even though that’s not even a real thing in the English language). Gee, thanks for asking. FYI Moms who ask this question: it sucks to be asked this question. And thanks for the follow-up of, “Oh I could never do that.” Of course I feel bad! There are a multitude of reasons why parents choose daycare over living off of one salary or having Mom take a part-time job. I doubt it has ever been an easy decision for any of these families. There is nothing more belittling than telling a woman that you could never live with yourself if you had made the same decisions that she did.
But I digress. I try not to have this discussion with too many people, because quite frankly it just upsets me. Instead, I have pretend conversations with the people who have asked me about it. In those conversations I tell it like it is, and I usually get pretty heated. In reality, I always say, “yes it will be hard, but we’re ready!” At the end of the day, we’ll all survive this. Parker will do a great job, and maybe his mommy will be a little more sane than she might have been if she’d become a stay-at-home mom.
Now excuse me, I need to go set up my sleeping bag in the nursery so I can watch my son sleep. Just kidding. Maybe.