Routine

At our baby shower, my husband and I received over forty children’s books. To prepare for the baby’s arrival, I relegated my own volumes to the lower shelves of our cabinet, and carefully arranged his new ones alphabetically by author on the higher, more accessible shelves. This was my first act of putting the baby before myself. And I thought, This is the beginning.

As parents, we instinctively put our children’s needs before our own. We feed them before ourselves, unless we are about to faint. When they are upset, we cast aside any discomfort we may be feeling to focus on making them feel better. We keep them entertained during their awake windows and postpone all else—chores, hobbies, bonding time as a couple, our own rest—until they are asleep.

On weekdays, I leave the office at 5:00 pm, but don’t get to unwind until three to four hours later—after I’ve commuted home, whipped up and scarfed down dinner, played with the baby, fed him, bathed him, administered remedies for his eczema, read him a couple stories, bid him good night, turned off the light in his room, thrown in a load of laundry, eaten dinner, and washed the dishes. Generally in that order, although it isn’t uncommon for my dinner to wait until after lights-out. My calendar indicates I lose an hour a day to pumping, but let’s be realistic: it’s more than that. Minutes seep through the cracks of context switching, and pre- and post-meeting intervals when there isn’t enough time to dive into a more complex effort. I often wind up working one to three additional hours in the evenings to make up the time. It’s also because I don’t want anyone, least of all myself, thinking people become less dedicated to work once they become mothers.

That leaves me with maybe one hour, on average, to relax with my husband before we have to go to sleep and do it all again.

It helps to work from home twice a week. I save two hours from my commute and get some time alone. But it is still so damn hard. As much as I find everything about my baby the cutest and the best—as much as I love watching him eat, giggle at our interactions, splash in the bath, and discover the world around him—the weekdays really wear me down. I have to keep reminding myself that it is only temporary. Only five nights in a week, and then we get two whole days to go out and play. In a few more weeks, the baby will feed himself better (hopefully). In a few more months, I will stop pumping, and work will be easier (also hopefully). In a few years, the kid’s bedtime will be later, and we will be able to do more together in the evenings.

The last real fun I had was in mid-September, when I went on a work trip to California. I didn’t have part of my brain constantly counting the minutes I had to make it to the station for a train that would get me home by a certain time. Instead of hurrying home after work for the bedtime routine, I could socialize with fellow adults. Best of all, when I went to bed, I didn’t worry that the baby might wake up and cry in the middle of the night. The last night of the trip, we had dinner, S’mores, and an open bar out on the beach. The party then continued in the hotel hot tub and at the bar. It reminded me of earlier, carefree, spontaneous days. Maybe it’s sad that it happened on a work trip, but I felt warmer and fuzzier than I had in a long time. Without a baby to hold or watch, or a babysitter to relieve, I could almost fully enjoy myself.

I think it’s telling, though, that I haven’t for a moment regretted such a lifestyle upheaval. I do have periods of uncertainty, stress, and feeling overwhelmed. But other than that, I only find myself looking forward to when my baby will be just a little older, so he can enjoy things like S’mores on the beach with us. It is so rewarding to see how much he’s developed and learned in only nine months, and exciting to imagine all the years he has ahead.

These tough parts are only temporary.

Hopes

Dear D,

As I watch you sleep, I wonder how you will grow and change in the years to come. I hope you turn out to be fun, outgoing, thoughtful, supportive, and analytical like your father. May you be creative, adventurous, organized, interested in cooking, and a bookworm like me.

Like any reasonable parent, I hope you do well in school and get a good job. Unlike the stereotypical Asian mom, though, I don’t care if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, tech bro, rapper, DMV clerk—as long as you can live happily by your own means. Oh, and as long as you don’t join a pyramid scheme, because then you would no longer be any child of mine.

More importantly, I hope you lead a life of fulfillment, be it from your job, relationships, hobbies, or something else. There should be something that makes you look forward to each new day. I hope you are proud and confident.

I know this means we have a lot of lines to tread carefully. As someone who grew up with a narcissistic parent, I occasionally find myself echoing certain harmful mindsets or behaviors on my own motherhood journey. I am still not done unpacking all the internalized toxicity, and I am trying to be cognizant of potentially passing it on.

So I hope I am always patient, kind, understanding, and generous with you. I hope I never make you feel bad for something outside your knowledge or control. I hope I show you the respect you deserve as your own unique person, even if you don’t turn out to be anything like us. Especially if you don’t. I hope to foster a bond with you that my parents never did with me.

I hope you perceive me as your cheerleader, not your ringleader. I hope you feel comfortable talking to us, your parents, about anything good or bad going on in your life. I hope you trust, respect, and value us. I hope you feel loved.

We have loved you so, so much since day one, and always will.

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.

Sentimentality

This may be surprising, but I am a very sentimental person. I love savoring moments present and past. When I close a chapter of my life—by graduating from a school, ending a relationship, leaving a job, and so on—I always want closure, one last good look around, a satisfying sense of neatly wrapped loose ends. I am a completionist who hates feeling as though I am missing out on part of any experience.

Parenthood exposes this aspect like an open wound that you can’t stop poking because you relish the sting. I don’t want to miss anything cute or funny or interesting from my baby. I want to catch every smile, coo, and even pout. I love holding his warm little body, looking into his wondering eyes, rubbing his soft cheeks, smelling his milky breath and his hair that smells like both mine and his father’s. Part of me hates that I’ll be going back to work full-time and will most likely miss his first steps and words.

And yet, the days are sometimes so, so hard because I worry so much about being the optimal nurturer. Is the baby crying too much? Is he sleeping enough? Am I talking to him enough to stimulate mental growth? Am I having him do enough tummy time and other activities for physical growth? Is he going to have developmental problems because I spend too much time on my phone and leave the TV on? Am I enforcing bad habits and associations? Some days, the hours pass at a miserable crawl. I count them down until the end of the day, the end of the week, and finally the arrival at some milestone when everything is supposed to get easier and better. At these times, I can’t wait to go back to work so I can stop obsessing over the baby and feel more like my old, “normal” self again.

They say, “The days are long, but the years are short.” My son is seven weeks old tomorrow. I can’t believe he’s already seven weeks old, but I also remember how far in the future this date used to feel whenever I was frustrated and exhausted. I remember how long my pregnancy felt, too. This baby takes so long to grow, and then he grows up too quickly.

The other day, I started a memories box for him. It contains ultrasound photos, hospital wristbands, medical charts, and cards from friends and family. Reviewing the ultrasound photos makes me so emotional. It is incredible to consider how this thirteen-pound living, breathing boy grew from a tiny bean. Eventually, my baby will be too big to nap on my torso. He may want to stop nursing before I do. Then, one day, I will have picked him up for the last time, not knowing it would be the last. There will never be any sort of closure.

Those kinds of thoughts wreck me, they really do.