Thursday, October 13, 2011

Big plans, small children, and airports

In my last post, I talked about the personal crossroads I found myself at a year ago, when I was tossing up whether to be a full-time stay-at-home mom or rejoin the paid workforce. In the end, I decided that I would try staying home with my (then) almost-2-year-old and my 5 year old. This was the right decision for me, and I'm glad that I took the plunge and did it. For years I'd felt that I had been spending too little time with my girls, and I had felt increasingly sorrowful at outsourcing most of my role as their mother. I needed to know what it would really be like to be a SAHM.

My stay-at-home experiment has been, in many ways, a success, in terms of what I've gained from it and what I've learned. I certainly have had plenty of time with my children, and in many ways this has been good for all of us. I've been able to get to know my kids properly for the first time. I am now able to understand anything my younger daughter says, even if it is unintelligible to others. I can instantly identify references they make to things we have done or seen, no matter how obscure they are ("Mommy, 'member - the music was gone at the train station!" or "Can we go back to that park with the spider web?") I have been getting better at the day-to-day challenge of being a mom. We have had some wonderful times playing together - talking, making each other laugh, hugging fiercely. There have been many moments of sudden awareness that I am experiencing one of life's true highlights, and that I would have been denied that joy if I'd been at work.

And yet, it has remained painfully clear to me that I need to do more with my life than look after my children. I feel like a terrible person for saying that, but it is the truth. I wish I was that nicer and more patient and more resilient person who could have stuck out the SAHM life a bit longer than one short year, but I just don't think I am. Already months ago I started to feel burnt-out and depressed at the endless minutiae that must be carefully completed every day, and often several times per day - feeding, dressing, hand-washing, face-wiping, tooth-brushing, calming, comforting, cajoling, and so on (and on, and on...) My husband has travelled overseas extensively for his work, and consequently I have spent many weeks as (effectively) a single parent. It has become harder and harder to be patient about my 2 year old's inability to remember simple rules and follow them. The whining, the crying, and the epic tantrums have worn me down (and let's not even mention bedtime, except to say that "Go the F*ck To Sleep" was surely based on real-life encounters between my younger daughter and me). Even my 5 year old, who spends most days at preschool, and is anyway pretty well-behaved for her age, has had some memorable moments of defiance.

Many a time I've wished I could just settle down and be fully present in the moment, as they say, but what I have learned about myself in the past year is that I am a better parent when I'm not doing it 24/7.

Last month, my younger daughter started going to daycare for part of each weekday, after my husband and I concluded that it would be better for both of us if someone else looked after her for part of the time. After a tearful start (her and me both), she started doing really well, to my immense relief. My parenting burden has been significantly lightened, I am a better parent during the hours she is at home with me, and - the icing on the cake - I am now free to pursue something else for several hours each day. I have been thinking seriously about getting back into the legal world.

The thought excites me and fills me with dread, in equal measure. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have been having intense and exhausting dreams lately. Last night, I was at an airport, about to leave for a business trip to the US. Many things about the situation were chaotic and stressful. I couldn't figure out where in the vast airport I needed to be for check-in. I wasn’t sure what time the plane took off. The pages of my voluminous itinerary were hopelessly out of order. Finally, with less than half an hour until take-off, I found where I needed to be, checked in, and was waiting for my plane. Suddenly, my name was being called over the PA system, with the message that there was an urgent phone call for me. It was my mother, who was looking after the kids while I was on my trip. She said that she’d let my younger daughter choose whether to have some candy or to have Mommy back instead, and she had chosen Mommy, so please could I come home straight away? “No!” I yelled into the phone, stunned that I was even getting this call, “Absolutely not! I can’t!” “But your work will still get done”, rationalized my mum. “No it won’t! How will it??” I shrieked, furious at the intrusion, devastated at not being there for my child.

Mom pointed out that I hadn’t even said goodbye to my little girl, and had left during her nap, so that she had woken up to find Mommy gone. I was gutted, and couldn’t believe I had done this, but in the dream it felt as though this was in fact the truth - that I had heedlessly put work before family.

Eventually, we somehow agreed that Mom would rush to the airport with my daughter, and that I would take her with me. I made a mad dash to meet them somewhere near the airport - in what turned out to be a desolate wasteland, complete with tumbleweeds - and we rushed back to the terminal.

I breathlessly explained at the airline counter that I was checked in on the flight that was about to leave and that my bags were on the flight, and could I still make it on board?

But in the distance I saw a plane taking off, and my final thought before waking up was "oh no…"