Before we get to that though, let’s talk about my tribute band. It might be in my head. But here’s the thing: friends of ours named their daughter Emma. They say it had nothing to do with me – family name, blah blah blah – but I’m just saying, she’s named Emma, I’m named Emma… You do the math.
There are a lot of other tiny Emmas floating around out there too: “Emma” has been a top baby name pick for four or five years now. Some of them are bound to meet up with each other eventually, some of those are going to take up the tambourine and what not, and voila: my tribute band. They don’t have to know me for it to be a tribute band: my influence as the older Emma is just a felt thing, don’t you think? Yeah. It is.
Until that time though, Emma’s headed to a share care while her mom goes back to teaching. (Share care is where two or more kiddies’ families hire a single nanny who watches the kids together in one of their homes.) Most moms I know were upset to head back to work and I would’ve been too, especially since I’d have been heading back to a job I didn’t feel was that important to the world or my identity. (I mean, yes, who doesn’t want a potato ricer? But let’s not pretend world peace depends on it. Also: I don’t like to cook, so there goes the global and the personal relevance.)
I hope most of us believe firmly that moms should be able to head back to their jobs without a burden of guilt about leaving their kids to be cared for by others. (For every piece of research suggesting worse outcomes for kids in day care, there’s another one saying that’s bunk, so clearly there’s no one conclusion.) That set aside, even the moms I know who love their jobs have had a hard time heading back, a lot of them an unexpectedly hard time. Babies are much more attractive than you think they’re going to be before you have them. They’re interesting companions and they need a lot of attention that – surprising to some of us, myself included – you actually would like to give them. So heading out the door for most of their waking hours five days a week is a big adjustment after months of full-time care and company.
I never thought I’d want to be a full-time mother, but that’s mostly because I had a lot of hang-ups about being a mother at all. (“Had” might not be 100% accurate, but the ones I have now are about the “how” not the “at all.”) But through coincidence and choice, I am. I won’t lie: taking on a high-stakes 80-hour/week job with little to no supervision or guidance is a hard transition when you’ve been a successful professional in a completely different field for several years. There are days when the learning curve seems too steep to climb, and it seems like the sane choice for everyone would be to hand off my responsibilities to the real professionals. You know: the ones who like to cook tiny meals and know how to check for broken bones.
But parenting is about the long game, not the six-month project. You’re going for a general target of “happy and healthy” which is tough to define and hard to measure as you go. Mistakes are inevitable, and, disconcertingly, the ones you can identify are rarely the ones that your little ones remember to hold against you. So, as far as I can tell, you’re shooting for generalities, best of the current choices, and constantly trying to loosen your grip, ease up, just be with the baby, let her be who she’s going to be.
It’s a good lesson, that grip-loosening, for someone like me – one I anticipated as being the most challenging and beneficial for me specifically, in becoming a parent. Growing up with as much uncertainty and conflict as I did, I have a preference for “safe and certain” on the home front. I like reliable people. I don’t, in general, like surprises. (At least not in scheduling. Expensive gifts are fine. Parties? Yes. Last-minute changes to plans? No. Unless it’s a party. With presents. Then go ahead. Don’t let me stop you. Really. My birthday’s in a month. Go for it.)
I’m not an iron grip girl. Privately though, between myself and myself, I like to know where my hand rests steadily. It took some years to sort that out and still takes some time and quiet to reassure myself that I’m on-course, especially after a destabilization, a panic, or a surge into new circumstances. I just wasn’t raised to feel naturally steady, so it takes some work.
Babies aren’t big on the steady though, nor on the quiet and reliable. And panic is a big thing when you’re trying to keep someone small, fast and interested in electrical sockets alive. Flexibility is the name of the game. It’s a very hard game. For anyone, I imagine, and especially for people like me. Going back to work, getting my bearings a few hours a day, being in a predictable familiar environment would be very welcome. But I decided to leave the work I used to do and take on something more important to me, writing, and then, almost immediately something else important, parenting. So on we forge, creating a new career, a new set of bearings, while simultaneously flexing (almost flat sometimes) with good-natured A.
It’s a heavy lift all at once. I’m struggling, particularly with the move to a new home thrown in. But it’s a good choice for me, for us, for A., I think. For now. We’ll see what the spring brings, besides flowers and earlier sun, which will both be welcome.
So to the moms heading back to work, bon voyage and good luck. All will be well. To the moms staying home, let’s sort out our schedules to get some coffee because this new job is keeping me up nights.