Envy and perspective

Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago while still on maternity leave.

Years ago Lori told me about a conversation she had with our mom.

Mom: I want Cindy to hurry up, get married and have kids so I can quit my job and be her babysitter.
Lori: Do you only want to be Cindy’s babysitter? What about me?!
Mom: Oh, I didn’t think you’d want me to watch your kids because we clash a lot.
Lori: Of course I would. You raised us and did an awesome job.

Mom, me and a box of KFC

I don’t know if I was even seeing anyone at the time, but I remember thinking this arrangement would be awesome. I could work and still make sure my future child was with someone I trusted and was great with children. Not only had my mom been a stay at home mom and raised four children, she had also worked in primary education for several years with special needs children. Oh, and this was way, way, way before I even had a clue about childcare rates in Los Angeles.

As awesome as it would be for grandma to be the babysitter, I knew it was unlikely in my case. My parents need those benefits attached to my mom’s job. (Dad is self-employed.) My in-laws are both retired but live in New York, so that’s out of the question too.

Throughout pregnancy I kept thinking of that conversation. I was so envious of friends and cousins with this arrangement. As I prepare to go back to work and figure out our childcare plans, the green-eyed monster returned especially as I stared at our budget spreadsheet.

And then I thought about what I do have and what I am grateful for.

A healthy, happy Xavi.

An engaged and fully committed partner in parenting
It’d be too sappy to enumerate the many ways Sean is the partner I need. I have no doubt his love, support and help will ease the transition.

Grandparents!
While neither set of grandparents can be full-time caretakers, they have been immensely supportive and loving. My in-laws spoiled their first grandchild with several of the big ticket baby items. We’ll be seeing them soon too. My parents have been around at least once a week to visit Xavi as well as help Sean and I with things we don’t get to as new parents (household chores, bringing prepared meals). As soon as we’re ready to leave him, they’ll jump at the chance to babysit too.

I was lucky enough to get to know all four grandparents. Xavi has four grandparents and two great-grandparents. Lucky kid.

Siblings and extended family nearby
It was super nice to have my siblings drop by during maternity leave just to visit or help out with Xavi for a few hours. There’s no shortage of people who would jump at the chance to babysit him if we need a night out.

Science Poster Day 2013

A job
I like my job. I miss my co-workers and the students. I’ve seen them a couple of times since July at the closing dinner for one of the research programs and a staff appreciation bowling outing. My job is generally stress free and rewarding. More practically, I don’t work crazy hours and have a short commute (for LA). I can’t forget that I also have excellent benefits. Health insurance should be it’s own category.

Maternity leave
I’ve been off for the better part of three months. Most of my leave has been paid even though I wasn’t able to use my short-term disability insurance (I set it up wrong when I was hired in my current position). Fortunately, since I’ve been employed at the university at least part time since 2006, I had a lot of sick, vacation and comp time saved up. I could have taken off about another 6 weeks but we can’t afford to be a single income family that long.

A rent-controlled apartment
This is big. We have plenty of space for our little family and short commutes to our workplaces. While I sometimes complain about our neighbors, the neighborhood is nice, generally safe, walk/run-able, and is kid-friendly.

Options
Jaclyn Day’s post on childcare and maternity leave really hit home.

They [46 million people in poverty] are the mothers and fathers who have few options and who can’t make the “hard” choices about breastfeeding, childcare and what elaborate decorations to have at their child’s first birthday party, because there may be no choices to be had.

Our budget might be tight, but we’re still quite privileged. I’ll keep that in perspective as I make another big transition.

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Missing my baby: On returning to work

Me & Xavi

On the Monday I returned to work, I cried. A lot. I cried as I kissed Xavi goodbye and left him with Lupe, the babysitter. I cried as I shut the door behind me and walked the ten steps to my car. I cried as I drove to work on auto-pilot after so many years of driving and running the same route.

To calm myself down, I prayed a few Hail Marys. I needed whatever help la Virgencita could offer. I repeated mantras to myself. You’ll get through this. Xavi will be okay. You’ll get through this. Xavi won’t have any trouble taking the bottle from Lupe*. Sí se puede. You can rush home if you need to. He’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. We can get through this. Don’t stress. It’s not good for you or your milk supply. Lots of mothers do this and survive. You’ve done difficult things before. This isn’t too different.

Of course, those difficult experiences were nothing like this. This was on another level. It was hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I left my baby, my Xavi Monster with the huge bright eyes and silly smile. I’d leave him again the next day and the day after that. I’d be away from him for 8+ hours 5 days a week for the foreseeable future. Ugh.

I tried not to think about the long term and instead focus on the now and the positives. I had 14 weeks of (mostly) paid maternity leave and got to spend a ton of time with Xavi in those crucial first few months. I enjoyed the job I was returning to and liked my co-workers.

I’d be fine. I’d get through the day and the following days. I’d be fine. More importantly, Xavi would be fine.

Twenty minutes later, I was driving in to the parking structure. I had finally gotten the crying under control. As I walked toward the office loaded down with bags (pump with extra parts and bottles, purse, and lunch bag with extra snacks for my stash), I realized that campus hadn’t changed. I chose to walk through the mini zen garden hoping it’d calm me more.

The mantras and garden were all for naught because as soon as I opened the office door and the student workers and my colleagues exclaimed “Cindy!” I lost it again. I couldn’t even look at my co-worker D — clearly happy to have me back — without crying. And I couldn’t say more than “I’m a mess. I forgot my keys.” D gave me a tight hug and let me in to my office.

Sweet sign

On the dry erase board my colleagues wrote a welcome back note. There were more surprises waiting for me in my office.

The office when I returned

The balloons and fresh sunflowers were a nice touch and definitely made me feel loved. I left them there for the week until the office started smelling like stinky latex and I got annoyed of walking around them.

I got through the rest of the day fine with lots of tissues, staring at my desktop wallpaper (above) and text message photos from Lupe. Xavi looked content, even happy. He had no problem taking the bottle.

Shortly before 5, I rushed home. Xavi was just as calm as when I’d left. In fact, his transition has gone much smoother than mine. Lupe loves working with him and has nothing but good things to say about his behavior.

The first week went by quickly. Since I was catching up on three months of missed work, e-mails and the like, I didn’t have much time to feel sorry for myself after the first few hours. The second week has gone by more slowly as the rush of the first week subsided. Plus, I’ve had one 12 hour day thanks to an evening event. Pumping in my office is still awkward, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’m lucky enough to have the lone fully private office. The coordinators’ offices have windows facing the rest of the office, but mine is the only one with blinds on that window. Fortunately, I haven’t had any issues with a drop in supply which I worried about since I didn’t have much of a freezer supply of milk built up.

Sean has been amazing. He does all the bottle and pump part washing and sterilizing nightly. In the morning, he prepares the bottles for Lupe, puts my pump parts in my bag and makes coffee. The coffee is super necessary as I’m sleeping less than I did when I was on maternity leave. I no longer have the luxury of going back to sleep until 9/10 after the first morning feeding around 5/6 am.

The toughest part of my day is still leaving Xavi in the morning — even though now there are no tears.

The best part is when I get home and get to hold, play and cuddle with Xavi.

*Up until the Sunday before I returned to work, bottle feeding was still hit or miss. Mainly miss. I had a “duh” moment when I realized Sean or the babysitter should use a shirt with my scent on it to trick him. It worked

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