Because of the way I eventually react to change, I figured my kids would have a reaction to my working every day my first week at the new job. And then working many days since then. It's so different, being gone from them some days more than I'm with them. It's not what I want--I don't want to be working full-time, having someone else with my kids all day. This is temporary though. I'm working a lot during orientation and then that will change quite a bit. But in the meantime. . .
I understand it both intellectually and viscerally and yet it remains a mystery to me--how our mental and emotional and even physical states can be so affected by uncertainty and stress. Is change by nature, by definition, stressful? I should look that up. It probably is. Something about our mammalian selves relies on routine and safety. When something shifts, I bet there is a series of chemical reactions inside of us. Except not in a clear, linear fashion that draws easy-to-follow correlations between cause and effect. That would be too easy. It's more a big collage of layered stuff gooped together.
It came the first day I was home alone with them. Last Wednesday. The day of atrocious whining, clinging, kicking, snatching, fit-throwing, et al. Of course it did. That's what being the mom means. The big emotions come pouring out onto you because you are a safe place. The roost. The center. Where it all began. I should have known that they would save their tantrums for the day I stayed home with them. I hung a swing from our apple tree (pause: wow, we are so lucky) and the kids loved it. And fought over it. My son worked himself into a frenzy, trying so hard to be patient and wait for his turn. He used his words, saying "It's my turn now, Cleo!" And he screamed and raged and spun and just lost his shit because she would not get out and I would not make her get out. And maybe also because I went back to work?
I'm so happy to be back to work in this new old job. It feels like just what I need. But it's hard to leave my kids. And it's hard not to take it all personally--all their big moods and saying they don't want to come home and crying about going to Stephanie's. That's all because of me, right? Not necessarily because my going to work is a bad thing (although maybe it is for them) but because my going to work changes the schedule, changes the flow of our days and weeks. And that is so hard.
Why did I choose now to go back? Why did I want to be a stay at home mom in the first place? I am not selfless--both choices were for me, ultimately. I wanted to be with my kids. Be the one taking care of them, taking them places, feeding them, watching them grow. One of my co-workers told me, before I went out on maternity leave the first time, that it didn't really matter who took care of the kids when they were babies--I should save my time at home for when they were older, when they needed me more. I stayed home because I wanted to experience it. To see how it changed me. And because I knew the chance would not come again. . .though of course it did come again, only so close on the heels of the first time that it's really been one, long experience rather than distinct phases of motherhood. That's why I stayed. Because I'd always wanted to.
Well, not always. When I was in my 20's, utterly defining myself by my cool job and what it felt like to work so hard I told one of my best friends, already a parent and staying home, that there was no way I could stay home because I would be so bored. By the time I was in my 30's, aching to have kids and wondering when it would happen, I suspected that I wanted to quit my job and just be a mom. Just. What a word. Just be a mom because I didn't think I could do both things well and because I couldn't imagine how two working parents with commutes would manage to hold shit together once kids arrived. So I gave up my big job and became someone different. A mom of twins. And then the mom with two sets of twins. A mom on Zoloft. A mom who did as much yoga as she could and started writing a blog and despaired over the constant state of mess in the house and looked for ways to numb out to the many gaps between what I expected parenthood to be and what it was.
Why did I go back? Because I tried last June and then quit before even starting because my colitis flared so bad I knew I couldn't handle the stress. Because I saw the job get posted again and it felt like, if I waited much longer, I would never go back. Because I lost so much of who I was before--job that mattered to me, living in the city, single, not a mom, with an income--and I wanted to see if I could recapture some of it by going back to a place that had been such a part of me. Because I kept finding myself yelling at my kids. I no longer felt like my being the main person they were with all the time was serving any of us. I had lost the ability to see the forest and the fucking trees kept getting in my way and pissing me off. Because I get to speak Spanish in this job and I can't think of another more effective way to get my Spanish back. Being bilingual was the thing I was most proud of, almost two decades ago. ....holy shit, I have to catch my breath on that one. Two decades? No wonder I'm rusty.
That's a lot of reasons. One last, big, huge one is the fact that I feel death all around me lately. Not like it is coming for me. Not in a way that makes me afraid, exactly. It's more like. . . I'm 39. My parents and aunts and uncles are getting older. My friends have lost siblings and battled cancer, some winning and some conceding. I have four children. Four is a lot. Do I think we're all going to somehow make it through all of this unscathed? Quite the opposite.
That's dark but that's how I feel. I'm feeling the heaviness of humanity--I guess this is how I experience having four additional hearts beating outside my own body. I didn't know I was scared. . .but it turns out that's part of what I feel. Afraid. Vulnerable. Mad. Out of control. And yet somehow numb because I can't deal with feeling all of that stuff all the time.
So back to work I go. To a work that puts me right in the thick of grief and loss--because I'm walking around with the spectres of those things anyway. And because this is the job I should have done years ago--the job I would have done had I sat down and listened to the quiet voice inside answering the question I didn't think to ask. What do you want to do?