I’m quitting my job.
I have always assumed I wouldn’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom. A friend says to me at some point, “I LOVE my kids, but I don’t want to hang out with them all freaking day.”
This seems totally right to me, totally reasonable. I’ve heard stories about people who go weeks without having an adult conversation, grown-ass women describing their 1-year-olds as “my best friend.” Seriously? I like work. I like productivity. I will love my baby, but surely I will want to keep the rest of my life the same as before, right? Mm hmm.
I work for the federal government, so I am allotted three months of FMLA after the baby. They have to let me take the time, but they don’t have to pay me for it. I can use up all my leave, and my unit gives me an additional two weeks off, paid. This seems, to a person who has always worked, like an eternity. NEVER have I not worked for three months, not even right out of college. This should be plenty of time to get the hang of breastfeeding and not sleeping and being responsible for a helpless human life. Hooray!
I take on some side gigs to save up for the time when I won’t be getting paid. We don’t make a lot of money by DC standards, so we take some steps to prepare for a one-salary life. We have local family — we’re extremely lucky that way– so we cobble together a post-maternity leave childcare plan. My mother-in-law will take him Mondays, her day off. My husband will work from home on Tuesdays. I will work from home Wednesdays and Thursdays, and my mother will take him Fridays, her day off. Complicated, but free. We know we’ll eventually need to get a nanny/sitter/helper to be here during the work-from-home times, but in the beginning, at least, he’ll sleep most of the day, so we’ll be fine.
During those first hormonal weeks, I am a weepy mess, swearing that I will never remove him from my arms, let alone leave his side for even one second, ever. A little later, postpartum depressed, I can’t stand to be away from him but I don’t feel qualified to care for him myself. From now on, I will watch my mother watching the baby. She’ll just have to quit HER job. After proper chemical calibration I think, sure, I can go back to work in three weeks. I can totally go back to work in two weeks. Work in a week? Um…yeah! Work tomorrow? OH. HELL. NO.
I extend my leave twice. I am generously allowed to change the arrangement so that I go back half days at first. This is the benefit of working in a woman-dominated business; they’ve mostly all been there. They all understand. I am lucky (for the U.S. anyway. I’m totally moving to Sweden before my next baby), and for a while it’s going OK. Eventually, though, he starts to get more active and require more interaction. I really do try to find childcare. I research nanny shares and daycare centers and print out checklists of what to look for in a care provider.
And I can’t do it.
Much to my surprise, even medicated and back to my old self, I cannot bear the thought of leaving him. I can’t get my sleep-deprived brain together to cook macaroni out of a pouch, let alone schedule and conduct interviews with people who may or may not be serial baby-poisoners. And oh, sweet suffering Jesus, the expense. Extrapolating $20 an hour for X hours X days a week on our small-for-DC salaries is just prohibitive. In the end, I get a friend who works nights to come in a few hours on the days I’m home. And once again, it works for a while.
But then he gets fun. Like, WAY fun. They should really make you go to work right after you give birth, when the baby is basically a good-looking meatloaf, and let you take maternity leave from like eight to 11 months when the party starts. I get to a point where I’m missing him all day, and I can’t believe I’m leaving those eyelashes and giggles and first words to come deal with the daily drama unfolding at my workplace.
I talk to my husband. I ask him if there’s any way to make it work. Many discussions later, with each other and with our families, we decide. There is one way to make it work: we will sell our condo and move into my mother-in-law’s basement apartment. I know –believe me, this is not an arrangement I’d recommend for everyone. Truly though, she’s fantastic, and she doesn’t seem to have many opinions about how we live our lives. I feel like a deadbeat sometimes — a full-grown adult living in a two-room basement with my husband and a toddler.
My childless friends look at me like I’m batshit insane. Most of my friends with babies, however, are quick to tell me that they would do the same thing in a hot minute if they could.
Do I wish my child had decided to be spectacularly adorable in a less dismal economy? Yes, of course. Part of me feels completely absurd, leaving a steady government job with benefits and matching and annual cost-of-living adjustments when we’re on the brink of fiscal cliff-diving. I know there will be times when we all think it was a terrible idea. There will be days when I long for the internet, a door to close, and sweet, sweet silence. But last week, I quit my job.
Because who knew? Who knew I’d feel so strongly about being with this little person as much as I can,while he’s still delightful and not yet a douchebag teenager? Who knew that watching a baby thread plastic rings onto a stick would be every bit as fascinating as a fancy job? Who knew that even on a bad day, when there’s whining and bitching and food-throwing, seeing the person who has, it seems, become my best friend point to a squirrel and finally, finally say “SKOOR!” would make it all worth it?
I sure didn’t.