Monday, September 22, 2008

nine




Sit down and grab your paci, lovebug. Your nine month letter will be quite lengthy.
Nine months has been an age we've been speaking about around here even before you were actually born. Know why? Because that is the age you would be when momma would return to work and leave you in the care of someone else during the day. As always, I came about this decision in a long and complicated way and I want to tell you the story.
Before you were born, daddy and I would sit at a quiet dinner table and toss around the pros and cons of staying at home with you vs. going back to work. (When you grow up, you will learn that this is a highly debated issue among women! Stating your opinion on it can sometimes lead to a heated discussion amongst moms. Though I've never judged anyone either way, I think I know why it is such a sensitive topic. It's because we are all trying to do what we feel is very best for our babies. And to feel like we're being accused of doing less than that can cause a white hot anger!) We would chat about our respective childhoods...your Grammy Floyd stayed home with daddy and your Grandma Tuey had to return to work when I was just six weeks old. We both turned out alright, maybe even pretty good. We talked a lot about my feelings about staying home with you. Please forgive me in advance for my lack of confidence in our yet-to-be-relationship. I worried and fretted about...wondering if you and I would "bond." The thought of staying home with you all day, just you and me, with nothing but time on our hands...frankly, it scared me to death. I felt so guilty about this. Afterall, I have taught several years with other new moms who cried on a daily basis because they missed their babies so much they could hardly stand to do their job anymore.
Then there was me...staring over my chicken sandwich at your father....admitting that I didn't think I could do it. I just couldn't stay home with you. I just couldn't. He was, as he always is, very supportive. He lived through a year of me not working after we got married and I was such a miserable human being that I think he was probably very scared to possibly revisit those times. We came to the conclusion that I would take an extended maternity leave (10 weeks) and then I would return to teaching. As I said, I made my decision firm and didn't have many reservations at all....except for the guilt. Oh, the guilt!
Soon after, I went in to discuss my maternity leave with my Head of School. She is a mother of two and a grandmother, as well. I told her my plans and she chuckled softly.
"Trust me, Sara....take the rest of the school year and the entire summer. And then talk to me about whether you even want to come back at all."
WHAT? NO WAY! That was...(counting on fingers under the conference table) NINE MONTHS??? Again, WHAT? At nine months, you'd practically be huge and driving or something...nine months was like a decade away. Nine months was as many months as I carried you in my belly...and I knew that was seriously a loooooong time.
I stepped out of her office and called your dad so he could weigh in. He said that he agreed with her! (What? Haven't we talked about this?)
So....I took the deal. Nine months off of work with my baby. I drove home wondering how long nine months would seem if it turned out that you didn't even love me. I stocked up on magazine subscriptions for those long, dragging periods of time when I would be twiddling my thumbs.
I'm serious.

Then, on November 20th, you were born. Something amazing happened when they handed you to me. I knew I loved you. I had worried and worried about seeing you and feeling nothing. And then it was you and me, all alone in a hospital room and I knew in an instant that I would trade my life for yours in a flash. I know it's cliche, but it's true. God made it so that I felt the opposite of nothing. I felt everything. Later that night, a visitor said to me, "Tell me again, are you going back to work or staying home with Isabella." And I answered that I would go back when you were nine months old. It didn't make me anxious at all to think about it...because nine months seemed so far away. You were a tiny bean on my chest, it would surely take longer than nine months for you to be nine months.

And then we were home. Daddy got a beloved 10 days off of work and we soaked up every minute as a family of three. It was a wonderful time for all of us, but towards the end of it I became like a child the day before kindergarten. I cried and obsessed.
"You can't go back and leave me here with her. I don't know how to do this!"
The night before your dad went back to work I cried myself to sleep. I was exhausted and feeling so incompetent. I was actually a little jealous....jealous that he would be putting on a suit and heading out to do something productive. Jealous that he would fit into his regular clothes and might even squeeze in a lunch with a business partner. And the guilt was right there making everything worse. As I cried, I stared at you in your cradle and thought about how my thoughts were betraying you. I felt so sorry for longing to be back in my classroom with my students. Please understand that it had nothing to do with me loving them more than you. It had everything to do with the fact that I knew I could teach...but I had no idea how to be a mom.
Those first couple days were rough. I frequently looked at the clock and did the mental math on how soon I would hear the garage door hum open. Your dad called every hour to check on us. I tried to nap while you napped (which was here, there, and everywhere) and it made me even more groggy and out of sorts. I got on the phone that afternoon and called my Head of School.
"Please put me on the sub list," I said. "I miss work and am anxious to get back and sub a little bit." I talked about this with your dad, of course, and he supported it and said that his parents would watch you. I felt better for having made the call. For some reason, it made me feel like I had another option...a plan B...a compromise.
While I waited for school to call me to sub, I dove into the challenge of getting you on a schedule. I turned off the black hole of depression that is daytime television and turned on the radio. I rocked you and played with you and put you down for your naps. I cleaned and did laundry and washed bottles and pumped breast milk. Before I knew it, you were awake again and I was feeding, rocking, burping, singing. And just as I was about ready to finish the ironing, the garage door hummed open and, oh my goodness! is it already five o' clock? Then there was dinner and spending time with you and daddy and writing thank you notes and pumping again. And that growing stack of magazines! I had yet to grab a spare minute to read even one page.
Just a few weeks had passed and I caught myself falling asleep with thoughts of "I am so glad I don't have to work tomorrow! There is no way I could go to work tomorrow!"

You and I really had everything down to a science and I was quite enjoying my staying home with you when I got the call. A sub was needed on Thursday. Could I take the job?
(WHAT? I have a newborn! What were these people thinking?Who told them I wanted to work?)
And there I was, the night before...crying and scared. How could I possibly leave you with ANYONE? They couldn't possibly care for you like I did. I felt like writing out a list of directions a mile long for your Grammy...even though she's raised three kids herself. In the end, I scrunched the most important information on a post-it note and stuffed it in your diaper bag and headed off to work.
I was only there an hour when I had the overwhelming thought that working wasn't for me anymore. I was going through the motions but all my emotions were with you. Each time I looked at the clock I mentally noted what you were probably doing at that moment (providing that Grammy was sticking to the strict schedule I had set forth of the subtle post-it note of commands, errr, I mean suggestions.) I wondered if you were missing me like I was missing you. I raced out the door at 3:15pm, over the river and through the woods, to get you! I remember that when I called Grammy to let her know I was on my way she told me that you were fine and that I could run some errands if I needed to. Ha! Fat chance. I barely stopped at red lights.
So there I was that night, staring at your dad over another dinner plate.
"I can't go back in August, babe. I can't leave her."
Do I even need to tell you that he supported me? That he scooped me up and smiled and said. "I knew you'd feel this way."
I didn't tell the school about my decision right away. You may be catching on to this by now, but I can be a little wishy-washy at times and I had learned enough to know that I should give myself some time to feel out the whole staying at home full time bit.

Spring blew in and I was quite comfortable with my newfound decision. I figured I would make an appointment to meet with the appropriate people at school to let them know that I had, just as they had predicted, decided to become a stay at home mom. There were things I missed dearly about work, though. Namely, my students, the challenges that they presented, my colleagues, wearing pants without an elastic waist...you know, things of that nature. I fantasized about teaching part time. The best of both worlds, I thought. But I put it out of my mind as I figured there was no way. Still, one evening I whipped up an email and sent it over to school. Might as well, right? Never hurts to ask.
The next day, I received a reply. "That would actually work out well. Let's meet and talk about it."
I picked you up out of your swing and danced around the room with you. WooooooHoooooo...the best of both worlds, baby girl! WoooooHooooooo...momma's dreams have come true! I called your dad and he helped me celebrate. We were all just as happy as could be. I would be having my cake and eating it, too! You would get stimulation (and a couple of germs) from another environment with other children and I would get to work outside the home until noon everyday. I would pick you up and we would have practically the whole day still to spend together. Childcare would hardly cost a thing since you'd only be there for a few hours! I'd use the leftover money to buy myself a snappy new pair of dress pants.....with a zipper! and a button! at the waist. For several days we walked around on clouds with the idea of this new and perfect solution. We began the quest for childcare and our elation was zapped a bit when we learned that there is no "half day" childcare. Whether I picked you up at noon or at six, the price was still the same. We "ran some numbers" as your dad would say, and.....Hmmmmm....not so good. Oh well, money wasn't everything....it was still the best of both worlds.
We ended up signing you up at a shiny new Day School a couple exits from our house. When we visited, I held you tight and my mind raced with the thought of leaving you with strangers. They seemed nice enough...but they were strangers. There was no denying that. We talked on the way home and I prayed that you would be safe there. Safe and happy each day from 8a to 12p. I tried not to think about it. We had several more months at home, just you and I, and I wanted to enjoy them.
At about 6 months, your schedule became pretty predictable and I noticed that you were napping each day from 1p-3p. Do you see where this is going? I began wondering aloud to your dad why I was planning to cut my salary in half to race home and put you down for a nap? In my original plan, I envisioned us playing the afternoons away. I did not envision you sleeping and me cleaning. We began to think that maybe going back full time wasn't such a bad idea. Afterall, it was only a 3 hour difference, 2 of which you'd sleep right through!
Another email to school and the reply informed me that there was ONE full time position open. I snatched it up and nursed an upset stomach all evening. I only wanted what was best for all of us....but the choices (though I was blessed to have any at all) were driving me crazy.

In the interest of time, we'll fast forward to the summer. I headed to school with you in tow. Tears filled my eyes as I moved books, organized bulletin board items, and cleaned desks. My heart was divided. Here was this environment I knew so well and then there was you, a little helpless person who depended on me for everything. I hoped and prayed I was making an OK decision. What if I picked you up at the end of the day and your tiny face was tear-soaked? What if you cried for ma-ma and no one came to hold you? What if you wondered where I had gone or, if even for a split second, wondered if I'd ever come back? (That thought alone nearly cracked my heart in two.) What if you were lonely at day school?
My guilt was a constant companion. I was going back to work and leaving you with complete strangers.

And here is where I will tell you about God sending you what you need even when you are too overwhelmed to ask for it.
About a month before school started, I got an email from a friend of mine whom I taught with for a couple of years. She had her baby one month before I had you. Her email informed me that she had decided to stay home with her daughter and was interested in keeping another baby. Would we be interested? I couldn't believe what a wonderful opportunity this was! If a baby can have a best friend, Ansleigh is certainly yours. The two of you are so close in age that you had a delightful time playing with each other anytime we got together for a play date. I knew enough about Rebekah to trust her completely with your care. She was full of ideas about the many fun things she would do with you girls. We compared notes and were happy to learn that you and Ansleigh had nearly identical sleep schedules. After working out the logistics, we celebrated again, and this time I knew in my heart that we were making a good decision.

Don't get me wrong, I cried as I put you in your first day of school outfit. I talked to you all the way to their house that morning, assuring you that I would be back to get you at 3:45pm sharp. Though you immediately started playing and laughing when we got there, it was wise of me to leave my eye make-up off as I cried all the way to school. I cried because I missed you, cried because I hoped you would be ok, cried because I felt thankful for someone so special to care for you....

You've been staying at Ms. Rebekah's house for many weeks now and I have been back to work for as long. I must say, though there are rainy days that make me want to bring you down from your crib and spend the whole day in our big bed cuddling with you....most days we are all three very content with out situation. You are so happy there, playing with someone your own age, doing pudding painting, blowing bubbles, taking your naps..... And I am doing pretty well, too. I am teaching seventh grade for the first time in my life and am enjoying the change and challenge. Trust that I look at your pictures a gazillion times a day and think of you just as many. I wait patiently for the emails Rebekah sends twice a day letting me know that you are down for your nap and telling me about various other accomplishments you've made. I talk about you at lunch and leave after the last student to come and get you. It makes me heart smile to come through the door and see you playing contentedly with a little mirror image of yourself. You are the picture of happiness! We chat for a moment and then head for home, having a rather one sided conversation about our respective days. Our evening time is spent carefully and wisely and our weekends have taken on a new and meaningful purpose.

This letter is much longer and possibly a wee bit more boring to you than the others, but I wanted to record the journey of your ninth month so that you and I can look back on it togther someday when you are standing in the same spot. My hope is that you will have inherited your dad's deep rooted confidence and that you will make a choice and not waver. But if by chance you are like me, maybe this letter will help you decide. Or at the very least, it will serve to let you know that you aren't alone.
We are so blessed to have Rebekah caring for you Isabella. You aren't old enough to realize it, but I want you to remember it. You are growing to love the first of many good people who will make up the giant puzzle of your life. I hope you will look back on this time fondly, and most of all, I hope you will know that my decision was made with your best interest at heart.
I have wanted what was very best for you since the moment I saw your face.
I love you,
Momma




12 comments:

The Thompson's said...

love the letter. I read every word. Love the little outfit. so glad you got it.

Anonymous said...

Sara,
Love your letter. I'ts funny how you capture all the emotions that all mom's go through and nobody tells you about in advance. Tyler is almost three and I wonder everyday if I am making the right choices. If we could just trust all is going to be OK and someone else can love and take care of our babies as we do maybe we could relax a little more. Who would have thought these little people would rock our world the way they do and who would have though we would love every minute of it. Glad you are feeling settled.

Anonymous said...

she looks just like her mom- b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l! i know you are the best mommy ever. miss you- marcie

Angie said...

What a meaningful letter to your baby girl! I didn't realize that you went back to work, but I'm glad everything worked out for your family.

Casey Wallace said...

So glad you found the perfect solution and that you're feeling content with your decision. She is just beautiful, Sara. Great beach pictures! Wish you were here to take some of AK. I'm going to try to do some of my own before it gets too cold here, but they definitely won't compare! Miss ya.

JenniferPants said...

Wow, so powerful and rings true for every mother I suspect. I know I have felt every bit of what you wrote. I have been back at work part-time now for about 7 weeks. I cried my first day back before going in to work. And, up until last week I was considering quitting forever to be a stay at home Mom. I still question myself everyday even though part of me enjoys my career and the sense of accomplishment it brings. I worry that I will someday look back and regret that I didn't spend every single second that I possibly could with my little man. I feel incredibly lucky to even have the choice but it is so hard to know what is the best thing for yourself and your family.
I really enjoyed reading this, Sara. Thanks for sharing your stories here! I know it makes me feel good to hear the experiences of other Moms. You're sharing helped pull me out of the blues right from the start and I will be forever grateful. It has taught me to be honest and sharing and as helpful as I can be to any new Mom I meet. Love you!

Amy said...

Aah!!! I recognize those feelings! Let me just tell you from one mom to another..they will come and go. The first time something happens and you feel a little out of control, those feeling will rear their ugly head again! The wonderful thing is that you do have the choice, so it makes it feel a little bit better! I know that your students certainly benefit from having you as a teacher! Can you come teach my little darlings??? :-)

Ted said...

Sara,
That was a beautiful letter to Ella. She certainly is one lucky girl to have you for a mother. I love you,Dad

Justin said...

wow! you are a great mother... your letter screams care for lil izzy. i'm working on making my own version of baby einstein for her.

love you guys

ps. i emailed you a random picture that i found of me and tommy~ it reminded me of the one on the front of this blog...tommy holding up ella. let me know what you think

peace and grace

The Adventures of Maverick & the Mrs. said...

That is precious! So glad that you guys have found a good balance! She just gets prettier and prettier--which is hard to believe is possible considering how beautiful she started out!

Jessica, Chris & Luke said...

Sara,
Your letter is beautiful! I wanted to cry reading it because I have to say I have been struggling with this same thing.... Good to hear you are happy with your decision. If you are ever in the northern Kentucky area we should get the little ones together. Luke is 11 months I am sure they would have so much fun playing together.
I would love for you to take some pictures of Luke?!
Take care.
Jessica (Goetz) Cicchinelli

Anonymous said...

Eloquent. Is she wearing a bracelet? Too cute.
AB