The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

June 28, 2012

Three more weeks

Today was such a good day, despite the fact that John was working late and it was too inhumanely hot to do our usual playground visit and afternoon run. Will slept until about 8:30, woke up with a smile, and we lay in bed for awhile cuddling and “talking” (I say something; he responds with “meh?” or “mah”). After breakfast, we played with his toys, including a new-to-him toy that I brought out of storage last night, a sloping track for little plastic cars. The look on his face when he entered the den and saw it was priceless.

Some favorite toys these days
When he became bored with his toys, I let him play around with some old cords, a hairdryer, and a computer mouse (which he promptly placed on the desk next to our real computer mouse) while I made the bed and got dressed. Our house has so many random objects strewn around in weird places, but this is how I’m able to put on my makeup.

We left at 11:15 to run errands in the stroller; the heat was intense, so there was no meandering. We dropped off paperwork at his daycare and spent some time at the bookstore, where they have a chest of toys and a great selection of kids’ books. Then we went to the sandwich shop for a really delightful lunch… sat across from each other at a little table in the window and ate our turkey sandwiches with lots of grins and no fussing.

Home again to walk Stella, with Will in the back carrier. He fell asleep, and I laid him on our bed, where he proceeded to take a solid one-hour nap (!), during which I wrote a little and read the New Yorker. He woke up groggy, and we cuddled on the bed for about 20 minutes. Milk, reading books (I sit on the floor in his room and he brings them to me), practicing “How big is Will? Soooo big!,” watching some Korean Pororo cartoons on YouTube, then outside to play in the kiddie pool for an hour—lots of fun stomping in the water, pouring with the funnel, and, of course, worshipping the hose, Will’s most favorite toy.

Inside for our afternoon snack of yogurt and crackers (he knows what “eat” means now, which is so helpful), then off to walk Stella, more playing with toy cars, and 20 minutes of Baby Einstein while I cooked dinner. He sat in the little rocking chair that was mine as a toddler, clutching a wooden spoon and swaying to “The Wheels on the Bus.” We ate in the dining room, more grins and excited head-bopping for the sweet potato and zucchini and cheese. He was in a mischievous mood, pretending to put food in his ears, which he knows is wrong, then putting it in his mouth and reveling in my praise.

The mischievousness continued after dinner, when I emptied his diaper pail, told him to stay away from it, then found him fiddling with its door; when I reprimanded him, he erupted in crazed giggles. Bathtime! I sang Pororo songs and he kept trying to stand up and dance in the tub. So much smiling today, so many hugs and arms lifted to be held, so much dancing and laughter.

As John settled down in the rocking chair to put him to bed, Will closed his bedroom door; I was standing in the hallway. I knocked on the door and asked for a goodnight hug. He opened it, smiled, and gave me one. Then I blew him a kiss, which he doesn’t yet know how to reciprocate, I thought. He blew me two back and closed the door. I sat at the table and cried because I’m so just so happy I get to be his mom.


Unbelievably, I go back to work in three weeks. I still vividly remember my first few days home alone with Will, after John returned to work in late April. I could not fathom how we’d fill the next few months, how I’d get through the 10 hours of each day. Taking care of a mobile toddler on my own, all day, seemed like the hardest thing I’d ever attempted to do.

I’m not going to say that I now find it easy. But definitely easier, and with really, really huge rewards. We’ve had some bad days, but more of them have been like today. It’s just me and him, together, getting to know each other and becoming mother and son. We’ve gone to playgrounds and the beach, on runs and playdates, on the el, to parks and the bookstore, out for lunch and for ice cream, to a local museum. We’ve read books, kicked balls, drawn with sidewalk chalk, walked around the neighborhood, run errands, met dogs, watched Pororo cartoons, played in the kiddie pool, listened to music. We’ve cuddled. There have been tantrums and crying and confusion and worry and naughtiness and boredom and frustration. But there have also been many spontaneous hugs from Will, an inordinate amount of laughs and smiles, bonding, babbling, singing, and dancing.

Sometimes, going back to work feels like the wrong choice. The thought of leaving him—after we’ve been so joined at the hip since April 12—makes me feel incredibly sad (even though it’ll be made easier by the fact that John starts a five-week paternity leave when I go back). Then again, there have been several days when I dearly, fervently wished I was sitting in my office. When Monday morning rolls around, I don’t feel a sense of pure pleasure at the prospect of caring for Will alone for five days. I know that parts of those days will be beautiful, and I do truly love spending time with my son, but I feel a small sense of dread at the upcoming tedium and isolation combined with very limited parental down-time (Will isn’t much of a napper; some days it’s only 15 minutes).

I definitely don’t want to not work. But I realize that I’m wishing I didn’t have to work 40 hours a week. Even working just four days a week, instead of five, would help alleviate the guilt that’s already starting to creep into my mind and heart, settle heavily on my shoulders. I enjoy my job and colleagues, and it’s a family-friendly workplace, and I’ve worked hard to achieve the position I have there. But John and I don’t need my salary to survive. So the wheedling voice of guilt tells me that I’m going back to work only because I want to… because I don’t want to take care of Will full-time… and that’s a selfish choice that isn’t best for a toddler. No one has actually said this to me, and John doesn’t agree with it, but the voice is there.

I know there are other reasons to keep my job. I honestly believe I’ll be a happier, more balanced person and, therefore, a better parent if I’m working. If John lost his job and I was unemployed, we’d be in bad shape. If John wants to change jobs for one that’s less stressful with a lower salary, he’ll have much more latitude to do that if I’m working. Editorial jobs are difficult to come by, and it would likely be extremely tough for me to find another well-paying, fulfilling position if I take three or four years off… let alone at a company that’s as sane and pleasant as the one that employs me now. I could try to build a freelance editing business, but I’m not sure how to schedule weekly childcare for unpredictable work, and I don’t think I can mentally handle parenting all day and editing all night. Then there’s the fact that we’re pretty confident Will will adore daycare and thrive with the activities and other kids.

Still. The guilt, tinged with a little sadness. It’s there, and I’m not quite sure what will become of it. In the meantime, my focus right now is on enjoying these last few weeks of just the two of us. I’m trying to be as present as I can. I’m taking lots of photos. Every night, I write down all the little discoveries and accomplishments and feelings and funny things that happened that day for both of us, knowing that once I’m back in my office—managing, editing, hair done and lipstick on and no need to worry about what the toddler’s getting into or how to entertain him—I will, without a doubt, miss him and these precious, precious days.

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Blogger Farm-Raised said...

I hear you. It's an agonizing choice that I've struggled with for a good six years...finally in the last two I've decided to live with my choice, which is often childcare all day and editing at night. :-) It finally works for us. My best advice is to say good-bye to Mother Guilt. Not an easy thing to do, but life will be much sweeter if you can learn to live with the decisions you make. I feel for you!!

12:50 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

So glad that things are going well for you guys. It's amazing how much better and how much more in love, and how lucky you can feel as each day goes by.

I totally get the mommy guilt. Although, I teach, so I have the summers off, which helps. My advice is to follow your heart. You love your son, and that's the most important thing whether you're working or not.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Just getting caught up over here. He is so precious and I hope that your re-entry into the workplace is smooth. I remain very happy for you all.

9:44 AM  
Blogger kelly said...

Sounds like things are going great with your cutie! Not sure if you've already gone back to work or not but I remember having such conflicting feelings myself at the time. After 9 months at home, I knew I needed to work. Like you, it wasn't a financial necessity, but a personal (selfish?) choice which made me feel lots o' guilt! But I am lucky to be able to work 3 days a week so I do feel like I have the best of both worlds. Plus I will say that Max has thrived at school/day care so I'm not sure I'd want it any other way for him! But that little bit of guilt never totally goes away so be prepared. If you ever want to chat about work/mommy balance, I don't have the answers but I'm happy to chat about it. Good luck!

4:35 PM  
Blogger Pix said...

I totally had that guilt too. In our case, I didn't have to return to work full-time either so I felt incredibly guilty. I decided to give myself 3 months to see if it was a case of mother guilt (sort of like Catholic just feel guilty for everything whether justified or not) or something I should really pay heed to. It's been about 10 months back now. It still feels like one day too much, but over all, it's been pretty OK. Hope you find the right answer for you soon!

10:06 PM  

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