Monday, April 7, 2014

The New Normal

After almost 15 weeks at home with my two kids, I'm officially back at work.  I was riddled with angst in the weeks leading up to "the day."  The thought of coming back made me physically nauseous, made me regularly cry.  I just couldn't imagine actually waking up in the morning, taking a shower, and walking out the door.  Mind you, this is my second time returning to work after having a baby.  I should have known what to expect, right?  It should have been easier?  It wasn't.. it was actually much harder.  This time I was leaving 2 babies.  I hadn't really thought of the fact that I would also be getting 3.5 months with my 2.5yr old and leaving him would sting too.  Being with a newborn all day by yourself can be rather isolating, but having a sidekick toddler with you who sings "wheels on the bus" in the background while you nurse and frequently asks to hold and kiss the baby makes the newborn experience much more entertaining (although having the toddler in the mix means getting a nap in for yourself is damn near impossible).  My experience during this maternity leave was, just, different.

But then, just like that,  it was over.  As is the case with any day you're hoping never comes, my return date came so fast that I was completely unprepared and in denial until the last minute (at 11 o'clock the night before I found myself asking where is my work laptop?  where are my keys?  oh i guess i need to pack up my pump?).  In the morning, I woke up, took a shower, and actually walked out the door (well, after nursing my baby, packing my lunch, getting pooped on, frantically reminding our new nanny of a million different things, making a cup of tea that would do nothing to wake me up, etc., etc., etc).  But, I did it.  I left.  And I was sad, of course.  I knew I wasn't going to get my big morning hug from my waking toddler and I wasn't going to see my baby's sweet smile all day long.  I knew I would miss them.  But that's not really what made me sad.  The most common refrain you will hear from everyone when you go back to work is that you will get used to it and that it will get easier.  And they are 100% right.  It does get easier.  You get back into the working world and remember how great it is to sit and eat an uninterrupted lunch while surfing the web.  You appreciate having adult conversations, feeling smart again, showering every morning.  You become current on the news and songs on the radio.  You always miss your kids, but when you have a great caretaker and are reassured they are thriving, you worry less and less.  You treasure the time you have with them when you get home.  If they are fine, you are fine, and it becomes the new normal.  But that's precisely what has made me sad this time.  A part of me doesn't want me to just get used to all of it - only seeing them a couple hours in the evenings, not doing the school pick-up/drop-offs, not having breakfast with them.  A part of me is asking whether I want to get used to it.  Sure, when you work outside the home full-time you also skip out on much of the mundane home routine - which can be exhausting and repetitive - and you tend to make every minute you do have with your kid count, something you may not do if you are always with them.   But whether we like to admit it or not, we do miss out on things with our kids when we are away.  Not the big things, they catch you up on that stuff.  But some of the little things...the conversations in the car after school, the non-rushed morning cuddles, playing soccer in the driveway before lunch.  You have to ask yourself, is what I'm doing worth missing those things.  It's an extremely complicated question, because it requires you to evaluate your career (where is it going? am I in the right one?), your finances (could we afford different choices?  what do we want to be able to provide for our family?), your values (what kind of example do I want to set for my kids?), your parenting (are my kids in the best possible care? would they actually be better off with more time with me?), and yourself (what will make me the most happy? what are my life goals?).   I'm afraid that if I get used to the new normal, I'll stop actively making that assessment.  It's a running dialogue in the mind of almost every working mom I know, and yet I think at some point, it's easier to get used to the status quo and move on.  Mainly because answering those questions may result in taking a big risk on a new path, which is utterly terrifying (at least for me).  But this time, I'm fighting the urge to completely adjust, just for a minute, to make sure I'm on my right path.  And I don't know, maybe I'll never be completely sure that I'm making the best decisions, but isn't it worthwhile to continue to test and re-test our choices?