Every time I pick up a Torah at my synagogue, the eyes of several of the other women in the congregation start to twinkle. I’ll often get winks and conspiratorial grins sent my way. This isn’t just because women’s aliyot—the honor of reciting the blessings over the Torah—are still fairly new to our synagogue, although that’s part of it.
It’s also because these ladies remember well the High Holidays that followed the birth of our son. That year, as I hoisted the Torah scroll onto my shoulder, I involuntarily started to bounce. I was completely unaware of this bouncing but as I held the scroll on my shoulder and walked through the aisles, there was a noticeable rocking to my step, and I continued to bounce rhythmically as I stood on the bimah.
I bounced the Torah scroll because bouncing had become so much of a part of my motor pattern that fall that I was no longer aware of it; it was like breathing or swallowing. If I was standing, holding an object, I would bounce it. Our son was a colicky baby and, while swaddling helped, nothing helped as much as bouncing. Only a few months into my motherhood, I could tie a Moby wrap blindfolded, slide him in there, and begin my bouncing routine in one fluid motion.
I’ve written before about how busy my maternity leaves were. I had started my master’s degree the summer before our son was born and I graduated just prior to returning to work after our daughter’s year of leave (don’t hate me because I’m Canadian). I also continued to teach ballet and do bits of contract work here and there while I was off. It wasn’t unusual for me to be teaching ballet while carrying one child or the other in the wrap or typing my thesis while breastfeeding. It was crazy but it worked for us, both financially and by providing me with some of the social interaction and professional fulfillment I was missing at home.
I was reminded of all this, the bouncing and the busyness, in the last few weeks as the photo of Brooklyn artist Hein Koh breastfeeding her twins while typing went viral. I saw her photo and I remembered my own crazy sleepless days and nights interspersed with work, writing, and the all too occasional shower. My first reaction was to virtually high five her because I completely agree that the popular notion of motherhood impairing your creativity or stifling your ability to achieve is complete hogwash. It certainly hasn’t been true for me.
But then I thought about my students, the ones who watched me doing this multitasking dance of motherhood. Almost exclusively teenage girls, they’re now moving into adulthood and some are starting families of their own. I want them to know that, while this frenetic activity level suited me fine and that I don’t think it did my kids any harm either, that it isn’t for everyone and that there’s no magic formula for success.
If you’re happier spending your maternity leave going to playgroups and getting some well-deserved rest, then more power to you. You can tell me what it’s like. If multi-tasking is your thing, that’s great, too. I’ll come over and take the baby for a walk while you write or sculpt or train for a triathalon.
This way isn’t right, that way isn’t wrong, you do you. And keep up the fight for paid leave… because no one should be forced to leave a baby when their age is still measured in weeks.