She’s downstairs with her new nanny, screaming her ever-loving head off.
I’m upstairs with my computer and my wireless headset, trying to get some work done and turning Pandora up louder and louder in a futile attempt to drown out the sound of her cries.
And I’m feeling sort of like an asshole all the while because this whole working mom thing was really my idea, and because I enjoy my job enough to stubbornly insist on keeping at it, despite the fact that this whole secondary caretaker thing is not going over well with my baby girl. Not so well at all.
“Do NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, attempt to work from home,” one wise friend advised me when I told her I was hiring a nanny so I could resume freelance work for a portion of each week. “The temptation to intervene is just too great.”
That was a few months and one nanny ago. She was right. I should leave, decamp for a nearby coffee shop. But I don’t. Because I’m lazy, and the decaf coffee here is free, and because I just inordinately love this little office with its scraps of paper tacked to the walls and its wilting vase of flowers and its endless shelves of books.
Since returning to work part-time last August, when Baby G was 4 months old, I’ve spent 10 hours out of each week up here, with my stomach mostly in knots, hooked up to my breast pump at intervals, watching the milk, and occasionally the tears, leaking out of me like water from a busted faucet.
Our first nanny had had her fill by Christmastime, at which point she ghosted us until I was literally forced to call her up and offer her the opportunity to quit. Onward. Now, we’ve got a new friend keeping Baby G company downstairs. She just started up this week, and maybe I’m just stupid optimistic, but she seems rather better equipped to deal with the spitting, shrieking firestorm that is my eight-month-old daughter. Some way, you gotta keep the faith.
And as Baby screeches and I type away at my keyboard, I return eternally to the same question: is it fundamentally selfish for a mom to insist on carving out a corner of life for herself that is hers alone? Am I a jerk owing the fact that I breathe a gleeful, contented little sigh each and ever time I retreat to my little book-lined office, turn up the music and firmly shut the door? Because I do. I LOVE IT up here.
I love it down there, too, sure, in the joyous muck of our daily lives together. In the long afternoons spent nursing in bed, the fitful nights, the poo- and puree-stained afternoons when we listen to records together as she rips my glasses off my face, over and over, so she can use them to smack me across the face?
It’s lovely. But it’s not quite enough to sustain my soul. Or, at least, it wouldn’t be enough in the longer term, hence my hasty return to the freelance writing world at the end of last summer. The thought of firing all my clients, of closing my modest writer’s ledger for a final time, of plunking down into Momdom arse-first and getting eternally comfortable, sounded fantastic when I was a super-pregnant mom to be limping around town to conduct interviews and take photos and deposit checks. It sounded fucking heavenly.
But Momdom definitely wasn’t quite what I expected. It was at once far more tender and far more tedious than I ever anticipated. Again, don’t get me wrong — I love being a mom. I once heard parenthood described as akin to discovering a room in your house you didn’t know existed, and that rings quite true for me, but it’s more like an entire new floor, full of tiny, beautiful objects and tinkly music and delicious things to eat. My heart has grown three sizes, at least, since that morning last May when G joined our family and made us into a threesome.
But. This little fistful of hours spent in my office each week feels so so important. It balances me. It makes me less bored, less fretful, less prone to dark reverie. It helps me appreciate our time together in a deeper way — absence making the soul grow fonder and all that platitudinal jazz.
The tradeoff for that little hit of meaning? A cascade of huge, angry alligator tears each time I kiss Baby G “Goodbye” and head up the stairs with my decaf coffee and my cell phone and my little list of must-dos. A calvacade of them, coming in hot and loud.
Baby tears. They should bottle this stuff. It’s a universal dissolvent, capable of crumbling even the sturdiest psychic fortifications. Market-tested by human biology over a cool two million years. It does its job, and it does it quick. They should call it Resolve Be Gone!
But I’m fighting it, that urge to shutter my previous life and let this new identity overcome me. Because if I’m not a happy human being, then I certainly won’t be a happy mom. I tell myself this, over and over, as I rifle through the bottom desk drawer for that old, broken pair of noise-canceling headphones. I know they’re in there somewhere. And when I find them, I shall wear them without shame.
Meanwhile, there’s a sweet and cranky baby downstairs, just waiting to be loved on. If she could count, I’m sure she’d be ticking the minutes down to the magical hour of 12:30 p.m. — the hour of enchantment, when I’ll clap my hands together, slam my laptop shut, and magically reappear to devote myself entirely to her bidding.
But first, I shall work.