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Going Back to Work Made Me Appreciate Being a Stay-at-Home-Mom

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For eight-and-a-half months postpartum, I was more or less a stay-at-home mom. Penrose went to a babysitter for an hour a few days a week so I could go in to the bakery I open in the summer, and once a week since school started I’ve been breaking my sabbatical from teaching to be my own substitute band teacher. But for most of the time I was with my daughter from sun up to sun down, and quite a bit of time after dark, too.

When she was tiny we nursed seemingly all day. I felt tied to the couch, so we made sure to go out for walks. She sometimes napped for hours on end while I waited for her to wake up so we could interact, looking at books or walking around the yard while I named all the plants and insects. After a few months I could put her in a Bumbo seat while I read, or cooked, or worked outside, but she still preferred to be held or worn as much as possible. Soon she could hang out on her tummy, chewing on a wooden hammer or waving a xylophone mallet in a terrifying fashion while she squawked triumphantly.

Suddenly she was rolling over with the greatest of ease and getting up on all fours, rocking back and forth. And then in December she started crawling. Staying home with her became a much more active position. She played, and played, and followed the pets around the kitchen. Right around the first night of Hanukkah, she suddenly pulled herself up to standing, and she’s only gotten more active and mobile since.

Just as she approached status as a homo erectus, a real upright grown-up baby, the end of my time at home loomed near. I’d been on sabbatical from my teaching job, and in addition to watching my child almost literally evolve before my very eyes, I’d been doing a lot of writing, taking a class to become an EMT, and helping out with curriculum work at school. But now I was headed back to the classroom.

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It was such a strange thing to imagine. To go from diaper changes, nursing on demand, and going on some sort of outing each day, to teaching everything from elementary reading to high school English and debate–what would I even do? Did I remember how to teach? How to speak in sentences without breaking into improvised songs meant to calm a child who hates diaper changes and tries to escape, naked, every time? It might be a relief to fight that particular battle fewer times a day, and to be able to sit and write uninterrupted during moments of free time at work. But on bad days, with cranky kids and educational bureaucracy to navigate, would I regret not being with my baby?

Not to mention that I was taking over from two amazing women, who subbed for me and connected, really beautifully, with my students. What if my students were actually kind of bummed out that I was back? I’ve known most of them since they were in elementary school, or even younger. Maybe they were glad for a change.

I went back to work on Monday, Jan. 26. I brought Penrose to her babysitter’s farmhouse before 8 a.m. Her giant black lab greeted us with kisses and nudges. Penrose cried when we first got there, but her babysitter scooped her up and gave her some egg and all was well when I left. I maneuvered my car out of her luge-like driveway and went to work. At the morning assembly I got a nice little round of applause when the principal announced my return.

The day was unusual, with work blocks instead of some of my classes. I got to sit and chat with students and establish times and places for pumping, which my boss fully supports. When I picked Penrose up that afternoon I got the full report: how she stayed asleep after her bottle and took a nap in a pack ‘n’ play–her first ever. How well she played with the babysitter’s toddler daughter. The incredible quantity of food she consumed. It all felt manageable.

But then blizzard No. 1 struck, and we were out of school for two days. This week due to the weather we’ve had an early dismissal and a late start for school already, and it’s only Tuesday. So even though Penrose seems perfectly happy spending the day with her babysitter, the logistics of getting out of the house in the morning aren’t yet a pattern, and I don’t feel settled into a routine. Snow days are a reversion to the old way, of living meal to meal, diaper to diaper, and nap to nap. I love them and I want to let go of them at the same time.

It will come. The pieces are there. I feel privileged to spend time with Penrose now, like our relationship has been refreshed by spending some time apart. I love that she gets to hang out with another kid, another dog, different cats, some chickens. I love how happy she is to see me when I walk through the door. And when June rolls around, I’ll love getting a few months to be a stay-at-home mom again.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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