When I was expecting, my friend E__ would constantly tell me of the hardships of being a working mom. She’d describe the pangs of guilt that shot right through her when she wiped her toddler down with a wet wipe to save on shower time before proceeding to use other shortcuts like ready-ing her daughter for school in her socks because, you guessed it, the school ones were still dirty. The guilt would keep returning, she’d say, in a million li’l ways as she’d pass granola bars to her adorable three-year old in the backseat instead of making her scrambled eggs and toast (like a ‘good’ mom) before school. Even worse, she’d add, were the hours at work when all she could imagine was her son burning his hours at a day care and the excruciating pain of picking a runny-nose-and-puffy-eyed version of him after nine hours! “I mizzed yuh, mohmmi” he’d say and the guilt factories would go into hyperdrive. The battle would start anew each day, and bracing herself with a short ammo-script- “It’s temporary, we just need to get through this week” didn’t help much. Weeks would turn into months, months to summer, and summers to a whole school year.
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To say I was scared to hear her describe the working mom plight so, would be an understatement. I was terrified. I loved my husband and I loved our kid, who, at the time, felt ‘twas quite alright to use my bladder as a punching bag at will! But I also loved my job. No wishy washy liking, or anything. Pure, unadulterated love. Nothing lifted me up like a good, challenging classroom discussion. No other task gave me the same satisfaction as poring over student papers, finding in some an imbibition of the ideas I flung at them in the classroom, like at a game of knowledge-frisbee and in others, an expansion, improvisation or even critique of the same! I couldn’t imagine giving up on this symbiotic relationship.
That being said, I also had a mental list of ‘will do-s’ and ‘will never do-s’ in my head about how I wanted to raise my child. Working full-time while my child would be crying himself sick, in the arms of a stranger at a day care centre kind of fell into the latter column. Maybe my husband and I had been so caught up in the whole pregnancy saga that we never really got around to discussing what’d come after.
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When I look back at the day of this grim realization and the cry baby I’d been about it, I can’t help laughing. Two years and a thousand milestones later, it is easy for me to say that. Of course, I am fortunate because my husband switched to a work-from-home profile so I could go back to work, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
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You see- the choice, seemingly simple, isn’t quite so. The six months of my post-maternity leave were filled with first-s I experienced erm, first-hand. The moment I watched my li’l girl roll from her back onto her belly, the first time she sat up, the first time she pulled herself up holding onto the edge of the table, the first crawl- all of it. I was ecstatic and terrified because I could hear that teeny tiny voice inside reassure me, “it’d be okay if I go back to work.”
It wasn’t- not for the first few months at all.
I’d be worried sick of what’d come to pass when her teething bouts strike and she needed me around, worried my husband and hithertofore inexperienced (I told him that so often during the early days, I almost feel guilty now) caretaker would wear her too long in the carrier, while working on his laptop, worried that she wouldn’t be able to brave that wiggly tooth falling off. Even more worried that she might swallow it!
In fact, I remember those days vividly. I’d feed her corn and apples all weekend, hoping it’d fall out before I had to head to work on Monday. No luck. Come Monday, my husband called me at work and my brave daughter tells me, in a voice ten octaves higher than normal, how her tooth had come off, and how she’d been real brave about it. Envisioning her toothless grin, I’d smiled. But I also remember the twinge of sadness I felt at having missed it.
Over the years, I have missed more milestones. And felt bad that I have. Even today, the feeling hasn’t quite changed.
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I mean I could write pages about how I feel about missing out on ‘moments’ with my daughter. Not just crucial, important ones, but all of’em, each one in their novelty, wrapped in her cute-sy uniqueness. And there’s one thing I want to make very clear here– I don’t feel guilt. I absolutely don’t.
I’d thought, after E___ had scared the sh*t outta me, that I’d. But I don’t. Because even though our society is still working on gendered machinery, where the default parent, as it were, is the mother, my husband and I strictly believe that no heteronormative household should raise a child that displaces the ambitions of a parent. Father or mother.
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My husband has been a savior, no doubt. Even in the grand celebratory scheme of more fathers getting actively involved in bringing up a child, he, I think, deserves a Nobel prize. He builds Lego castles for hours on an end only so our princess can bring it down in one neat, swift stroke, patiently teaches her the art of eating on one’s own without feeding her clothes, eats (or acts like he is eating) her play-doh food convincingly, dresses her and her teddy (on her request) each morning and takes a break from work, not when he needs one but when our daughter needs it.
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And I talk to him about it. Often. I ask him if he misses working in his cubicle at work, sans disturbances. And the answer is always a definite NO. He says he loves being at home and managing the home and the office. It saves him the trouble of needless chitchat, small talk with people who are secretly envious of his position and of course, the garbed praise of a boss who feels threatened by his skills and potential. More than all that, he says, he loves what our daughter adds to his days. Love.
I know what he means. Or I think I do, more or less. I cannot even begin to describe the joys weekends bring in. There is sweet bliss in hearing ‘mommy’ resound through the corridors for a change. Even sweeter bliss in having her barge in on me while I am taking a shower or a sh*t! I know, you might just happen to give me a lecture on boundaries now- but one, that’s deviating from topic and two, I spend so li’l time with her, I hardly care. Her presence in my presence is a novelty.
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Of course, there’s no two-ways about who picks up the slack when I am not around for my darling hubby hasn’t pooped without audience for I-don’t-know-how-long, worked like a maniac while answering her calls to feed her, play with her, chase our cat, take her outside and more. Not to mention, her cute frown-y mouth and balled fists, with chubby skin-bracelets at her wrists, coming down hard on the floor in a dramatic tantrum, should he choose to ignore her. But weekends are my unperturbed slots with my li’l one. Of course, they are also my only-time with my hubby and we carve out a slice or two of romance whenever we can but our daughter’s there- watching us kiss each other and asking to be ‘kizzd’ too! As new parents (we feel we are still there), we feel okay about it.
I know most people reading this would rush to declare I have won the lottery in life. Maybe I have. Others might resort to raising judgmental fingers. But here’s what everybody out there must know (even my friend E__)- we are all making of lives what we can. Every choice, no matter how happy, comes tempered with the cost you pay to make it. I shelled out mine- and every evening, as I walk home from work, the working mom in me cannot wait to lop off another slice from the collateral and claim it as her own- because it’s her heart- her daughter, her daughter, her daughter.
And nobody, I repeat, nobody can dare make me feel guilty about it!
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