My mother stayed at home with me and my brother as much as she could while we were young children.
She was a SAHM until I turned two, and then my brother was born. My cousin was born in the years between us and she started babysitting him, too. When I started preschool at the age of four, she would work from home and a few nights a week. My father traveled almost every week, gone for a few—if not several—days at a time. With his schedule, it mattered all the more that my mom was the constant in our home—always there for us, especially when he couldn’t be. When my brother was in kindergarten, my mother was able to take an office job working “mother’s hours” while making up the difference on nights and weekends at home. Sometimes she would have to drag us out of bed at 4:00AM to take my dad to the train station, or at 11:00PM to pick him up at Logan Airport from a business trip, but I hardly remember those parts.
I remember my mom always being home. I remember my mom’s desk in the family room—remember running in to ask her something as she clickety-clacked away at the keyboard with a soap opera, or the Rosie o’Donnell Show, or something similar playing on the TV in the background. I also remember when she would bring us to the office—the way the air smelled when the AC was running, keeping the computers cool in the little publishing company’s building; the front desk secretaries and the old printer that whirred and grunted; my mom’s boss’s office, littered with toys and candy and pictures that fascinated me as a child and would inhabit her cubicle decades later when this woman and I eventually worked together at a different company.
Eventually, when my brother and I were enrolled in after-school programs, or I was old enough to watch him when we both went home, my mom started working regular hours. It was the culmination of our childcare relationship, one that evolved over the years to suit our needs, her needs, the family’s needs.
Naturally, when I daydreamed about becoming a mother myself, I pictured it going much the same way. I also wanted to be in the publishing business; my husband’s time was split between working from afternoon until midnight and being gone for days at a time once a month. We would have a baby, and I would either be a straight-out SAHM or a freelancer while he worked the second shift. Of course, then, we would probably have a second child (maybe even a third!—oh, how naïve I was), and I would be home for that baby[ies] as well. Once the youngest child was old enough for preschool and/or kindergarten, I would do part-time work—at the office when the littlest baby was at school, at home when the littlest baby was home. Maybe working from home. Eventually, once all of my children were doing full-time school, I would work “mother’s hours,” as my own mother had, until either the oldest/middle child was old enough to babysit the youngest after school or the youngest was old enough to be home alone.
But of course, that’s not how it went.
When we started trying, I was still in retail. Given the [lack of] money I was making, daycare or a nanny would negate my salary. So the plan was that I would quit and be a SAHM. Maybe find work on the side—freelancing, like I’d hoped, though at that point I’d had zero experience and it would probably be hard. I worked in retail through my first pregnancy and miscarriage, and was unemployed and going to graduate school full time for the second. As I began fertility treatments, I took a temporary job working where I am now.
My husband and I had a heart-to-heart about our future. We had the money for a down payment on a house. Did we dare to look? Or would we continue to put everything on hold because we might have a baby? We decided we wouldn’t. I would continue to look for a job in the publishing field, we would find a realtor and look for a house to own, and we would pursue fertility treatments in the hopes of eventually having a baby.
Then bam! bam! bam! bam! Job, car accident, pregnancy, and a house. Within four months of each other. And the month after we closed, we bought a new car (that we really shouldn’t have bought because expensive but I digress) to replace the one we lost.
Suddenly, being a SAHM—even if only for a little while—became impossible.
So I turned to my vacation and sick time, combined with disability pay and FMLA, to squeak out three months’ of “maternity leave” during which I spent at least half the time in an emotional, hazy mess. I returned to work with childcare haphazardly split three ways between my husband, my cousin, and my mom…which we eventually fine-tuned to just my husband in the mornings and my cousin in the afternoons on a daily basis with my mom operating swing shift on Wednesdays. Early on, I spent the weekday mornings with the baby, pumping, and getting ready for work; later, only pumping and getting ready for work while my husband tended to him, as he stopped sleeping through the night and my sleep was harder to come by; and ultimately, pumping while my husband fed and entertained my now mobile and nonsleeping son and packed me a lunch for work—like I’m a child again. I spent the weekends soaking up all the mama time I could, while struggling to also be a wife to my husband and an owner of my house (read: cleaning) and a friend to those I love.
Now, that schedule is about to be flipped on its head. My cousin, who’s been enrolled in a dental program since the fall, won’t be able to nanny for me anymore as she begins an externship next month and attends classes on her days off. The plan of putting my son under the care of anyone but me, my husband, or family—that I had intended to put into action after he turned two—will be pushed up by little more than a year.
Before you say anything, there’s nothing wrong with daycare. At its best, daycare is a safe environment where one’s child can play with other kids under the careful supervision of licensed adults. At its best, I have zero judgement for the people who run it, the kids who attend it, the parents who choose it (or don’t choose, but are forced into it). Key words: at its best. I am all too aware of how rules and regulations are bent. I am all too aware of how lack some background checks can be. I am all too aware of how parenting styles differ and, though none may be wrong, might conflict when mixed with others.
And, when it comes down to it, here’s the thing: this isn’t how I wanted to do it. Plain and simple. When I thought of raising my children, I thought of raising my children. I didn’t think of short bursts of play and laughter in the early hours of weekday mornings, which just so happens to be the best time with my son. I didn’t think of trying to feed my baby dinner when I get home just before bedtime, only to find that my nanny probably should’ve done it for me because now he’s too tired to bother with solids or a spoonful of purée. I didn’t think of everyone else but me learning and molding his daily schedule, of everyone else teaching him how to say “cat” or “mama” or wave hello or give a high-five, of everyone else being a bigger part of his own day than his mother.
Yes, I know daycare professionals are specifically taught to care for and educate my baby—but so could I if I used easily-available resources. Yes, I know that attending daycare means he’ll get to interact with other children—but so could he if I was home with him and able to take him to the park, to Mommy and Baby groups, to playdates with the few mom friends I have. Yes, I know that being around people in daycare other than me and my husband is good for him and will teach him to not be so “attached” to us—but so could he if my husband or I went out several times a month, to brunch or to the movies or to the bar for some drinks, because I wasn’t champing at the bit to just spend some time with my goddamn child.
There’s little I would change, despite all this. Obviously, I would never change anything about my son. I’m also grateful we have a house, which we wouldn’t have had if not for the job I landed shortly before getting pregnant—being able to raise my son in a house, with a yard, with his own room, is incomparable to living in a small 1,000 sq. ft. apartment. Maybe, in retrospect, I might’ve changed the type of car we bought. (Okay, let’s be real—I would definitely change the car. Too expensive. Way too expensive.) And even still, I don’t think I would change the job I have. The opportunity to work in my field, even if it comes without the ability to have a longer maternity leave or telecommute, is important to me. I like the people I work with, and I like the job we do.
Maybe by the time I have my second child (if I am ever so lucky), I’ll be allowed to telecommute. Or maybe I’ll be allowed to reduce my hours. Maybe we’ll have better rights for mothers, and I’ll have paid maternity leave that doesn’t involve my PTO or FMLA. Or a thousand other maybes could happen. Maybe I’m not be working for this company anymore. Maybe they fire me, or lay me off, or I’m offered something better and I quit. Maybe my husband changes jobs, makes more money, and says to me, “Honey, quit your job. Stay home with the babies as long as you want. I got this.” And I spend my free time freelancing as an editor and/or pitching stories to magazines/blogs/papers/whatever.
More fantasizing. A mom can dream, can’t she?