Baby’s first birthday approaches

The asymmetry is there from before they are born. They formed in my body. I birthed them. I fed them from my body, inside and then outside the womb. For nine months they were never apart from me; then for nine months again, I am almost always there. I remember how strange it felt the first time, living with the burden of primacy. There is one person they know who doesn’t come and go, one person who is there 95% of the time, and that person is preferred even when others are around. It felt hard being that person. Hard too, for the others in their lives, hard for my husband knowing that no matter what he did at 3am, the baby would cry because I wasn’t there. While it was hard for him, it was also freeing. While it was hard for me, it was also affirming. We each got something out of it, but different things, and it was hard navigating that difference.

Slowly, the children start to become more aware of other people. I start to leave them for longer periods. One day soon the baby will walk. One day he will be ready to stay overnight at his grandparents’ house. One day he will no longer breastfeed. Already the older one asks for time away from me – is it a Nana house night tonight? When I sleep on the mattress? Will it be a Nana house night soon?

Just over a month ago my mother-in-law visited and picked the little dude up from creche after lunch on Friday, birthday treat, took him to Chipmunks. For a long time it felt like each visit he was getting reacquainted, and only just warming up at the end of the visit. Not anymore. Six weeks since the previous time we saw her – a remembering distance now, not a forgetting distance.

When we went to Auckland two weeks ago, he was excited to see relatives he hadn’t seen in months, he remembered them. My Nana is down this weekend for bub’s first birthday and the little dude said “oh yes, you see Ben, dat is what happens for birthdays, people fyy down on an aewopane fom Autdand betause it is special to have a birthday, and dey yove you Ben.”

 

The first year is almost over, and with it, the overwhelming mother-centred phase of caregiving. Bub is so big and bonny and so delightfully charming. He’s starting to assert himself and I can beam with pride at building that baby, taking his spot as a person of importance now, about to celebrate his anniversary. And I can sit down, and have a piece of cake (ordered for us by my mother in law, thanks!!!), and think, phew his first year is over and I don’t have to relive those days! And look – I didn’t just make a baby, I added a person to our family!

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Things I’m enjoying about being back at the office 4 days a week

So many ideas for blogs about going back to the office and changes in routines! So little time to write them! Here’s a list – possibly not even complete – about the many many things I like about being back at the office. It’s very much personal to my experience and I absolutely respect the importance of the at-home parent role for those who want it or who take it on because it’s needed in their family circumstances.

1) Extra money day-to-day

Whenever I get pangs of but the children like having us around, I figure, well, owning a house is also quite good? We would be ok on a single salary but two incomes is an enormous leap in living standards. The extra money can be used to pay our mortgage which presumes we’re on two incomes, and buy things that make life nice, and make the lack of time workable.

There’s a lot of writing by women extolling the satisfaction of going back to paid work without really focusing on the money, which irritates me. It’s the flipside of failing to acknowledge that a lack of money is an enormous problem for many families. It feeds into the idea that when women do paid work we’re doing it primarily for the innate joy, not to support our families, which contributes to the gender pay gap and the undervaluing of female-dominated sectors, and the prevalence of kids in poverty.

2) Being able to make future plans based on two incomes

There are two big elements to extra money coming in so it deserves two points. There’s the day-to-day: enough money that we can have a few more outings without careful budgeting. Enough money to buy some much-needed new clothes. Great. There’s also the future. In the early years, childcare takes a big chunk of a second income, but long term, the financial stability of our family is dramatically enhanced by having two earners. This gives us more scope for things to look forward to in a few years, like some nice family holidays.

As with the day-to-day income boost, it’s worth pointing out that this is problematic too eh. That families are economically disadvantaged long term if one parent stays home in a full-time caregiving role in the early years. It’s harder work than many paid jobs, and for some families it’s the only viable option for all sorts of reasons, and it should be a choice available for people who prefer it without having such big potential costs.

3) I don’t have to be a stay at home parent!

After we got back from the summer break, I had a week at the office and my husband had a week with the kids. At the end of that, I recognised in him a lot things I see as familiar to myself last year. The irritation at me dumping my stuff in the corridor when I got home. The desire to just shake free of the children when I walked in. The need for acknowledgement that the house was in half-decent shape and dinner was already begun (look at my achievements!). The tone of voice with the little dude – the one I think of as practised patience when I hear it in my own voice, the one that the little dude doesn’t yet see as a precursor to snapping, but one day will. It’s strange seeing this in someone else, this failure to thrive, it’s more obvious than seeing it in yourself.

Neither of us wants the other to be a miserable square peg in a round hole. We’ve chatted about it, and his reasons for wanting to work outside the home would be familiar to a large number of women – but easier to honestly admit to in a dad. He says that after an extended time with the kids, he’s not as tolerant of them, grumpier, not as good a parent. Wants his space. Irritated by the little things. For a few hours in the evening, he can be attentive and patient and relaxed. But a whole day, there’s so much to do and you’re over it by the end. Especially with two, you feel constantly got at because they both want the attention all day.

Oh I know, I know! Love not being at home with them all the time!

4) More space to enjoy them when I’m with them

To me, the loveliest thing about being in paid work is that I can shrug off some of the day-to-day stuff and play to my strengths a bit more with the kids. I can enjoy the opportunities for connection in the time we’re together because I don’t feel overwhelmed by them constantly. I can be a much much better parent. The evening cuddles with bub, feeding him then rocking him, become something mutually comforting. Answering D’s incessant questions in the car home from creche is funny and interesting. Even things like enforcing the boundaries become less emotionally draining and I’m better at pre-empting when it’s not all the time.

5)  The creche is great

They nap well at creche. They eat nice cooked meals (apparently the little dude loves mince and I remember loving mince in my pre-vegetarian childhood but mince makes me recoil now, it’s so… grey.) They get to explore in an environment with minimal hazards, which is cool for a baby learning to walk. They get space apart from each other, doing things that are interesting for their different ages and stages. It’s pretty great. I remember my creche fondly. Mainly for D, that preschool education side of things, but even at B’s stage there’s some great features. He gets to chill out at creche in a way we can’t always manage at home with a very active older brother. The baby room is geared for people just like him! Tiny chairs at a tiny table eating his quartered grapes. I would NOT bother cutting grapes into quarters but that is a good food for a person with only four teeth.

6) It creates a more fulfilling relationship for us as a couple

For us! Not for everyone!  But for us – crucial. I think given we met as students studying the same subject this is perhaps not surprising. Our relationship is best when we can come home after a long day, and not talk about work because of conflicts of interest and confidentiality obligations 😉 No but seriously, we like being married to someone in the same profession. That’s part of the appeal for each of us in our relationship.

 

7) It shifts the caregiving conversations

The little dude has just had two days home sick with Mr Daddy. My husband has more sick leave than I do, so it is the obvious decision. Just like it made sense last year for him to not take sick leave because I was home anyway. We find that two careers means childcare becomes a joint matter of concern without as much conscious effort. This makes family life work better for all of us, it’s really nice for the little dude to have had these two days one-on-one with his dad looking after him, really nice for his dad to get that chance to do the caregiving, and really nice for me to feel like decisions about looking after the kids are being made together and not falling to me by default.

8) The small dignities of the office

Every morning I turn on my computer, check my emails, then go and make my pot of tea. I GET TO DRINK HOT BEVERAGES UNINTERRUPTED. And the bathroom privacy! Incredible. Being able to chat to my work-space neighbour! Brilliant.

9) The small indignities of the office

Sometimes work is frustrating. This reminds me that life is frustrating, and we just have to deal with it. I respond better to the kids being irritating when I remember that it’s because they’re people in my life and every person is sometimes irritating to other people.

10) The professional satisfaction of doing something I enjoy

I’ve been a lawyer longer than I’ve been a mother, after all. I tend to overthink things, and my job provides an excellent outlet for that. I’d rather puzzle over good legislative design and tricky transitional provisions than efficient toy storage systems or the best brand of kids’ socks.

11) It’s not all or nothing

I get my Wednesdays with the kids and my 4,30pm finish time.

Working part-time is pretty much the secret to happiness. Wednesday feels like a day off, which is lovely. I can sincerely say to the little dude that I’m looking forward to our day together.

12) More mental space for myself in the gaps

The walk alone to the carpark and the drive alone to creche to get the kids. The pause at work to remember something I need to add to my to-do list. Tiny snippets you take for granted unless you never have those snippets.

13) It takes the pressure off my husband to earn all the money

Both now and in the future – we have options for him to scale back his hours, or take a job that pays less but is more enjoyable.

14) A counterpoint to motherhood helps me prioritise looking after myself

When I’m at home with them full-time, I feel like it’s difficult to logistically look after myself. It’s also difficult to allow myself to prioritise my needs, because it feels like it’s always my needs vs their needs. At work, I feel like the work obligations pull one way and the kids pull another way yet instead of being stretched, it helps me not to overbalance in either direction. It gives me a permission I need to carve time out for myself. Sometimes I’ll be at my desk feeling like I’m stuck on an issue and I’ll decide to pop out of the building for fifteen minutes, and while I’m out I’ll ponder, and I’ll come back and be productive. It reminds me that no-one can be on form all the time, in any role. Including parenting. It reminds me that the standards for my life, work or motherhood, aren’t perfect robotic performace, but good-enough-ish human performance, complete with occassional breaks.

15) It helps me to make space for my husband’s needs

I don’t resent him wanting to take an evening off when my life is in a better balance.

16) It gets me out of the house

Being an at-home parent means literally being at home a lot of the time, which is extra difficult when you’re at home with small creators of much chaos. Home started to feel like a place of work. Chores started to feel oppressive. In contrast, my desk at work is my own personal space and no-one comes along and messes it up.

17) It gives me things to talk about other than the kids

 

People get sick of hearing about the kids, y’know?

18) It makes me feel like we’re in a settled phase of life

I always knew maternity leave would be temporary. You don’t feel settled when you know you’re in a temporary phase. There are things we’d have done differently if I hadn’t planned all along to go back to the office – we’d have set ourselves up for it more deliberately. And it would have been more enjoyable if we’d done that. But we knew it was short-term, so we didn’t. Now we’re in the phase where we are setting things up more or less the way they’ll be for a long while, and that feels good.

19) Time resumes a more ordinary pace

Days seem shorter at the office. But months seem longer, somehow. This is a calmer flow compared with the topsy turvy time twist of being at home where the days can feel interminable but indistinguishable and the months whizz by before you get a chance to really enjoy the kids at their current age and stage.

20) Lunch breaks

I use my lunch breaks to good effect. I especially enjoy being able to get to yoga in a lunch break, which I’ve done once a week since going back to work. Even if the only thing I liked about being back at the office was once-a-week yoga, it’d be worth it.

 

I remember all the feelings and the day they stopped

[I’ve been clearing my drafts folder and I found this from a month ago and it’s kinda terrible but I also love it, especially the ending, and my list of feeling like the day was a success because though the children were a constant source of ego-depletion I didn’t snap at them]

When I was 15, I really really liked this song and now it seems kinds embarrassing.

I remember feeling low, I remember losing hope, I remember all the feelings and the day they stopped… One day, you ‘ll have to let it go, one day you’ll stand up on your own. 

(I thought the lead singer was absolutely gorgeous.)

(Shuddup, I was 15.)

I was thinking about that refrain today, and the intensity of the first year of parenting, and how we’re coming out the other side now. Looking back on the blogs about the little dude’s first year is a bit like looking back on being 15 – a totally different me, a slightly embarrassing me. I remember all those feelings. And the day they stopped.

It’s an awkward process of learning first hand what lots of parents before me already know, and recording it along the way. It’s all clear in these posts how much of a learning curve the first few years involve. Things that seemed insightful to me when I wrote them now seem trite. I don’t want to delete those old posts, as a body of writing it’s more honest with the inclusion of blogs I now wish were just phonecalls to friends, or unpublished drafts. But maybe if I read them in 10 years I’ll come full circle, they’ll seem interesting again, I’ll be far enough away.

Today was a home with the kids day. It was fine, except that the little dude sits on bub whenever bub is proximate and on all fours, which is a helluva lot of times every day, and ARGHHHHHH STOP IT. But it was an ok day. There were several moments – several! – when I felt like I had a small win in my own reaction despite challenging circumstances. When I didn’t snap at the little dude for accidentally falling off the couch onto bub. When playgroup was the same time as bub’s nap so I decided to walk so he could fall asleep in the buggy, and I managed to coax D into walking the whole way. On the way back, when I picked my moment for bribery when we were close enough to home that the bribe would sustain him the rest of the walk, but before he was in meltdown mode. (Aside – my mother in law sent us a box of 16 kinder surprises and I have been giving them out as emergency mood enhancers every couple of weeks, we’re now down to the last one. He thinks a chocolate chicken lays them while we’re out. He starts hunting and I go into the cupboard, get an egg out, and hide it while he’s hunting, he then “finds it by himself”, jumps with excitement, and is content for quite a while with chocolate and toy). When D didn’t want to eat his lunch but I ate my lunch and let him sit on my knee to feed B – probably spoiled his appetite with the kinder surprise and million crackers at playgroup. Later, when we had an altercation between the children – D sat on B, B pulled D’s hair, D bit B’s finger, B screamed blue murder – and I calmed B down, explained to D about gentle rules etc. When B woke from his afternoon nap early, and D came in while I was trying to resettle him, but I didn’t stress about it, just gave up resettling and we went to the supermarket. When D didn’t want to go into the trolley seat, he wanted to walk, but then he threw a carton of milk on the floor and it split, then he bolted for the exit, then later when he was in the trolley seat B bit him and he went ballistic, so I let him choose a pack of plasters for his finger and open it in the trolley. When D was demanding treats for dinner and saying he didn’t want the proper food I’d made, and I was feeling over it so decided to put a video on for him, then slipped the plate of proper food in front of him and let him eat like an automaton but at least it was nutritious content. When my husband got home and we didn’t snap at each other. When at 9pm I got up and did an hour of chores. And now, at 10.40pm, when I stop writing this blog and go to bed.