Yes, I’m still here.
It’s hard to say these days whether I’m still writing blocked or whether I’m just too contentedly busy to tune out all the focused, busy happiness that is filling my days. I love my new job. I love the drive, love the school, love the people. I love my great big window view populated by crazy hair and crazy clothes and trees and dogs and sky and sun. I like the experience of starting something new, of all of the possibility and hope and excitement that something new always, inevitably represents. I am entirely engaged, engrossed, enchanted. I’m being challenged in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was a grad student at this very same school that is now paying me to be there instead of the other way around.
But even when busy is good, busy can be, well, busy. Busy and tiring and even (already) more than a tiny bit stressful. And, of course, this would not be a Mom at Work post if not for the downside (because have I ever in my life managed to write anything that was ever even sort of reliably upbeat?).
My daughter hates my new job. She hates the lack of structure, hates the sudden change and the ever shifting transitions. And I hear her, loud and clear. Who can blame her? She spent the last two years with the same schedule day in and day out, of long commutes with me to and from school, talking through the day ahead or the day that has passed, of the same breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner, the same afternoon park trips and morning baseball in the backyard, and suddenly everything has changed. She’s seeing less of me, seeing nothing of her bosom buddies from school, she’s leaving home earlier and getting home later, she’s eating breakfast only once and eating a different lunch everyday. We’ve incorporated a new park into the days off schedule and have limited baseball pending retreat of the too hot summer sun. Even her weekly music class – that sacred cow of mommy-daughter time – has gone on summer hiatus. All of Koukla’s routines have been thrown out the window, and the result is that her sleep has been interrupted and her mood has become disruptive. Her happy go lucky demeanor has become just a little less happy as an entirely direct result of my luck.
Oh, and did I mention that this rocky transitioning just happens to be coinciding with my husband leaving town for fire camp and getting her ready to start a new school next week?
What’s a working mom to do?
I know I shouldn’t feel guilty. I run through my list of rationalizations and excuses and very logical explanations of why I should absolutely, in no way feel guilty for this. We’re a two-income family, we couldn’t survive any other way. And if I must work, I might as well be successful at the job that will inevitably – INEVITABLY – take me away from my daughter. I should be relieved to be employed in a position that makes me happy. I should be flaunting my feminist chops and swelling with pride to be setting a positive example for my daughter. But all I feel is guilt, because I go to work and I am happy. I am happy despite not being with my child. I am happy despite the long hours and the weekend work that lies ahead of me. I am happy despite her unhappiness. I’m batting a thousand at the office and striking out every night when I get home and even so I can’t help but love the game.
I want to believe that there is nothing I could be doing differently to make these transitional times easier on my daughter’s toddler psyche, but I know this is not true. I know that what has shifted is more than my happiness and my engagement with my work. What has shifted is my singular focus on her. There is something new in my life that is bringing me joy, and it feels like I’m having an affair.
Shouldn’t I hate or at least not totally enjoy doing anything that takes me away from her? I even feel guilty still every time I go out for a run, even if she is sound asleep in her crib. I feel depressed when I go to the grocery store without her and see other toddlers toddling alongside their parents. How could I possibly allow myself to love and to look forward to doing something that guarantees our separation fifty-plus hours a week?
This weekend my husband is gone getting his red card so he can start filming wildfires and the firefighters who work those fires. Koukla is so excited that her dad is with firefighters, especially since we’ve told her that he will be wearing a fireman’s hat the whole time. But despite her excitement at his adventures, she misses him, she is sad, she gets grumpy. More often than not, she gets sick. But it will be the weekend. And this weekend I’m committed to her and only her. No sneaking around with my cell phone, no surreptitious emails, no staff restructures happening in my head when I’m pretending to eat the breakfast she has pretended to make for me. It’s been awhile, but this weekend it’s time to win another home game.