Some days, I wonder:
What would life look like at home with P- playing chase, while dodging rogue Mega Blocks on the living room floor, wiping off P’s spaghetti goatee from lunch, and taking her to toddler story time at the library?
I think few mothers like to admit it, but for me, leaving P at daycare at the tender age of six weeks was not as difficult as I had imagined. After nights filled with colicky screams, spit-up, and anxiety about her milk intake, work was a sort of respite. I could take breaks if I wanted to, eat a full meal and take more than five minutes to do so, and interact with adults.
Fast forward 15 months: now, I am having difficulty leaving her at daycare. Some mornings, she stands in front of the storm door of her daycare, waving, and saying “buh” as I walk to my car. P’s daycare is filled with love; it is structured, and the children go on weekly field trips to the library, Montessori class, and a local orchard, just to name a few. Chad and I couldn’t feel more secure leaving her where we do during the day, and P loves it, too.
That said, I’ve been feeling conflicted lately. I would love to be the one to take P to story time at the library. Some days, I would like to be the one to play with her at the park, mid-day. These thoughts and feelings become even louder and stronger in the evenings. Some days, it is a struggle to get P in her car seat to go home; on occasion, I have had to physically hold her down to buckle her in. Then, as soon as we walk through the door of our townhouse, the crying begins. P clings to me, wants up, but isn’t even happy then, sometimes.
Have you ever tried cooking dinner with one hand while holding a 24-pound toddler in the other (who wants to stir what’s in the pan and put the lid on, too)? Some days, it is all I can do not to shed a few tears. A tear for me, because after a long work day, during which I think about all the fun things I want to do with P when we get home, all I want to do is cuddle and play with her, and a tear for P, because the evening transition from daycare to home is visibly tiring and tough for her.
Yesterday, our daycare provider was unavailable, so I took the day off. I took P to the preschool where I work, to pick up a few files, in hopes of getting some work done during her afternoon nap time. P paraded down the halls like she owned the place, touching the bulletin boards, reaching for flags draped from the ceilings, and just generally charming the socks off of some of the teachers. At one point, one of them said to me, “How could you come here every day? Why not stay home with that precious little girl?”
I flinched, but didn’t say anything. It took me a few minutes to wrap my mind around what the teacher asked. I suppose she assumed that I was choosing to work; if only it were that simple. Then I wondered: do most people think my working outside of the home is a choice? I can assure you that it is not. My family relies on my income for our necessities (rent, car payments, food, you know, all that good stuff), and good health insurance. I fear that other people’s uninformed thoughts about mothers who work outside the home will influence P. Never for a second do I want her to think that I choose my work over her.
Would I give up my career and stay home with P if I could? Right now, I would seriously consider it, with the caveat that I would do some sort of work (per diem psychological assessments from time to time, freelance writing gigs, etc.) unrelated to child-rearing or household tasks for at least a few hours each week. Never did I think I would be the kind of mother who wanted to stay home with her child, but here I am, wanting just that. The ways I’ve changed since becoming a mother, from my priorities to my thought processes, have changed significantly.
Intellectually, I know that my working outside the home is not going to damage P; if anything, she may become more independent, and see that women can provide for themselves, while doing something they love. Still, some days, I wrestle with working mama guilt; as full-time work outside of the home is in my future for the long-term, I sure hope I can pin it down.