I feel like I could write this entire blog post in one sentence, and that sentence goes like this:
I am so effing grateful for childcare.
But since you’ve all come to know me as a bit more, well, verbose, hear me out.
When L was born, I proudly stayed home from work for almost a year. It was a complicated year, to be sure, mostly because, though we didn’t exactly plan for this, his dad was home too. L was born in Norway at the height of the recession, and when we returned to the States when he was four months old, I had my part-time adjunct teaching gig on hold until I was ready to come back (talk about gratitude! My boss and department, you know who you are), and Ben had…a law degree, a Masters in law, and no promising leads on a job. So that entire first year of L’s life was spent floating between free living arrangements in various places, L’s mom “home” with him and L’s dad depressedly applying for jobs in the attic at my parents’ house (and then less depressedly doing a few consulting gigs and a summer internship).
You know, in life, you look back on times like that and you remember them fondly? But in the moment, it felt really demoralizing.
When Baby S was born, our lives were just different: I had my full-time teaching gig, with a full course load and benefits, so I went back to work at four months, toting my breast pump with me on the train and trying not to cry during my breaks, when I disappeared into a former broom closet to empty my boobs. With Baby S, I started with three days of childcare, then moved to four, and when he went to his current daycare situation, she told me four was no longer possible: full-time or nothing, baby. I remember the promise I made to myself and to her that I’d keep him home on Wednesdays anyway, do my online class work when he napped, make up for it on the weekends.
But, um, well, I mostly haven’t. Mostly, I send him off to childcare every day like he has a job, and pick him up at the end of the day. And probably because of my two X chromosomes, I’ve felt pretty guilty and conflicted about this over the last year.
Yes, I have the kind of job where I could, conceivably, not have five days of childcare. I’m lucky in this regard. I work some weekends no matter how much I work during the week; I work from home a lot. So the standard of 9-5 care out of my house isn’t always what I need, but it’s what I’ve got. Sometimes?gasp!?I drop off the baby and then go to yoga before getting online. I also do a ton of unpaid work (read: marketing a small-press book). And at times, I have felt this guilt about sending S to “Nonny’s” when I have things on my to-do list like self-care and grocery shopping and schlepping my book to bookstores and sending out promo postcards. Why? I guess because much as I would like to pretend I don’t, I fall prey to The Voices as much as any other woman does: you should, you should, you should. And one of The Voices goes, you should be with your child whenever you can be, at the expense of all else.
And another of The Voices goes: you spent a lot more time with L at this age than you do with S now.
Ouch, Voice. True or not, that feels like a low blow.
But here’s the honest, naked truth: I adore Baby S. Like, he is the cutest thing since cute sliced bread these days. His language is exploding; everything is “no mine!” as it’s clutched to his chest. He calls the dudes he sleeps with his “tuffies.” L is “Weo.” Sometimes the first thing he says in the morning, his hot little cheeks scented with delicious baby-drool smell (trust me, it’s the best), is “Wheah Daddy go?” He likes to pick up things like the TV remote, pretend they’re the phone, and say “Nanaaaa?”
He’s a total riot.
And he’s also the most active baby I’ve ever met. In twenty minutes the kid can stop the washing machine right before the spin cycle, call Australia on my phone, screw up the microwave, and tip an entire box of cereal onto the floor. The stroller can’t contain him; he’s learned how to turn on the hose; and when he says “all done” after dinner, we’ve got about thirty seconds to let him out of his high chair (God forbid he sit still for longer than fifteen minutes!) before he starts throwing stuff. I’m telling you, he’s the cutest menace to society you’ve ever seen.
And so oh, how I love bringing him to daycare. At daycare, they play at the park until they’re exhausted. They play at the water table until they’re exhausted. There are eight little terrors for him to compete with. They exhaust each other. He has a great day, every day. It’s so much more than I could give him on my own. And his caregivers? They love him. One day, worried that he was just too much, Nonny told me: “He’s a little ray of sunshine, and I love him.” I nearly cried, she’s so kind. (She even meant it, you guys.)
You know what I love about childcare? It’s having another trusted, loving adult in S’s life. Not so many of us in America are lucky enough to have a true village anymore, extended family and friends all living close by and raising each other’s kids. So I have to pay for mine.
P.P.S. I’m in the midst of my mini-book tour! To see dates and locations I’ll be reading from Little Prayers, check out my Little Prayers Book Tour page. Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, here I come. Can’t wait.
Something I’ve struggled with since I started blogging, and writing such a personal memoir, is the fact that we Americans just love to talk about ourselves. It’s not lost on me that psychoanalyzing my two-year-old and rehashing the events of my week, though cathartic and, I hope, marginally enjoyable to read, is a pretty privileged vocation. I belong to that camp that believes that human pain is human pain; even the most privileged people in society have problems. And I think if you spend all your time saying, I don’t deserve to feel what I feel, because of the starving children in India, you’re going to wind up with some really specific and bad neuroses. Nonetheless, there are vastly different human experiences, and sometimes it boggles the mind. I always remember the time my good high school friend L said to me, when things were awful in Haiti about two years ago and we both had small babies and were sleep-deprived and generally unhappy, “I do not even know what I would do if my kid was crying because she was hungry and I didn’t have anything to feed her.” I remember we both sort of stopped short and thought about it for a second, feeling very, very grateful.
I have very little idea about what’s going on in Syria at the moment, mostly because my experience of listening to the news goes something like “Scott Horseley, NPR News. In Damascus today“?”Mom! I need more milk!”?forces pushed into?”Mom! I need a snack!”?UN Resolutions?”Hey babe? Where’s the mayonnaise?”, but yesterday in the car I heard that children are involved in the violence and have been murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and sexually abused. I’m not sure whether the horror of those crimes is more horrific to me now that I have a child myself and can imagine being in a place where children were caught up in something like that?but any way you slice it, it’s horrific. And I just wanted to acknowledge that, I guess.
Close to home, things are going well. February has thus far been kinder to me than January was (which strikes me as odd since I think of February as the cruelest month. The kindest? September). You’ll remember I took that yoga workshop last weekend, and it changed my life. Not my life life, but my immediate actions, attitude, and the day-to-dayness of here and now. We started off by writing, and in that brief ten minutes I articulated for probably the first time how depressing and demoralizing I find the competitiveness around trying to get published (a man in the workshop helped me come to this, when, after 20 people had introduced themselves with variations of the phrase “I’m a writer” he said, “I’m an author,” and, well, I did not feel the yogic loving kindness heading his way). Then, we did some asana, just simple yoga but at a perfect pace and difficulty level. Then some meditation, during which time I had my second important realization: that my next project will be about childbirth. Then came the best part. One of the teachers pointed out that many of the students had said that they were feeling “stuck.” “In my experience,” he said, “being stuck just means that you’re hammering away at something from the same angle over and over again. Try something new.” How is it that something so obvious could have been so completely lost on me until that moment? And that was realization #3: I need to stop sitting in the same coffee shop day after day pulling my hair out. I need to go for a walk with a tape recorder so I can hear my own voice again. Or put the book away for a while. Go to an art museum. Do a prompt. Write a poem. Do yoga every day (I have been; just ten minutes in the morning, but it’s ritual, and it’s good).
In other good news L has started at his new daycare. Those of you who have been around me of late know how worried I have been about my dear sweet L, who proved to be sensitive, clingy, sad, and whiny at his old daycare. I assumed for four months that this was just who he was when I wasn’t around. But now after two days–two tiny days–at Lorena’s he is a new man. He didn’t ask for me once. On the ride over, he said, “you dropping me off, Mumma?” And I said yup, I sure am. See you after lunch. No problem at all. I am cautiously optimistic that this will keep up. He even told me he’d like to try taking his nap there on Friday. Could be a disaster; we’ll see. And as though to drive home the rightness of this decision, today we visited his old daycare, to say a proper goodbye. I noticed that while I was enjoying the camaraderie of the women, who are chatty and fun and sweet, L was sort of lost. He didn’t want to ask for things. He didn’t have any skills when another kid didn’t want to share. He was out of sorts. So I think we have made a good choice.
This is getting awfully long, so I’ll stop there. Blessings to you, party people.
I have a sleeping child. I’m so much calmer when L takes his nap. He didn’t, yesterday; instead, he took off his diaper, peed all over his crib, and then drove me crazy all afternoon. Around 5:30 I was heard to mutter sotto voce, “you’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?” I’m not sure he heard. Let’s hope he didn’t.
Funny story: we have a bad habit of leaving a wine glass out on the kitchen table or coffee table and the next morning our long tall drink of an L discovers it, drinks a sip, and then comes gleefully in to tell us all about it. “I drinking wine!” he said once, with a purple mustache. Oops. You think we’d learn, but no: this morning there was a (luckily-almost-totally-empty) glass on the table. L comes into the bathroom where I was just getting out of the shower.
L: “I drank some wine, Mumma.”
Me: “You did? Sweetie, wine is for grownups.”
L, cheerfully: “Oh, it was just a little bit. Don’t worry ’bout it.”
This is not L.
In moments like those–and like this afternoon, in the car on the way home from daycare, when L told me “I need a snack and I can’t hold my horse”–he is an utter and complete joy to me.
This morning I had coffee with MB, the husband of a dear friend from college. They live out in the sticks in Colorado, where they have a farm, and he’s in town doing some music gigs at local open-mic nights and the like. Some of you remember that lately I have been lusting after the “simple life,” and I found myself peppering MB with questions. I hope he didn’t mind. It was pretty wonderful to hear about their plans (to support themselves, and when they need a little more money, sell some wool/mutton/chickens/garlic/eggs); their sheep (five of them!); and their childcare woes (1+ hour drive to school every day). Lately I’ve been really interested in farm stories. Two books recently have been rocking my world: The Urban Homestead, which is a how-to guide for turning your small urban rental into a miniature farm and canning, harvesting, and eating your way to the good life; and The Dirty Life, which is a memoir by a woman who falls in love with a farmer, moves to upstate New York, and starts a full-service farm, which is to say, a farm that supports up to 30 or 40 local families with everything they need: organic vegetables, meat, eggs, beans and grains, dairy, and maple syrup.
I think farming and urban homesteading are hip right now, and I can get into what’s hip, so maybe that’s the reason for my interest. More, though, I think I have been so in my head lately I’m likely to topple over. I think I’m really craving more manual labor and physicality and less cerebral work. I’m no couch potato–I have to exercise fairly compulsively or else I explode, and I’m back into running again–but when MB sat down across from me at a very urban coffee shop and told me being in the city was freaking him out, and I could see how much time that man spent outdoors working hard, I felt a little jealous.
I’ve decided to take a yoga workshop this weekend! I’m so delighted. It’s called “Yoga & Creativity: Building a Practice as a Writer or Artist” and I saw a flyer for it when I went to a Pilates class this morning. It’s a short one (essential, when you have a 2-year-old and your husband thinks he has to spend some time at the office) and I thought it might be a really good way of moving the energy down from my head and into my body a bit. I have this sense that if I can feel my book more than think my book, I’ll have some success in moving from a very stuck place to a more open one.
I know, I know, I sound so California.
Speaking of which: L was hamming it up at the produce market yesterday (un-napped, the kid turns into a madman). He was dancing and twirling and frenetically being crazy and this very eccentric woman came up to us and said, “Oh! What’s his name?” I told her. “Is he a Leo?” she asked. I confirmed that in fact he is a Leo. “But what’s his moon sign?” she asked. I told her I didn’t know. She put her hand on my arm and said in this very conspiratorial voice, “You have to get his charts done. There’s something else in there besides Leo. God, he’s just darling!” (L was dismantling the juice machine at that point. This was about 15 minutes before the pain-in-the-ass business.) She couldn’t take her eyes off him and gave me her card. Now, cynical B told me that of course she was just drumming up business, but I have to say that this is the third or fourth time a total stranger has come up to me and told me how…X…my kid is. One dude, who also put his hand on my arm and stared into my eyes, said, “I just have to tell YOU about the intelligence simply exuding from that child.” Not sure why he needed to emphasize “you.” Maybe he thought I didn’t already know?
Yesterday morning I had a little crying jag, and called B, as I always do (what did I do before he came along?). Last night he brought flowers and I promptly started to cry again.
B: “Whoa, it must be a long time since I brought you flowers, if they made you cry!”
Yeah, well. Tears of joy, I guess.
I'm working from the premise that motherhood is not just all diapers, tantrums, and setting limits. It's interesting. Okay, sometimes.