I had an impromptu conversation over Facebook with a friend from high school who is currently expecting her first child. As I lamented that I would be returning to work after a fun-filled summer of sleeping in and cuddling with my 16-month-old, she mentioned that she will only get six weeks of maternity leave when she has her daughter. She said she couldn’t even discuss it without getting sad because she knows how small babies still are at six weeks, and she knows it’s going to be hard.
Yes, it’s going to be hard, I told her. I spent much longer than six weeks with my son when he was born, and it didn’t feel like enough. But, I said… it gets easier. It gets better. And I can say that with complete honesty and experience.
I’ve written posts about how I don’t consider myself a “working mom,” but instead a “mom who works” because I’m sure if it was financially possible, I would choose to do something that would make me more available to my son. I’ve also written posts about how when my son is sick, or I’m cooped up in the house too long during bad weather, I get antsy and wish to go back to work. But I realized I had never written a post about that first day back at work, a day that can be such a rollercoaster for many mothers.
Unlike many people, I get to experience that “first day back” feeling once a year because I’m a teacher. When I had my son in April 2011, I left for the school year and returned in August. That August, I was a mess of emotions, understandably so. Once the year was underway, however, my husband, son and I settled into a routine. I made sure to spend every evening and weekend moment with my son. And things goes easier. They got better.
Then came summer vacation again. For the month of June, the month of July, and half of August, I woke up at 8:30 a.m., snuggled on the couch with my son and watched Bubble Guppies every morning. I went to storytime at the library, a children’s museum, the beach, and the park. I visited bookstores, bought new toys, went on play dates I never have time for while working. I did the stay-at-home mom thing for two and a half months. Then reality sets in: time to go back to work.
I didn’t cry this morning (my first day back) but I had quite a few weepy moments in the last week. Even though I know in my head that it will get easier as the weeks roll on, I can’t tell it to my heart on the first day I leave my son after 10 weeks together. I spent the first hour of my meeting this morning doodling my son’s name and drawing hearts on a piece of paper amidst a small amount of notes, totally oblivious to the goings-on.
I knew my son was waking up, standing in his crib, and seeing a face that wasn’t mine. He’s older now. He understands when I leave. Will he call out for me? Will he cry? I couldn’t focus.
As the day went on, and after I text my brother’s girlfriend to check on my little boy, it got easier. I focused more. I relaxed a little. He’s okay. I’m okay. And we’ll be okay. Just like any other mom who has to work, who chooses to work, or maybe, is somewhere in between.