Restoration

Today, our baby started daycare. On the door to the infants’ room, there was a large, colorful welcome sign with his name. This was sure to be an emotional day for me, but I didn’t expect to tear up at such a simple gesture. After I kissed him goodbye, he watched curiously as we walked out of the room and closed the door behind us, not seeming remotely as sad as I was.

I know the staff will do their best to take good care of him. I know he will behave, because he is an easygoing and happy kid. I was only nervous about whether he would eat (he refused bottles from us for weeks) and sleep (at home, he often needs to be rocked, and sometimes only wants to nap on us)—but thankfully, he did both. Not much, but he will learn and adapt.

This was the first day in almost twelve weeks that I was away from the baby for more than three hours. Throughout my leave, I have sought out simple activities to feel more like a “normal person” and less like a mommy robot: reading, writing, hitting the gym, walking around town, having friends over to visit, and going out to malls and restaurants. Physically, I’m almost back to my pre-pregnancy self; I’ve lost 40 of 46 pounds, gotten my mile time under eleven minutes (I was never very fast, anyway), and steadily lifted more weight. Yet I was always glancing at the baby every few minutes if he was in sight, or listening for a cry or panicked phone call if he wasn’t. I have spent so much time researching baby behavior and reading baby articles and chatting with other moms of newborns that I fear I no longer have anything to say about other matters. Today gave me the first glimmer of hope that I could have non-baby thoughts and be my own person again.

On Monday, I will be heading back to my office in the city. The restoration to my “regular life” will be complete, with minor adjustments. I will need to put work on pause three times a day to produce sustenance for our child. I will be working from home twice a week to manage miscellaneous chores and errands, have some alone time, and maybe pick up the baby early if I get all my work done quickly. Every weeknight, we will need to prepare bottles and pack a bag for daycare. But I will be working full-time again, and I am really looking forward to it. My company is incredible, and I am pretty darn good at my job.

Being a parent, I’ve learned, means being an interpreter, food safety expert, physical therapist, manicurist, personal shopper, and even (possibly—but hopefully it never becomes necessary for us) entomologist. It comes with plenty of mental and emotional challenges. I miss the types of challenges I would face at my job, though. I found them more interesting, and—much as I hate to admit it—I feel better equipped to handle them. Being a stay-at-home parent has worn me down more than I expected. Every day is fourteen solid hours of cycling through feeding, entertaining, diaper changing, and coercing into a nap. Going out adds variety and reduces loneliness, but I still feel so burnt out by the evening.

I think I would love the homemaker life once our child is old enough to talk and be less needy, because I do enjoy spending time with him, meal planning, cooking, cleaning, and so on. Part of me feels weak for not embracing that life today, for throwing him in daycare so I can run away to another state for eight and a half hours a day. At the same time, I know working will make me happier and saner—at least for now. Who knows if I will still feel this way five or ten years down the line? As little as one year ago, I never would have imagined I would be having these thoughts or living this life. We learn and adapt.

Maternity Leave

nine weeks since I last went to New York
and it only really hit me just now—
I miss walking up and down city streets, the energy
of all those busy people, the freedom
to go anywhere the night takes you, the sense
that anything could happen.

here, it was silent as nap time for several blocks.
you were the liveliest thing in sight, your little head and big eyes
swiveling urgently to drink in the face of every building and human,
this suburb more exciting to you than any city you had yet to see,
a new and different energy.

five weeks until I go back to work
(though it’ll never again feel like going to New York)—
and we won’t be able to do these daily strolls anymore.
like this golden hour, your memory of them will fade
and I can’t decide if the end of this leave
is the falling night or rising dawn.