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Returning to Work

January 7, 2012

The return to work was rough, mostly because it coincided with my husband being out of town for like, two months. Sure, he was back for a week here and a few days there, but it was intense. With a five-month old and a three-year old, plus a half-assed plan for childcare, it really sucked. There. I said it. No, wait, I’m not done! It REALLY REALLY SUCKED.

But since we’re not planning on having more kids, at least I can say: Well then. I won’t have to do THAT again.

I have the option to bring Story Jane with me to work since my company has a formal, and awesome, babies-at-work policy for returning parents. It’s a great benefit, and it helped the first few weeks, but I couldn’t swing it any longer. I was a single parent returning to the workforce in a new role. After being off for almost seven (!!) months, I was ready to just get back to work.

And frankly, I’m not the most chill mom in the world. More specifically, I freak out when my kids aren’t sleeping. So trying to get Story to take a nap—while meeting new people and setting up new processes at work—was a recipe for a mommy meltdown.

The ongoing identity crisis: I didn’t say “I’m a mother,” but “a mommy.” I also have a full-time job and a fancy new title. Transitioning between these two roles is what’s most awkward. I can get so into work, and so fulfilled by it, to be honest, I don’t leave at 5:30 as planned. I probably haven’t pumped at the designated time. My commute home is super stressful, ‘cause I know I’ll miss my daughter being awake. My husband, if he’s home, has to cover for me. We haven’t made dinner plans. Even leaving at 6:00, I’m too late. I’ve screwed it up, and I’m not even home yet.

When I walk in, I’ve got to be on. I want nothing more than to squeeze my boy. Usually Alejandro doesn’t have pants on and he’s doing ninja moves. He desperately wants someone to decapitate action figures with him.

I give him a big hug and many kisses. That’s the best, for both of us. Then I deny his requests to play. I may make dinner, or feed Story, and put her to bed if I’m not too late. That means patting her back and singing and letting her cry. I walk out of the room for five minutes at a time as she screams. I give Ali a Popsicle, then return to pat her back some more. I hear Ali stomping towards their bedroom. “Mommy!?” His Popsicle has dripped all over his privates and the hallway, and as soon as Story hears him, she wakes up and cries louder. She’s frustrated she isn’t part of the violence in the living room.

It’s really fun. No really, it’s not.

I don’t know why I expected it to be “fun.” What Kool-Aid did I drink, way back when I was envisioning myself as a super chill, relaxed, loving and art-inspiring parent? And can I please have some more?

I wouldn’t change anything about my life, of course. It’s my design, rough edges and screw-ups included. I wouldn’t trade our two gorgeous babies or their amazing dad who has a creative job at which he excels (but requires him to travel)—not for anything. Or give up my job, for that matter. I love it. I love going to it, and I can’t deny that.

So here I am, a modern parent.

My friend Katrina, who writes the profound Working Moms Break blog, told me long ago that she and her husband sometimes said to one another: “There’s just not enough to go around.” It’s a sad state, but a good reminder to avoid the blame game between partners. It doesn’t seem like enough, but it has to be.

Experienced moms tell me that it’ll get much easier when the kids are in elementary school. “It’s just five years away,” my boss and friend Maria told me tonight. Just five years. Only a parent would be crazy enough to say that.

Only a mommy like myself would accept that decree with a bowed head. And then mourn those years’ passing.

Margot Merrill Fernandez has the job of her dreams at a design firm in San Francisco. She also has two children and a partner who travels. She’s trying not to go crazy so she can enjoy it all. She blogs at Margot Merrill: On Modern Parenting and the Writing Life.

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