Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On being a working mom

I remember an episode of Sex and the City that I watched a while back in which Miranda had just returned to work, after her maternity leave. Narrator Carrie described her as being "politically incorrectly happy to be there." Miranda's facial expression was a mixture of excitement and relief as she arranged and rearranged the contents of her desktop. I can relate.

I think I had some vague idea of what motherhood would be like before I had Nik. I babysat extensively when I was a teen. I work with kids in my professional life. Plus, people told me that even if you aren't good with kids, it is different when they're your own kids, that you fall in love with them. I was anxiously looking forward to it.

While I was pregnant, I decorated the nursery and spent dreamy hours in the baby section of the local department stores. I had pregnancy portraits taken. I read books on pregnancy and infant development, and stocked up on baby supplies. I did everything I could think of to get prepared.

After Nik was born, I felt permanently off balance. I was consumed by both baby care and household tasks, feeling like it was impossible to even find the time to catch my breath. I told myself that things would get easier and that this was only temporary "I-have-a-newborn" craziness.

Time passed, and Nik got older. He learned to smile, to laugh, to roll over. He could play peek-a-boo. Then he could creep, and crawl, and finally walk. He could say, "Hi," and "Mom," and give sweet baby kisses. I began to find space in my day to have a cup of tea, or to check my e-mail. Laundry got easier to keep up with, and the house was cleaner. I read more books, and joined mom's groups and "Baby 'n me" classes. I did my best to embrace my new lifestyle, but despite everything, my feelings about motherhood did not change.

Enter guilt. I could forgive myself for not experiencing the fabled bliss of motherhood when I was tired and overwhelmed, but as things got easier, it seemed unreasonable to use that as an excuse. There are women I know who are deperately trying to conceive, and on my darkest days I would wonder why God didn't give my baby to them, instead of to unappreciative me. As the end of my maternity leave approached, I eyed the possiblity of returning to work as if it were the forbidden fruit. I believed that good mothers wanted to stay home. They would only return to work reluctantly, and only if they had to. I could not reconcile how I could profess to love my baby, and yet long for something that would take me away from him for hours at a time.

I went back to work two and a half days a week when my son was almost 11 months old. The income does help us make ends meet, but I can't pretend that was the reason I went back. I didn't go back to set some healthy example about having outside interests, either, as I've heard some working mothers claim. I wanted to go back. After my first month working, I have more energy, and am happier than I've been in months, and I have only recently learned something that allows me to admit that without wanting to hide under the rug.

As part of my constant research, I have recently begun reading Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's Raising Your Spirited Child. I expected it to help me better understand my son, and some of his strong personality traits, but it has had the unexpected benefit of helping me to better understand myself. In the chapter on extroversion vs introversion, Kurcinka writes that extroverts "feel exhausted when [they] have spent too much time alone or with young children" and need to be busy in interaction with others to keep from running out of steam. Like nutritional needs, these "energy needs" need to be met on a regular basis, or you are left feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and unhappy.

Finally, an explanation for my feelings that has nothing to do with how I feel about my son, or my role as a mother! It may sound odd, but it is validating to discover that I can love my son, and be unhappy at the same time. Now that my needs are being met by the 20 hours a week I spend at the workplace, I enjoy the time I spend with my son so much more. Though I have less time at home to accomplish my tasks, I actually have an easier time getting them done, and feel much more competent as a mother. There is also far less pressure on my relationship with my son to meet my needs for happiness and fulfillment, and this is allowing it room to grow.

For all these reasons, my return to work has been wonderful. I am "politically incorrectly happy to be there," and I'm not ashamed to admit it anymore.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Now is the time for Copperfield

Lately, I have been reading David Copperfield as part of my nighttime routine. My paperback copy of Dickens' illustrious work was found collecting dust one summer in a second-hand book shop at Winnipeg Beach. I was inspired to my $2.00 purchase by some vague feeling that it was virtuous to read the classics (or, at least, have them on your bookshelf). So, after 6 months or so of allowing the book to collect dust in my possession, I picked it up and actually started to read.

Though I've read Dickens before, it has always been of the shorter Christmas-themed type, so Copperfield's complexity came as a bit of a shock. With a dictionary within reach, I struggled to make sense of the unfamiliar language, reading chapter after chapter, until one day, after finishing the chapter XII, I came to a realization. David was off to seek his aunt, whom he had never met, out of desperate times that were a result of many hardships in his young life, and I didn't care. Not at all! He could get there, or not, and it would make no difference to me. This orphaned and abused boy had just been robbed, and was off on a long journey on foot, and I didn't have any interest in reading the next chapter. So I didn't.

Fast forward a year or so. Nik is born, and I am reading every baby care book and website I can find. His sleep problems begin, and that triggers another reading binge, starting with sleep solution books, and branching off into basic parenting philosophies. I am starting to make myself crazy with all this research. Then my sister lends me a book by Billie Letts, out of the blue, Where the Heart Is. It is a breeze to read, and I am done it within the week. Now, I have the fiction bug. I pick up A Wizard of Earthsea, one of Andrew's books on the shelf downstairs. More difficult, but thin, and it only takes me a few weeks to get through. Upon completing both books, I feel a sense of loss. I have really begun to look forward to my before-bed chapter, in the quiet of the evening, tucked into bed. The books just aren't lasting long enough.

And then I remember Copperfield. I remember how I felt it would never end, and how a month of reading it barely made a dent in the book. I realize that if I am looking for a book that will last, I need to look no further. So, I pull it off of the shelf, and pick up where I left off, at Chapter XIII. Soon I meet Betsey Trotwood and Mr. Dick, and watch Janet chasing the donkeys off of the lawn, and David is put to bed under Mr. Dick's sound advice, and I am hooked.

Now is the time in my life to read David Copperfield. Now is the time in my life where reading a chapter of such a long and formally-written book is a respite and not a chore. My intellect is challenged, and my need for quiet and still and uninterruption is met. Surprisingly, the book that I gave up on over a year ago is my sanctuary today. A good lesson to extrapolate, I think.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The beginning of swirls and swings

When deciding to begin a blog, for me the obvious question was, "Why? Why sign up? Why have a blog at all?" When it came time to title my blog, I realized that I needed an answer.

I thought of the reasons why people might write, and tried on some potential names. "My Soapbox"? No, I'm not really here to make speeches. I considered, "Breathings of my heart" (inspired by Wordsworth), but I decided it was too sentimental, and besides, it was already taken.

Then, I found these words by James Michener:

"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."

That thought resonated with me. I realized that I love using words. That is why it is so hard for me to wait my turn in conversation. That is why my message board posts are twice as long as the average user's. That is why I use phrases like 'canter of speech' and 'bone of contention'.

Words liberate me to say exactly what I am thinking; exactly what I feel. They marry freedom of choice with freedom of expression. When used effectively, words have power to move a reader to tears or action, to change a mind, or change a heart.

So, why start a blog? To play with words. To form them into sentences and paragraphs just to see how they sound together. To express myself; to tell the story of my experience. In short, to write out of the love of the swirl and swing of words.
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