Friday, August 29, 2014
back to work
This was my first full week back to work and it was harder than I expected. Mila was born in January and almost eight months later, I haven’t felt like I’ve truly been “back to work” yet. I took some time for maternity leave and was fortunate to have my mom and grandma take care of Mila as I transitioned back to work last spring. It was the middle of March, and with just eight weeks left before the semester ended, I worked from home when I could, brought the baby with me to faculty meetings, answered a lot of emails in the middle of the night while I nursed, and relied on mom and grandma when I needed to be away. Mila got to stay home, I took breaks throughout the day to nurse or snuggle, and before I knew it, May was here and the semester was over, ushering in a summer break to be home again. I’ve had almost eight months home with her, a luxury many moms don’t have, and I don’t take that time for granted. But at the same time, I am blessed to have a job I love, and I thought I was ready to get back at it. I am a woman who thrives on a schedule and a good plan, and I was looking forward to a new semester and a fresh start for our family. I packed bags, sorted through Cruz and Mila’s summer clothes and filled their drawers with new pajamas and socks, and spent nights at the kitchen table, planning meals and after school activities for Cruz. I was ready, or so I thought I was.
And then Monday came and that familiar tug, that always-present weight I felt as I kissed them both and walked out of daycare to my car was back and consumed me for the day. I welcomed back students with a smile on my face, worked most of the day on plans for my first week’s classes, and accomplished more than I sought out to do, but they never left me all day long. I wondered what they were doing, wondered if Mila was sleeping, and wondered if they missed me or wondered where I was. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and left work early to pick them up. Cruz, of course, was fine, acting out his role as ‘snack helper’ perfectly, his little head peeking up from behind the food cart as he pushed it down the hall behind his line of friends. He’s always been so easy going, happy to adapt and find fun anywhere he is, that I think he’s made these years of daycare easy on me. But Mila seems a little different. I’m not sure if it’s because she’s older and more aware of her surroundings, or more attached, or just a little more in tune with her emotions, but she seems a little more affected by change and transition. She greeted us with her big smile, but soon after followed it with a big cry, as if she didn’t know what to do with all the emotion she was feeling. And as I scooped her up and drove them home, the lump that had been in my throat all day seemed to capsize into the same overwhelming emotions Mila felt, tears running down my face as I looked at them in my rearview mirror and wondered if I’m doing this thing right. These emotions come with the territory of being female, of thinking too much and feeling even more.
I got home and was determined to make the next three hours count until I once again packed up my things and headed to night class. I served Cruz cookies and milk at the table, asked him about his day, and didn’t check my email or my Facebook once. I got the magnet board down from his room, sat in a semi-circle with Mila on one side and Cruz on the other, looking at pictures and matching them with their letter sounds. And when Mila got fussy, I wrapped her in her favorite blankie, sang her church songs, and rocked her to sleep. She fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, something she never does, evidence of a big day and a need to be close to her mom. I rocked her, rubbed her back and her perfectly plump legs, and soaked in the quiet I felt for the first time all day. My mind was devoid of the tangled up mess of emotions and hormones I had felt all day and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.
There is a weight to motherhood that I never expected all those years I dreamed about having babies. The minute that little plus sign shows up on the pregnancy test, we are bombarded with 99 million ways to do this motherhood thing. There’s breast or bottle, cloth or disposable, work or stay home, homemade or store-bought, public or private, cry it out or rock to sleep, center or in-home, and the list goes on, leaving us feeling stretched, guilty, attacked, defensive, overwhelmed, and inadequate. And when there are that many decisions to make and a society and a social media world that promotes and categorizes based on which line you fall, we are bound to question whether our decisions are the right ones for our kids. But what we forget sometimes as we compare ourselves with others and wonder what is best, is that there is one thing that unifies us all – the love we have for our babies. We wouldn’t spend our days grappling with our decisions, or missing them like crazy, or cleaning up those high chairs again and again, if we didn’t love them with every piece of our heart. This common thread should unify, not polarize, because Lord knows we’re already hard enough on ourselves.
I am slowly learning that there is no single right way to parent and I’m relying on God’s help this semester as we figure out what works best for our family. I’m determined to make the hours I have each week with them purposeful and deliberate. They are God’s little people after all, and they should be treated with our best. But what we often forget, is that we are all God’s children, too, filled with our own unique light and purpose in this world. If we all started seeing ourselves and others that way, imagine how the world would change. Glennon Melton wrote about Mother Teresa in her book, Carry on Warrior and said, “Mother Teresa understood that everyone is Jesus. She understood the meaning of the word Namaste, which means, ‘the divine light in me sees and honors the divine light in you. God in me recognizes God in you.’” We all God’s people, here doing the best we can. And if we seek to live that way each day, well then, that is a life well lived.