Friday, September 2, 2011

Work: 1, Life: 2, Balance: 0

Written last week on a flight to Chicago for a work trip.

I am 30,000 feet away from Amalia, and I am feeling every inch.

It has been almost three months since I last posted something, coinciding, almost to the day, with when I went back to work. My three-month hiatus from blogging has more to do with the lack of balance associated with work-life balance, but it also has something to do with the fact that when I first went back to work, I didn’t want to write about the anger and resentment I felt for fear that I wouldn’t put it into the right words.

But in just three short months, I have gained perspective. Ha! If only. Well, I've gained some, anyway.

Here is what it was like to go back to work: it was terrible. I missed Mollie fiercely, passionately, with my whole heart. I resented the fact that I was sitting at a desk while she was home. I counted down the hours I spent at the office or in meetings, and I felt so dispassionate about my work that I wondered whether it was really what I wanted to be doing. I hated pumping. Not only did it take an hour out of my day, it was an ounce-by-ounce reminder of both my physical separation and the fact that I was falling short of what Mollie needed (to eat), which made me feel like I was falling short of what Mollie needed (in general).

And here is what it is like to be back at work now: it is slightly less terrible. I miss Mollie fiercely and passionately and I resent the fact that I don’t get to spend my days with her, resent the fact that I only get a harried hour with her in the morning in between pumping, making bottles, and making myself presentable for my day, and then an action-packed hour with her at night, nestled among bathtime, nursing, bottle-cleaning, dinner-making (ours) and mealtime (hers). Pumping remains an ounce-by-ounce reminder of my physical separation, but because of a lot of research and a come-to-Jesus moment with Enfamil, I no longer feel like I’m falling short of Mollie’s needs.

And something strange has happened in the past two weeks. Lo and behold, as many a wise working-woman told me would happen, I have found that I don’t hate my job. In fact, there are days when I love it, love the fact that I spend my time affecting social change, working to make the world a more livable one, love the fact that I get to feel like a role model to this person who will someday become a teenager and hate me. My days are busy, busier than they ever were before (cue the “what did I do with all of my time before I had kids” song) and yet I manage to get more and less done. Every minute counts now, for better (I can write more emails in 20 minutes than I ever realized) and for worse (I feel tethered to the clock, I know exactly how much I can and can’t get done in any given 10-minute span of time, my days are planned to the minute).

And yet I still hate the fact of working. Rather, I hate the fact that I spent so much time and money getting to this point in my career, only to have a baby and wish that I could lead two lives – the one where I’m home with her, and the one where I’m making the world a better place while picking up a (small but critical) paycheck. Put more directly, I am a mother now.

I have no doubt that not working is just as hard as working, much like I am now certain that formula-feeding leaves parents just as crazed as breastfeeding, and sleep-training is just as exhausting as not sleep-training. Like everything else in life and in parenting (particularly first-time parenting), the decisions are hard, there’s merit on both sides of the spectrum, and the right thing for one parent is the wrong thing for another.

In the last three months, our little scrawny chicken has gotten fat. She has knee dimples, elbow dimples, and three round chins. She sits on her own, puts everything in her mouth, eats pears with gusto. She talks more when she’s around people she knows, she shrieks and squawks and kicks her legs when she’s excited. She will be six months old in just a week. It is amazing what six months can bring. Also, teeth.

I am 30,000 feet and several hundred miles away from her and I can conjure her sweet baby smell in my nose, and feel her cheek give under my lips as I kiss her in my mind’s eye. I am on my first work-trip, resenting the distance and grateful, so incredibly and unbelievably grateful for my two great loves at home.

I will be home again in 36 hours. And I will already resent Monday the very moment I pick Mollie up to feed her in the early hours of Saturday morning. In between then and now, I will meet the next generation of organizers, of world-changers, of people who work for a small but critical paycheck. Just like every day, the moment I hold her in my arms will be the sweetest homecoming I have ever known.

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