It’s a hot tea kind of morning. I’m too stuffy and cold and stiff to take the energy to brew a pot of coffee with my French press. Also, I think tea goes better with leftover PopSecret and gogi berries – my breakfast of choice in the aftermath of the holiday season. Even though Josh will eventually come downstairs and make me eggs and venison sausage for breakfast, and even though I’ll probably, eventually, shower and get dressed for the day, I think one slovenly look around the menagerie that has become my kitchen since returning to work says it all. Life as a working mama has zapped my energy.
Let’s start with the kitchen: sitting on a bar stool against the counter, I’m nestled in my robe and slippers (as per usual) surrounded by crumpled post-it notes, picture-hanging wire, backup hard drives, piles of mail, sheets of infant daily reports from daycare, and unopened bills. Among other things, there are dog collars, picture frames, empty glasses containers, a bottle of stain remover (used just two mornings ago to clean up Moose’s indoor bathroom accidents), scraps of angel-clad wrapping paper, some power tools, and a level. Oh, and Dylan is in there somewhere too, sitting on the kitchen table, reaching for the musical entanglements of his bouncy seat. Granted, it’s the last Sunday of Christmas break, so some of this debris is excessive and directly attributed to that whole mess, but my lack of ability to do anything about it – clean it up or make sense of it – is, I believe, due to my new role as a working mama.
Now, clearly, there are moms who can handle housework and parenting and working. Some even do it really well, I’m told. I, however, do not. This year was Dylan’s first Christmas, and I didn’t even send out a family Christmas card – heck – we barely even had a family photo taken until Christmas day (thanks to my mom) – and I have yet to upload it, order it, and send them out. Spoiler alert: I probably won’t. I’m convinced that our new neighbors think we’re grumps, since we’re the only house on the block without Christmas lights or decorations on our house – not even a wreath! And, we wouldn’t have had a tree at all, had Josh’s sister not dropped off an artificial tree she had lying around, pre-strung with lights. We never got around to hanging the ornaments. The sad truth is that I love Christmas. It’s just that, well, since going back to work, I love the art of doing nothing more.
The first week back was probably the hardest. My constant baby-wearing for the first four months of Dylan’s life led to a rude awakening for him at daycare. Needless to say, our provider cannot hold him all day long (nor should she be expected to), so he cried basically non-stop for the first couple of days. He refused the bottle and wouldn’t nap. We picked him up exhausted, frustrated, sad. I nursed our poor boy into oblivion within the first hour we were home each night, after which he would promptly pass out and sleep for the next twelve hours. In theory, this sounds awesome – I was able to sleep and get some schoolwork done; in reality, it was heartbreaking. My biggest fear – of only seeing Dylan for an hour each night – was coming true. Luckily, after a few days, this subsided. We’re told Dylan is now a happy boy at daycare, taking naps and drinking bottles like the rest of them. We have at least three hours with him every night to interact, laugh, snuggle, nurse, bathe, and play. For the most part, he sleeps through the night (I call four-to-six hour chunks sleeping through the night), and for the most part, we’ve fallen into a comfortable routine. Except that nothing else gets done. Nothing.
I’ve heard other moms say things like you just have to make time for yourself, or you have to take time to do what really matters to you in order to keep your sanity as a working mom. And while I’m sure getting up early to squeeze in a workout before the baby wakes up, or heading to the yoga studio after the kids are asleep, works for some moms, my reality is that it is so exhausting trying to juggle both work and home, that what I really want to do is: nothing. I have spent more hours staring blankly at the black TV screen, too tired even to turn it on, than I’d care to admit. I look at dirty socks on the carpet, dishes in the sink, belts on the floor, and think, I should put those away…but then remain prostrate on the couch until I’m roused out of my stupor by hunger or the need to go to the bathroom. I feel like a caricature of an exhausted mom – like I belong sketched into squares on the Sunday Funnies page. Or, worse, like a sitcom mom – maybe along the lines of Roseanne – an icon I never, in my wildest horrors, aspired to be.
Ok, maybe it’s not that bad. I mean, we do still grocery shop once a week and wash the cloth diapers every other night; there’s snowboarding gear lumped in with the rest of the mess in the living room and an almost-empty box of wine alongside the plastic baby bath on the kitchen counter, so I know we are actually doing stuff. It just feels like we have so much more to do. Maybe we’re just in the thick of it. Maybe this first year of parenting is as much about learning how to care for an infant as it is about learning how to care for ourselves, and each other, in this new environment where our previously selfish desires can no longer take precedent. And maybe that’s where the exhaustion comes from: the mental space required to think about Dylan, on top of (or in spite of) everything else, leaves little room for much else.
The good news: there is hilarity intermingled in this whole whirlwind of parenting: Dylan is a thumb-sucker and laughs like Steve Urkel from Family Matters. He’s also recently managed to roll from his back to his front and has finally transitioned to sleeping in the crib (for awhile there, I feared I had created a monster by letting him sleep in the FisherPrice Rocker next to our bed for the first six months). When he’s happy, he screams in a kind of throaty, orc-speak, and he blows bubbles, or spits raspberries, (whatever you want to call it) whenever Josh walks in the room because he knows that’s a little game they play. He’s interested in our dogs and likes to grab their ears, to which they begrudgingly oblige. He’s got a little Popeye thing going on, with his forearms thicker than his biceps, so we’ve taken to calling him Sweet Pea. When he can get them to his mouth, he sucks on his toes. When he’s tired, he grabs my face with his two hands and rubs his forehead back and forth across my mouth as he burrows into my chest. When he falls asleep on me, I am unbelievably content, because nothing else matters. Nothing.
So the dishes may remain in the sink for a few extra days. The broom will lean lonely against the back hall corner. The bathroom…oh god, the bathroom. Well, the bathroom will eventually be cleaned. But in the meantime, when the most vital part of my energy is spent loving my new baby and connecting with my husband, and my leftover energy is spent grading and planning and trying to keep our heads above water, financially, the housework will have to wait. Because, frankly, there is nothing left.