The Ambivalence of a Working Mom

Today I missed one of my most favourite moments of the day. For Dave, it is likely the moment that morning cup of coffee meets his waiting lips… but for me it is the moment that I go to wake Maya up. Dave and I have had our morning coffee and I’m awake and ready for the day. I go into Maya’s dark room and whisper “Good morning Maya. Good morning sweetie pie.” I reach over her crib and rub her back. Eventually she turns over and I will unzip her sleep sack. She helps me to pull one arm through the armhole, then puts Pinky Bear in the other hand to get the other arm out. All of this is done without a word. Then I pick her up and she wraps her arms and legs around me. This is the moment. I feel her little legs around my hips and feel her sleepy head nestled on my shoulder. As I carry her into the living room I breathe in her little girl smell and savour the experience of holding her in the sleepy silence of early morning. I whisper to her “That’s my big girl” as we walk into the living room to say good morning to Daddy. Until quite recently I used to be able to croon “That’s my little baby” but now even in that sleepiness she will remind me by mumbling into my hair “I”m not a little baby anymore mommy!”

I missed this most treasured of morning rituals because I had to work early, so as per my “dreaded commute” post,  I took the dreaded bus. The night before I tried to explain to Maya that mommy wouldn’t be there in the morning, but I could tell that she wasn’t listening. She was focused on her mission to avoid going to bed at all costs. While she was waking up, I was likely standing in the cold, dark morning, waiting for the bus.

About an hour after I arrived at work I received a text from Dave telling me that Maya was not at all happy to wake up and discover me gone. My heart sank. I pictured her crying “I want my mommy! I want my mommy!” and the ambivalence I feel about being a working mom hit me with its fullest force. I usually ignore it, avoid looking at its sad little face because the reality is that I have no choice. Unless I suddenly win the lottery (I very occasionally will buy a ticket despite my cousin Gavin’s warning that lotteries are taxes for people who are bad at math), this is my life.

It was simple math that made the decision for Dave and I about who would need to work full time. If we wanted to move back to Vancouver, and we both did, it came down to two choices. Either I would work full time, or we would both work full time. It seemed ridiculous for Dave to go to work full time just to use that money to pay a stranger to take care of our child. We decided that one of us would stay at home with Maya. As Dave was the only one who could do some work from home, there was no stay at home mom option. Dave is the stay at home Dad. Not a role, I can safely say, that he ever imagined himself in. And not a common role either, it seems, at least in the neighbourhood we live in. He is the only Dad at the parent participation pre-school, the only dad at ballet lessons (also parent participation to Dave’s chagrin).

I, on the other hand, have joined the ranks of the dads. On the weekends when I would take Maya to parent/tot swimming lessons (before she joined the big girl class), I would have the opposite experience. I was almost always the only mom in a rather large class. I thought maybe the dads were all weekend-access divorced dads, but no. Their wives were waiting for them after class.

Full time work as a mom has been a tough transition for me. When Maya was born, I was just finishing my first year of law and was working full time. Because of that, I was able to take a year off work (thank you Canadian socialism), be paid half my salary (by said socialist government) and go back to school full time in the fall. Full time school, however, is not full time work. I was able to work my schedule to be home at least 2 days a week, sometimes 3.

But once school was done, I knew the real world was waiting. The transition was not easy. When Maya and Dave would drop me off at the sea bus Maya would glare at me in silence and not give me a kiss good-bye. When I left the car I would hear her wailing as Dave drove off. When they picked me up she would cry and whine and Dave would say “Maya you’ve been good all day why are you doing this?” I knew why. How do you explain to a 2 year old that mommy has to work?

In our process of making sense of this,  one conversation stands out in particular. One weekend we were driving together and she started talking about feeling sad. It came out of the blue and I guessed that it might have something to do with me being gone all day. I said to her “Mommy feels really sad when she leaves you and goes to work Maya. Mommy misses you all day. I”m so happy to see you when I get home.” I could hear her in the back repeating this to me and talking to herself. As weird as it sounds, it felt like we made a connection from that conversation. The tears at drop offs stopped.

Our current routine is that I must kiss and hug her, then Pinky Bear, with instructions to “Take good care of my Maya when I’m gone and give her hugs if she is sad please Pinky Bear”, and then Daddy.

I realized today that I have been so focused on helping Maya through her 2 year old grief, I haven’t acknowledged my own. Today, it hit, with full awareness that the job I am doing now still isn’t the real world. I will be going into a career where workaholism is considered a necessary mindset. It was a tough day.

But when I got off the sea bus and into the waiting car all was well. Maya ordered me to turn the music up on the CD “Mommy I want this louder!” (Black Betty by Ram Jam) and told me about her ballet lesson with Madame and Miss Brittany. When we got home we played together and it warmed my heart.

While we were having dinner she said to me “Mommy if I go to work with you and you get a little bit sad or angry I will give you a hug and that will make you feel better.” And that did make me feel better. Image