Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The End of My Swedish Maternity Leave

The pump is packed.

June's Back to Work Stash

The stash is ready.

The excessively detailed instructions have been delivered to the nanny. Yes, that nanny - the one who has already proven herself quite capable of caring for our children for over two years now.

Today was the last day of my Swedish maternity leave. That's what I've affectionately nicknamed it, since I got a whole SIX MONTHS off, an eternity by American standards. Before you go getting too jealous of me and my nannyfied self, though, just remember that I am returning to the practice of "Big Law" tomorrow. Ugh. Actually, I guess I shouldn't say that; there are an awful lot of unemployed attorneys out there right now who probably would like to have my job. Anyway....

My time off went by in the blink of an eye. It feels like just yesterday we were coming home from the hospital with a floppy little bundle, but now I've got a sturdy baby that fits so nicely on my cocked out hip. *sigh* I love the feeling of that sturdy baby. Can't I just toss her in a backpack and let her ride around all day with me while I'm at the office?

I think returning to work is an emotional transition whether you do it after 4 weeks (okay, I cannot imagine that - even from a physical perspective) or after 6 months or even longer. It's just weird. I think there must be something evolutionary to it - the sense that you are not supposed to leave your baby. (This might also explain the bizarre circumstance that while I long for time alone, or moments without children under foot, I rather quickly find myself feeling downright panicky, with a racing heart, just from going out on errands on my own. Is this just me? Does this happen to other mothers?) (Don't misunderstand me, though - even though I may have pangs of panic or separation anxiety at first, I do not at all feel guilty about returning to work, and for that I feel very fortunate, because I know that guilt is an emotion that plagues many mothers. Sure, I will miss the girls while I am at work, but I feel no more guilty about being there than Joe feels guilty about going to his job.)

As I reflect on my maternity leave, I keep picturing it like that scene from 500 Days of Summer where there's a split screen simultaneously showing the protagonist's expectations and reality, highlighting the differences. Particularly when it comes to fitness. I mean, what was I thinking? That babies take long naps on a regular schedule from day one? June is just now getting into more of a normalized groove - just in time for my return to work.

Also, I feel like now would be a good time to mention the revelation I've had - that taking care of two children, when the oldest isn't yet in any kind of school, is really hard work. Rewarding, yes. An absolute blessing, yes. But also really hard. Of course I'm joking about that being a revelation; any idiot could have told you that it's hard work. But I am serious about not having fully appreciated it until I was living it. I've had lots of help - more than almost anyone - and I still found the days difficult at times. Truly, my hat is off to all of the stay at home moms out there doing this whole daytime thing on their own, because it makes for a job that never ends - no weekends, sick days, or vacations. If you're lucky, you get some time off at night.

I'm in a glass case of emotion these days. (Nod to you, Mr. Burgundy.) I mean, I can think of positive things about going back to work, and yet in the days leading up to it, I find myself getting all weepy at the the thought. Here are the things I'm looking forward to:
  • Having a bit more structure to my day.
  • Having a reason to put on "real" clothes. (Although, ask me again later - I know I will be over this in a few weeks.)
  • Making it through an afternoon without getting thrown up on.
  • Seeing my work friends.
  • Missing the kids. Reuniting in the evenings feeling excited to see them. (That may sound weird, but I'm going with the theory that a bit of separation can do wonders for most relationships.)
  • Oh yeah, I almost forgot - the paycheck.
(You may think I should add "no crying" to the list, but then you obviously aren't familiar with law firms.)

I've noticed that when people ask me about going back to work, most seem to expect me to have one of two extreme answers, either: (a) I'm excited!, or (b) I want to quit. The truth is somewhere in between. I am by no means excited to go back to work. (Give me a break. Who is?) You'll notice that the work itself didn't make the bullet pointed list above, because while I find it engaging, and I don't hate it, I'm also not passionate about it. I have not missed the actual "work" part of what I do one iota while on leave. But for some of the reasons mentioned above, I am also not pining to be a SAHM right now. Who knows -- never say never on that. But for right now, for the foreseeable future, working is the right thing for me to be doing.

So farewell, maternity leave. Goodbye, finishing New Moon on a Friday afternoon. So long, having time to see my sister, niece and nephew three or more times a week. Toodles, watching DVR'd episodes of "Glee" while nursing. Hasta luego, day trips to the suburbs to visit good friends. Nice knowing you, grocery shopping more like the Europeans do. You'll be missed, getting errands done on a weekday afternoon.

All of that, and I haven't even mentioned the girls yet. *sigh*

Well, whatever - I'm not going to act like someone's dying here! I will greatly miss seeing their smiling faces all day. I'll be forever grateful for getting to spend the first 6 months of June's life at home with her. And I've spent 11 months of Georgia's 2 1/2 years at home - how cool is that for a working mom to be able to say?

They say kids are more perceptive than you realize, and I know in Georgia's case that's true. This morning after her music class we sat in the car as she finished eating her snack, and the following conversation ensued:

Me (sounding totally normal and happy, I assure you): "Do you know how much I love you? I love you all the time. Even when I'm not here. Even when I'm at work."

Georgia: "Are you sad?"


How does she pick up on this stuff?


Maggie said...

Oh Georgia/Baxter, you do know how to cut to the heart of me (another nod to Mr. Burgandy)...

Such a heart-tugging time. I'll be thinking of you... and looking forward to the days when you can play hooky and we can get together again.

Beth said...

We will miss you Kate! I did just what you asked 18 months ago - was available to hang out on your second maternity leave (without having to have another child, which is good!) Bummed that I'll miss your last 'official' morning. You'll be great back at work.

Danni said...

I feel sad just reading about six months off work and you having to go back. Are you going back full time or on a reduced schedule?

katandkarl said...

1. Your breastmilk storage system makes SO MUCH more sense than mine ever did. stealing it.

2. I really adore this post and am glad I got to spend some of your maternity leave getting to know you via the internet.

3. EEEEE - good luck! It's going to be great.

(also, 6 month leave is AMAZING.)

Ann said...

So well put. I had 5 months the first time around and it was still bittersweet going back. Always is, I suppose. Good luck and I'll be thinking of you!

Susan said...

I hope it is going well this week! I think being a SAHM OR being a working mom both sound so difficult!