My intention after my daughter was born was to return to work four months later. My employer, however, had other plans and let me go while on maternity leave (citing downsizing…which yes, is apparently legal).
I never thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Somewhere in the back of my head, I kept seeing the stay-at-home mom painted as an uninspired lady who ate bonbons all day. (I have never actually seen anyone eat a bonbon no less multiple bonbons.) You’re home with a baby who can’t walk or talk…what could you possibly be doing all day?
But now, eight months into it, I realize my job is getting a crazy, irrational human to eat, sleep, and not sit in her own excrement for prolonged periods of time… all while distracting her when she cries by being a complete doofus, singing or dancing, plus trying to teach her “no,” (while allowing her to explore her environment) to be gentle, wave, the difference between a red ball and a liger, balance, and to understand the English language. And when she naps, there are clothes to be laundered, fruits and veggies to be steamed and pureed, preschools to be researched, and writing that attempts to get done. I quickly learned that this is the hardest (and most rewarding) job I’ve ever had.
And I never realized just how much time I would spend literally staying within my home.
One of the most difficult parts of the job is the cabin fever. Other than my once a week Mommy and Me class, I do not venture further than a 15-minute drive from my home.
Mommy and Me is 30 minutes from my house. I love the class. I love getting the chance to learn what to expect in the coming weeks and months as I watch my lump of clay become a person. I love relating to other moms’ stories, hardships, and triumphs. But I dread… absolutely DREAD the drive home.
My daughter doesn’t hate the car seat, she doesn’t even hate the car, but she HATES being alone. And when I’m in the car with her by myself, it doesn’t matter how much I sing, say her name, or try to toss toys to her from the front seat; she gets hysterical. That 30-minute drive feels like an eternity. And more times than not, her tears bring out my tears (along with the guilt and anxiety). There have been times when I’ve considered seeking out a hitchhiker to hop in the backseat to keep my little one entertained.
And so, Mommy and Me is my one time during the week that I will allow myself to sit in the car with my screaming banshee for any length of time. Sure, I’ll take her out for walks or the classes nearby, but long car rides to get any errands done, or see other stay-at-home mom friends who live further away, just don’t happen. It’s just not safe to drive with that many tears in your eyes, right?
I know I feel like a bad friend because I won’t drive to see people 45 minutes away when I, in some ways, have the “time.” People are constantly telling me that my daughter just needs to get used to it. Or that I should just crank up the radio and drown her out. But ya know what? I cannot handle it. I made the choice to let my daughter cry it out to get her more sleep…(yes, I get more sleep as a side bonus), but I just can’t put her (and myself) through that in the car. I can’t sit there and look back at her little face as her eyes well with tears and her cheeks get all red and sweaty. I can’t do it. Well, I suppose the right words are I won’t do it. No matter how well I think I plan it out… that she’ll nap in the car, or I feed her right before she gets in, that she can’t possibly be hungry… she cries. A lot.
This fear of being in the car has now created a Pavlovian panicked response even when my daughter isn’t there.
I’m a standup comedian. However, since I’ve had my daughter, I just haven’t felt like getting out there. (Even though when I DO have a show, I feel awesome afterwards.) I have this strange sense of “I shouldn’t,” combined with an overwhelming want to be reclusive.
I will make plans to leave the house with my husband (usually with my daughter) and for some reason that feels fine. Maybe because I have him for backup support? And I encourage him to make plans with friends after work, and he does. And it makes me happy that my reclusivity isn’t contagious.
My parents come by twice a week to see their granddaughter (and me) and I invite people to our home (yes, you are invited too) but all I think about is keeping to my daughter’s schedule. And when I do pull myself together enough to get in the car and show up for plans (with or without my daughter), the same distracted mindset occurs, and I am unable to completely enjoy myself.
So, enjoying a girls’ night, alone time, or leaving the house by myself for any reason fills me with this feeling of dread. Making it worse, I get the sense from whomever I’m with that they can detect the panic. So if you take those feelings, plus my Pavlovian car-fright, it makes me far less inclined to leave the confines of my home.
Yes, I feel claustrophobic when I’m home for too long, but sometimes I just can’t leave…or, I should say, I won’t.
I’m not sharing this with you to get an “Oh, you poor thing.” I’m telling you this because I have a sneaking suspicion (and secret hope) that I am not the only one in this panicked state which ultimately ends with feeling anxious and isolated. And yes, faithful reader, the irony does not escape me that the reason my daughter gets upset in the car is because she is lonely, and I will not take trips in the car, which, in turn, makes me feel alone.