Survival Mode

I threw a 40th birthday party for The Hubs.

I like parties. I’m an extrovert, and a foodie, and I like an excuse to have a drink or two, so sometimes I get a liiiiittle excited about throwing a bash.

Of course, with children, especially an eight-month-old baby,?parties are that much harder to pull off. I decided to go for it anyway. I hired a sitter to handle Baby S for two hours before it started. I pulled in the amazing chef sister-in-law.?I said yes to everyone who offered to bring food, and darned if we didn’t have a hell of a nice afternoon in the backyard, feasting on gluten-free, mostly veggie food (plus a giant Momofuku pork butt brought by other master chef friends).?I’d made a scavenger hunt for the kids (PM me for the list! It was a total hit), and a slideshow for the birthday man/boy, and a friend brought a gorgeous cake. My musical pals and I?even played “Hotel California” live since it was a hit in 1977, the year he was born.

I think it was the most social I’ve been since?well, since I went back to work in February.?

“I’m sorry I haven’t seen you in so long,” I said to a couple of friends I dearly love and don’t see very often.

“I know,” they said. “We figured you’ve just been in Baby Mode the past few months.”

Baby Mode? I thought. Nah. Try Survival Mode.?

Baby Mode, to me, conjures images of the first ten weeks. You barely put on your shirt, because you’re nursing all the time. You sleep when the baby sleeps. You accept all offers of food. (I’m sensing a theme!) Your washer and dryer run constantly. You inhabit the world in a haze of blissful love and exhausted blues, sometimes yo-yoing between the two. If you’re lucky, you’re getting paid for this time to bond with your baby, or your partner is home for a few weeks, or your mom or mother-in-law has come to visit. If you’re not, you’re a bleary-eyed mess, lonely, hungry, sore, confused. It's a time you'll scarcely remember, because you're so busy trying to sleep and get the baby to sleep that your memory is shot. Share on X

I went back to work in February. All spring, I felt like I was in survival mode.


Looking back, though, that time last fall sounds really, really nice.

Not that I want to return to it, exactly, but it sounds warm and fuzzy and soft-edged and not at all like what came after: the stark reality of returning to work full time when the baby was four months old. Here’s what that looked like:

  • Dropping the baby off with a nanny I barely knew and feeling like an anxious wreck about it
  • Trying to find work clothes that didn’t have spit-up on them and that could be easily lifted over my head in a cramped “Nursing Mothers” room at school
  • Pumping. Pumping. Pumping.
  • Having no idea what was for dinner on any given night, because who can plan ahead?
  • The washer and dryer running constantly, but the laundry never folded
  • Trying to be an activist mama, carting the baby around to political events on my light days and later, exhausted, wishing I hadn’t
  • Hungry. All. The. Time.
  • The nagging sensation that I was parenting two kids at home?and 75 more?in the classroom
  • Drinking a large green tea before every class so I’d find the energy to make comma splices more exciting than whatever was distracting my students on YouTube, Snapchat, or Instagram
  • Deciding around Spring Break that it was futile to even think about blogging, writing, or submitting work until the semester was over

It wasn’t?all bad, of course. After we got into a groove with childcare, I appreciated the sensation of what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas (if the baby took a crappy nap on a Monday, well, it just wasn’t my problem!). There are always great moments in the classroom. And I like a challenge. But since February I’ve needed?some space to breathe, to read, to write, and to meditate, and there’s been absolutely no space. Most Americans are familiar with this sensation, I know. Most Americans exist at least part of every year in survival mode. And we working moms? We’re there much of the time.

And so, readers, I’m delighted to announce that I am officially on maternity leave again. The nature of my job, and the nature of California’s Paid Family Leave laws, have made the stars align: I’m not?teaching this summer term. And I’m beyond psyched about it. I have 14 million writing projects to attend to?and I might even go to yoga occasionally. And learn how to use the crockpot. And fold some laundry. And spend some un-rushed, unfettered, blissful time with my kids.

p.s. I’ve been desperate to write before now, too!?And?Imagining a different life than this one…

p.p.s. That beautiful cupcake photo above? It’s by Rich Helmer, and I got in on Unsplash.



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