Today is my last day of maternity leave. I feel like there should be some sort of crossing over ceremony as I venture into working mama territory (not that all of this nurturing at home hasn’t been work…but you know what I mean). I feel like Dylan can sense something is about to change, too, because last night – I almost don’t even want to acknowledge it for fear of jinxing it – last night, he slept through the night. For the past week or so, his nighttime sleeping pattern has been increasing, but still included at least one nighttime waking/feeding. Not last night, though. Granted, he may have no sixth sense whatsoever, and was probably just a bit overtired from serving as the main prop in Halloween photos, but he was still asleep by 8:30pm, and he didn’t wake up until 6:30am. Ten holy hours. I fully expect him to break this pattern tonight, or next week, or sporadically throughout the rest of his childhood, but it happened. And it couldn’t have happened on a better night, because now I have a well-rested baby for our last full day together. What are we going to do today? An assortment of my favorite things: hours of brushing my lips in circles across his face, call-and-response cooing, slow-dancing, co-sleeping, and at least one, maybe more, mama-baby staring contest.
I’m going to miss the opportunity to stare at him endlessly. I keep reminding myself that this mama-to-work/baby-to-daycare separation is a natural process and it’s good for both of us. No kid wants their mom staring at them throughout their life – it would get a little creepy, frankly, over time. But in these early moments, when every new babble or facial expression is priceless, and I feel like he’s watching me as much as I’m watching him, I can’t take my eyes away. I want him to know that I’m here for him, whatever he needs. I feel like my committed eye contact is assuring him that he can trust me. Who will stare at him all day long at daycare? Maybe the other babies will, and maybe that will teach him that he can trust others besides his mama too. That’s a good thing, I guess. But who’s going to laugh at my yawns? Smile at my singing? Think my cheek is delicious enough to eat? No one, and that’s probably a good thing too. (Again with the creepy factor if anyone else wanted to suck my cheek…).
But the staring is also important – beyond trust-building – because I am catching so many firsts. This morning alone – when I heard him starting to wake in his crib (I was already awake because Josh was saying goodbye), I went to him to find him awake and contentedly sucking his thumb! He has slobbered over his hands before but never with such coordination. And then a little later this morning, while sitting in his Fisher Price vibrating chair that’s made to look like a little jungle-scape (the arm of the entertainment arch is part giraffe-neck), he finally reached for – and grabbed ahold of – the middle handle, which operates the musical rotation (a selection of ditties that plays monkey noises and something that reminds me of the samba beat from our old Casio keyboard). Point being that all these firsts are happening daily. And while it’s impossible to catch them all – even if I’m staring at him all day long – it’s even more unlikely that I’ll keep up with the changes when I’m away from him for ten hours a day. Ten hours a day. And he slept ten hours last night. That means, if this sleep pattern continues, I’ll have just four hours a day with him. That’s not parenting – that’s babysitting.
For all our forward progress with women’s rights, I wish we still lived in an era when it was financially feasible for at least one parent to stay home to raise the babies (I won’t be so old-fashioned as to presume it should be the mom…but in my case, I would demand it be so…), at least until they’re school-aged. I wouldn’t mind going back to work when Dylan (or future kids, if there are any) is off to learn his ABC’s. That seems like a more reasonable, graduated separation, for me. And maybe we do live in that era already, were Josh and I not both teachers, and not accustomed to a certain lifestyle already (i.e. eating home-cooked, rather than fast food, etc.). Part of me does wonder how much more we’d have to give up to make it work, but there aren’t many big expenses we could cut, with our student loans and our mortgage taking most of our paychecks the way it is: we already share one vehicle and our camping vacations are pretty modest. Our main source of entertainment is going to concerts and drinking. I suppose we could always get rid of the dogs and their annual exams/shots/dog food/etc. (just kidding, Josh…sort of).
In the end, it’s all about the choices we make, isn’t it? This is something I try to instill in my students – the notion of action and consequence, whether good or bad. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s Laws, right?). And so, this is just the point we’re at in life, based on decisions we’ve made in the past. My situation is no different than thousands of other mamas, and I know that my separation anxiety is natural. I’ve had lots of support from friends & family reminding me that this too shall pass. Therefore, rather than fixate on the negative, I’m going to embrace the positive: in addition to having had the luxury of being home with Dylan since June, it’s Daylight Savings Time this weekend, and I get one extra hour with my little pumpkin this weekend. One extra hour to love him up.