Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Best Laid Plans

It was spring 2005. My friend E and I were having our one millionth conversation about the type of mothers we wanted to be. But unlike the last 999,999 conversations on this topic, this one was actually valid, since I was in my third trimester. E did not know then that she would go on to get pregnant the same month that I delivered Chloe. So we were valid in having this talk, unlike our general prediliction towards obsessive, baseless speculation.

"I am definitely staying home full time", I announced. In my memory of this moment, I am stroking the belly which had finally outpaced my breasts and devouring grilled cheese. I am sure I looked at her confidently, with a smugness that only an ignorant mother-to-be can perfect.

"I believe that no one could take better care of my child than I can".

That was only half true. I mean, I believed the statement in hypothetical terms. It's one of those things that you say that no one can disagree with. But a big motivator for that statement was the fact that I hated my job, and was ready to leave. I had experienced a fall out with a colleague with disastrous consequences. I had outgrown my position with no real career trajectory. I was ready, and the timing seemed to perfectly align with the birth of my first child. I fantasized about my resignation, how I would come to the office with my perfect cherub on my hip, living proof of the bigger, better job I was about to take on.

E felt differently, a rarity in our relationship. She wanted to to work. She wanted her child, especially if it was a girl (it would be), to see her mother in terms of a woman in the workforce - a role model that she could embody despite the ongoing inequities between men and women in corporate America. She felt it would be better for her relationship with her husband to be working, to share experiences born of the complexities of work outside the home. She made a good case, but I remained convinced of my own. I packed up my desk slowly. I transferred files. And when I went out on maternity leave, I prepared to return only once, to give notice and say goodbye.

But that was all "B.C.E." (Before Chloe Era).

In the weeks following her birth, I was plagued with several blistering emotions, not the least of which was an ovewhelming identity crisis. My life was virtually unrecognizable. I was living in a new home, with a new body, new set of responsibilities and new baby, with a new title of "Mommy". My face was makeup-free, my clothes were still elastic and I had "working breasts". Who the hell was I? Despite my issues with my job outside the home, it was something I did well, something I could do on autopilot. And it was a surefire way to get the hell out of the house.

In those early days, I put Chloe in her bouncy seat where she sould sit for hours, staring wide-eyed at me. The kid never slept and always had a fierce independant streak. I took it as a sign. I opened the yellow pages and wrote down the list of day care centers. Along with my other platitudes B.C.E., I swore I would never use a nanny. "If anything, I want her to be in an educational enviornment", I would say. Never knowing that my child could barely see in those early months, and was readily entertained by the dance of stuffed giraffes that hung over her crib.

Still, I persevered in my thinking that returning to work would be a salvation. As I walked Chloe around on my maternity leave, in my post-partum pants and ponytail, I oozed jealousy at the women who were in eyeliner and stilettos, carrying briefcases instead of diaper bags. I wanted to be rushing off somewhere. I desperately missed email, and conference rooms, and powerpoint. I even missed the subway.

When Chloe was around six weeks, we visited the only day care center that would not tell me that I was too late to register Chloe. Who knew I should have filled out an application on behalf of my fetus? I walked into the building with my mother, who waited outside with Chloe while I toured the establishment. While the tourguide was a chipper, Love Boat Julie type, this was no fun cruise. The baby room, where Chloe would stay, was filled with stoned looking children in huge bouncy seats. The walls looked filthy, with wilting construction paper art. A teacher waved a pink streamer in front of the babies, who stared listlessly ahead. It felt germ filled and depressing. I ran outside, tears in my eyes, and proclaimed "I can't leave her here! So I can't go back to work!"

Another half truth. I was blaming the day care center, but actually, my depression had started to lift. At around two months I began to really enjoy motherhood, and missed my job far less. My physical pain had finally subsided, and my breasts felt less "alive". Chloe was more interactive and fun.

And I did not even mind my extra pounds and sweatpants.

It's this last sentiment that did not allow me to abandon the idea of working entirely. Ultimately, for me, the life of a stay at home mother was not meant to be. The way in which my days progressed at home did not allow for me to develop any sense of myself. Meaning, I had no time to shower, I had to wear clothes with give, and the household tasks (not my forte) were never ending. It seems like a trite reason to leave your child in someone elses care but the me I needed to be to be happy and fulfilled and stimulated and an all around better mother did not include stretch waistlines and all day baby talk.

Plus, we were deeply in debt.

But I knew I could not work full time. I was breast feeding, did not want to supplement with formula nor exclusively pump. And there was still the issue with my job dissatisfaction, I feared returning to that world all day, every day, and the potential emotional impact. And I missed Chloe when I was away, even for just a haircut.

So I was torn.

To add to the complexity, the only lingering component of my post partum baby blues was irrational paranoia. I was constantly afraid that something terrible would happen to the baby. SIDS, choking on a binky, slipping through crib rails. You name it, I thought it. So the idea of a stranger caring for my child, someone who could snatch her/molest her/drop her/contaminate her body or mind, was terrifying.

My mother, witnessing my torment but firmly believing that I should go back to work, found a nanny. It was a woman who had helped raise by sister's husband. Her name was "Jane" and she was an Orhodox Jew by conversion. She had eight kids of her own. At first, I balked. I did not want a nanny. My mother forced a meeting between us which she mediated. She sent me out to get some cookies and when I returned, Jane had arrived and was holding Chloe on her ample bosom. I cringed, took the baby, and sulked in the corner, nursing frantically. Jane talked for hours. She never stopped talking. She mentioned she had cared for someone with ALS, and I liked that. But that was about it. She was slightly unkempt and her comments sometimes sounded ignorant. But she knew babies. When she finally left, I mouthed "No Way!" to my mother and left the room. My mother called Jane, told her I was still trying to figure things out.

But the more I tried to figure things out, the more confused I became. When I was home, I was happiest with other mothers, but those "playdates" did not really benefit the kids, which left me feeling guilty. Classes, while a great distraction, were overwhelmingly expensive. I feared that Chloe would become too dependant and unable to manage new surroundings and new caregivers, especially due to my smothering nature. When my husband came home, and asked what I did all day, I worried that he would wonder what had happened to his wife. I tried days of staying in, sitting on the floor, no TV, no playdates. But after a few I felt suffocated and lonely, and dare I admit, bored.

But I never wanted to leave her.

So I was stuck.

As is the case with most big decisions, mine was made out of sheer necessity. My maternity leave was up. Time had run out. So I dressed Chloe up and went to work, just as I had planned many months ago. But instead of a resignation letter, I brought a proposal for part time work. My boss agreed. And I called Jane, because after weeks of marinating in this decision, I realized that she would be ok. And she was almost family, she was not a stranger. My mother promised she would drop in alot. It was about as good as it was going to get.

One morning before my first day of work, Chloe had one of her explosive poops, through the diaper, and into my hair. I was desperately trying to make the bed and put laundry away. On the phone with my brother, narrating these events, he said, "Aren't you happy that you are going to have someone to do all of this shit for you?"

And I was. Because in the end, the joys of motherhood are not 9-5. But there is alot to handle. And I was glad to have a helping hand, a bit of myself back, some comfort in my high heels.

I believe that Jane has been a great influence. While not classy nor kempt, she is engaging and energetic. I am sure that Jane's love of music is visible every day when Chloe dances to any beat. Chloe can play happily alone, or with any stranger without anxiety. And over a year later, Chloe bids me farewell with a cheerful, yet dismissive, "buh-bye" and greets me at the end of a day with an enthusiasm that almost knocks us both over.

And we are no longer in debt.

So it does not get any better than that.


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