The New Normal
It is a quiet Friday night. At about seven o’clock in the evening I am just sitting down now to be alone with my own thoughts. There are dishes in the sink, dirty clothes on the floor and toys strewn across the living room. Not one thing on my “to do” list bares the token strikeout of accomplishment. It is the first unscheduled, unproductive and inattentive moment I have had to myself since the wee dark hours of six o’clock in the morning. Fridays used to be a day brimming with anticipation and pregnant with possibility. They have now become a quiet and underwhelming respite from life as I know it.
This past week was my first week back to work since having my son almost one year ago. And as the work week draws to a close my job at home is anything but done. This past week has perfectly punctuated a lesson I have been trying to master for the past twelve months; my existence will forever be in constant flux from one extreme to another. Extreme love, extreme sadness, extreme joy, extreme fear, extreme fulfillment, extreme stress… and it is the new normal. The only thing I can count on now is constant change. Like the millions of working mothers before me, the stinging tear in my eye and the ache in my heart is not unique unto me. It is par for the course and it is time to play the game.
We prepared for this. We were a team training for this new season together. I started taking him to daycare six weeks before my return date so that the transition would be seamless. I got up at six o’clock in the morning to shower, style my hair, put on my makeup then wake the mini-me sleeping soundly across the hall. We would have breakfast, get dressed and snuggle together with his favourite cartoon blaring obnoxiously – ahem- I mean humming playfully from the corner of the living room. Then we would head over to daycare. I would kiss him goodbye. The separation was always peaceful and uneventful. The rest of the day was mine to purge, clean and organize in preparation for my return to work.
But then the actual day came and the first inning was nothing like the exhibition games. I threw up in the sink while brushing my teeth; my Post-Partum Anxiety convincing me this had to be an omen. Other than that, the morning routine ran smoothly and we left the house on time. “You can do this,” I told myself over and over as I juggled my sweet boy in one arm and the diaper bag, my purse, keys, coffee and lunch bag in the other. “You got this. Deep breaths,” and off we went. First stop, daycare - like we had done a thousand times before.
He cried - no he wailed – that deep heartbroken sob that radiates from the belly. He buried his face deep into my neck and clutched so tightly to my blouse that his nails left little red welts on my collarbone for the rest of the work day. As my eyes swelled with tears I pulled him away and passed him to my care provider, his arms outstretched and frantic for me. This wasn’t what we practiced. This wasn’t how it was supposed be – the sum of all my “first day back” fears delivered like a one-two punch in my gut. This is motherhood for the mom who has to work because she doesn’t have the choice not to. None of us get off easy. And none of us are ever really prepared.
The next eight hours were a beautiful display of God’s grace. A company-wide system error meant none of us could access the network. Therefore, there was quite literally nothing for me to do but sip bad coffee, catch up on the last twelve months of salacious gossip and reacquaint myself with the office politics. On the surface I was placid. My father’s enigmatic stoicism served me well. I feigned enthusiasm and chirped token clichés about “getting back into the swing of things.” But on the inside I was free falling down the rabbit hole of maternal guilt, regret and want. My head was spinning and my chest physically ached like a piece of my body was missing – because it was. I had forcefully pulled his tiny body away from mine and left him behind… 25 kilometres worth of behind.
By all accounts the workday came to a close faster than usual for a Monday. But I run on “mom time” now which means 5:30 will never come fast enough for me. The old me used to hang around, make a few more calls, slowly clean up my desk and go to the bathroom so that I wasn’t that person bolting for the door at 5:29. The new me gave zero shits. I was logged off the system and my desk completely cleared by 5:25. I bolted to the car and made my get away with the deft haste of a professional bank robber. I merged onto the highway risking my savings account and my license just to gain even one more minute with my baby before he went to bed. It was all for naught. I struggled through the front door with my arms full of bags and my heart full of angst. He was in bed already. Fast asleep. He couldn’t last long enough for me to get home. I. Was. Crushed.
I sank onto the couch with a heavy heart and a weary soul. I felt like a failure. The regret of leaving him behind every day left me feeling like I was wading through deep water. Everything I do now is harder, more methodical and often countered with unexpected resistance. There has to be more to life than this; more than only seeing my baby for an hour in the morning Monday to Friday and on the weekends. There has to be more than paying another woman to raise him. There has to be more than trading these precious moments that I will never get back for a pay check that barely covers the bills. No one told me it would be this hard. Nor did they tell me the worst mom shaming would come from me.
Sitting here alone with my thoughts, listening to my son’s Spotify bedtime playlist on the monitor, I realize now there is more to life. There is more to life than just a mundane series of disappointing trade-offs. There is overwhelming love, overwhelming beauty and overwhelming fulfillment. There is a golden nugget of wealth buried in each and every day if you know how and where to look. I had to learn how to dig. I had to learn that it’s OK to get your hands dirty because life is just so-very-messy.
I have spent the past week on my hands and knees digging. And I discovered that that joy, beauty, fulfillment – that golden nugget of wealth – was sound asleep in his crib. I got to spend one wonderful hour with him tonight before he went to bed. Nothing noteworthy happened and bedtime routine was business as usual. We just got to be with each other. He is and always will be the sunshine on my cloudiest of days. He is and always will be the reason for every decision I make and the reason I will doubt every. single. one. I mean, if you aren’t constantly doubting yourself… are you even a mom?
My time with him today was short, yes, but it was treasured. One week on the job as working mom and I’ve done the most growing up I’ve done in my whole life. I realized the joys of motherhood are hidden in plain sight. They are simple and understated; woven into what is routine and often taken for granted. They are in quiet moments and in loud ones; in milestones and in meltdowns. Every wide-eyed grin, giggle and dimple, every time he calls me “mum mum mum,” every new face he meets with bashful reserve, every sloppy kiss, belly laugh and hand clap, every minute I spend with him gives my life a purpose it never had before he existed. Every moment with him will be enough and never enough all at the same time. But that’s motherhood. And it is the new normal.