Fake it till you make it

Going back to work is expensive.

There is the cost of daycare, of course, a steal really at only $1500 a month – it seems almost incidental in the face of all the little add ons that add up to something nearly as much as our mortgage.

There are the extra diaper covers and dry bags for cloth diapers, because heaven forbid we should sacrifice room in a landfill for our own personal convenience, then the extra bottles and storage containers for pumped breast milk, extra cooler bags and extra diaper bags for transporting all of the extra clothing and supplies around.

There is the fashion forward bag for discreet transportation of said breast milk and pump to and from the office, also known as the point of origin for what will undoubtedly become gallons upon gallons of Grade A Organic human milk.

There are size appropriate wardrobe updates for discreet transition from postnatal to prenatal body size and shape, plus several new pairs of statement shoes to call attention to feet and away from said postnatal body.

There is the occasional personal trainer and the frequent new exercise gear to increase motivation to keep moving despite yet another sudden decline in how much sleep I log per night, plus runners’ mace to ward off the coyotes and crazies I’ll most definitely encounter during my 5am runs, because that’s the only time I’ll ever actually get a chance for exercise anymore, and you know, I’m trying to save money on all those extra extra-sized clothes so I really, really do need to exercise.

There are new razors and updated makeup, hair cut and hair color, and the second mani/pedi of 2016 to convince myself and others that I am actually fit to exist in a professional environment.

There are travel coffee mugs, and LOTS of extra cash for coffee. There are several months worth of frozen dinners, because that’s all our family will be eating, plus (again) extra cash squirreled away for ordering out, because some nights even pushing buttons on the microwave can be too complicated.

There is the extra car seat for the part-time nanny we have yet to hire and, if we’re really honest with ourselves, really can’t afford anyway.

The list has gotten so long we finally gave in and added a new “Back to Work” line to our family budget, but these don’t even begin to cover the emotional costs.

I’m due back to work two weeks from today. It’s difficult to find quite the right word to describe how I feel about reaching the end of my maternity leave. Relieved? Excited? Worried? Heartbroken?

Conflicted. Definitely conflicted.

Faking
FAKING

I love my job. I get so much satisfaction from the challenges I get to work through, from the relationships I’ve built with my colleagues, from the support I’m able to provide to my staff and our students. After working from home for the majority of my third trimester, it’s been nearly five months since I stepped foot on campus. While I’ve done my best to stay involved and on too of any major issues, it’s clear that my absence has had an impact, and that it’s well beyond time for me to go back.

And it’s not just that they need me. Over the past months I’ve struggled with the lack of structure and the lack of intellectual stimulation – raising a baby is HARD, but it’s not as though he ever picks up on my Foucault references. I’m excited to return to the professional world, to run something other than just my household. I’m excited to strap on my newest pair of high-heeled boots and go feel important again, to go feel proud of my contributions outside of the home and of my ability to be successful.

I am not excited to experience withdrawal from the drug of feeling my child asleep on my chest.

Right now I spend every moment of every day and every night with my son, with the vast majority of this time spent with him literally attached to me through nursing or baby-wearing. I notice every last shift in his development, I understand the nuance of batting at a toy versus purposefully grabbing onto it, and I understand the through line running from his extra hour of sleep to his cluster feed nursing to his cranky mood to the moment he actually manages to achieve that tiny little grab with his tiny little hands. Nothing to the naked eye, but as complex and thrilling as a first step on the moon for him, and for me.

And now, thanks to the miracle of modern life, now the time has come to simply hand him off to the company of strangers. Literally. Strangers. In a matter of days he will shift from spending nearly all his waking hours with mama to spending nearly all his waking hours with the pleasant staff of a local daycare that I have visited all of once.

So what’s a modern mom at work to do? Fake it. Pretend like your life depends on it. Don’t let on at work, because the less enlightened colleagues will pounce on that weakness. Don’t let on at home, because baby will understand and mimic the sadness. Wake up, exercise, apply mascara, practice your smile. Blow kisses out the door. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until one day, hopefully not too far off, it really will start to feel natural – modern life will start to make sense, the yearning for other options will dissipate, that conflict will turn to calm acceptance. Then in the meantime and in the future, know that this fight against your natural feelings, this fight against the chemistry of your body and the hardwired attachment to your child, know that this crazy game of opposites will make every last moment together that much sweeter. Just fake it till you make it. You will, with time, make it better.

 

Not Faking
No Faking Here
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8 thoughts on “Fake it till you make it

  1. Your last paragraph…I feel it in my heart. It’s hard being a working mom. I’m always feeling like I don’t get enough time to be with my daughter, to enjoy life outside of work. And sometimes I feel lulled into a sense of complacency in the routine, and it feels okay. Other times it is heart-achingly hard to leave my home and do what must be done at work.

    I hope your transition back to work is smooth for you and baby and your whole family. I love the pic of you and your two kids, btw!

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    1. You sum it up so perfectly – either it’s so painful you just can’t bear to do it another day, or you get lulled into a sort of numbness. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is as a single mother, too – I’m fortunate to have a partner who works at home much of the time and can lend a hand with all the household stuff that also takes away from kid time. Thanks so much for your comment, hopefully this transition will be a little smoother than it was the first time around…

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  2. Oh, such a beautiful, wrenching post. I can’t help but think that therein lies the conundrum of parenting, specifically, mothering. We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. Or maybe there’s just some fulfilment either way, and some things given up. As I’ve taken to saying in an effort to diffuse my normally judgie point-of-view around my kids, “You do you.” Which is to say, we all just need to find the thing that works well enough for each of us. And then do.
    So instead of you go, girl, today I say, you do, girl. Remember that you’re never taking anything away from a child by heading back to work, you’re just blazing a slightly different path. There’s a boatload of love to be had either way, and that’s what really matters. Good luck!!

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    1. I don’t see it so much these days as damned if you do, damned if you don’t. More like lessons in sucking it up and doing what needs to be done, no matter what. Mothering is all about doing what needs to be done, which creates a resilience that I think (I hope?) serves me well in the workplace, while I’m busy doing everything that needs to be done outside the realm of parenthood. If only there was that boatload of love in my office I’d be all set, because yes, that vast, endless supply of love definitely makes it all worth it when I get home 🙂

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  3. I think most people in your situation would have mixed feelings about going back to work, no matter how much they love their work. It’s never easy to be a working person and having to take care of babies. As Lindsay says, I am sure it’s harder for women. But keep the courage up!

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    1. Thank you! I survived (and dare I say even enjoyed?) my first day back this week, but already I can’t wait for the weekend. Seems there’s just not enough time in the day to fill myself up with my kids and still get out of the house to do good work.

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