The problem with vacation is going back to work. This is not a fresh observation, of course, but the particular tone of this problem has changed now that I have a child. The problem with going back to work is not my job, nor is it a generalized desire to live the life of the idle rich – I like my job, and I have known enough idle rich to know that they are no happier than me with my workaday life. I have little desire to be on permanent vacation.
The problem with vacation and with going back to work is my child, and it is my so very un-feminist desire to be the person raising her.
Before I go any further with this, I should clarify: I do not wish to be raising my child due to a belief system in which this must be the woman’s role. I completely support (and envy) women who want to pursue their careers or sex lives or globetrotting despite (or because of) having children, and the most effective way for me to psych myself up to go back to work after time away is telling myself again and again “I am setting a good example for my daughter.”
I also should point out that I have what I consider to be the ideal childcare situation, with my daughter splitting her time evenly between learning to bake and play the drums at her Yia Yia’s house, and learning reading and socialization skills at a day care program so thorough and complex we call it baby university.
Generally speaking, when I am working every day and my daughter is being cared for elsewhere, she and I both fall into a daily rhythm that eases the discomfort of separation. She has the toys and friends that do not exist at home, I have the intellectual stimulation of managing a room full of people and processes and politics. Though the week seems three days too long by the time we reach Friday, for the most part she and I both enjoy experiencing the world outside of our home.
Then vacation comes along with its glorious period of uninterrupted baby and mama time, followed by the long slog back to day care. Back to my 5am wake up calls and packing up little containers of baby meals and big bags full of cloth diapers, of keeping myself awake at night worrying that the little one won’t sleep well or eat well or play well and will have a hard day at school because of it. The simple fact remains that no matter how good my hired (or family volunteered) help may be, no one will care for my child the way I will care for my child.
But to focus only on the logistics is to miss the point. When I take time off from work to be with my daughter, I feel a sense of fulfillment unlike anything I have felt in any sort of work I have done. At the end of a day in which I wake up with my daughter, prepare all of her bottles and meals and snacks, change her diapers and her clothes, read her the books she chooses from her toy box, bundle her up for a trip outside, push her swing at the park, and rock her to sleep twice during the day and again at night, I feel as though I have accomplished more in one day of child rearing than I have in five years of change management at the organization that provides my paycheck. It is on these days at home with my child that I feel my life has meaning, whereas the rest of the time I feel more like I’m just sort of shuffling along, waiting for another long weekend.