Dear Lily June,
Last night, at 4:10pm, I got mad at your dad. I know the precise time now because yesterday night, I looked down at my clock to see just how early he’d arrived to sit in my office. I knew that there were twenty minutes left to my workday, because, when I saw you sitting on his lap–in my office– smiling and reaching your chubby little arms toward me, I felt the sting of all twenty of those minutes like a hive of hornets had set up camp in my heartbeat until I could reach back to you.
Because I leave your precious face each morning, be it smiling on the changing table or nodding off in the car seat, life very much becomes a waiting game. My workday begins with a nine hour countdown. My workday ends with an excruciating hour, to half hour, to fifteen minute, to five minute, to 60 second countdown. In between there, I feel like I’m caught in Zeno’s paradox of the arrow.
Zeno, a Greek philosopher, argues that for motion to occur, an object must change position from its starting point. For instance, the object must be able to move from Point A to Point B over time. But he gives the example of an arrow in flight. If you “stop time” at any given moment, the arrow is essentially standing still in position. It’s neither going backwards towards the bow from which it was sprung, nor forward towards the target at which it was shot. In any single instance of time during its “flight,” there is no motion occurring. And if, at every instant, everything is motionless, but yet time is entirely composed of instants, then motion becomes impossible. Philosophically speaking, at least.
For me, I am the arrow, caught between the reality of moving toward you each day (my target) and getting stuck in a million instants when we are separated by the emails I have to send, the phone calls I have to write, the forms I have to complete, the people I have to guide, the hassles I have to handle, the tangles I have to undo, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam. And this is the life of a working mother.
I was mad at your dad because the only strategy that works to get through my day is to try and leave my heart at home with you. Like you do with your Sophie teething toy, you pick it up and toss it around. Like your footie pajamas with a picture of a mother and daughter monkey (and with monkey faces on the toes), you wear it. Like a bottle, you take it in; like a diaper, you discard it at will. You, my darling dear, own all my maternal love, and it is yours to do with as you please. And I hold your heart when I’m with you, too. As e.e. cummings writes in one of my favorite poems of all time,
“…this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart / i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”
Unfortunately, though, because you’re my heart’s keeper and baby sitter, when you arrive in my office, that organ suddenly gets beamed back into my chest, and its beating reminds me of the pain and the ache and the longing I have for you throughout the day. I’m either the world’s best or worst compartmentalizer, because when I see you, all I want to be is your mother. I would set my phone on fire, toss my paperwork into the air like confetti, and slide across the desk like The Dukes of Hazzard used to scootch over the top of their Dodge Charger, The General Lee, just to get to you.
And so I leave you, and my heart, at home each day, and I trudge off to the doldrums and the deep drudgery that is office work. And I try, as cruel as it sounds, to keep from thinking about you as much as possible (so as to also keep myself from missing you). And I get mad at your dad when he shows up twenty minutes early and reminds me of all I’m missing. And then he goes off to work at 5pm, and he takes the part of my heart that isn’t devoted to you with him. And then I focus on you so that the two of us can forget that the man in our lives–your dad and my best friend–is off making students more brilliant-er than ever.
I wish, as is the plot of the 1987 classic Baby Boom, I could find a way to invent some product that would make our entire family rich and allow me to spend more time with you.
But unfortunately, I’m not talented or skilled enough to do anything but what I do. (Other than, of course, teach, which I gave up in part because it ate my nights and weekends like a shark nibbles a surfer’s bloody thigh.) I have a Master’s Degree in Poetry. Aside from selling flowers at the airport or squeegeeing windshields on the highway, my options are fairly limited. I’d tell you not to make this “mistake” but following my (he)art led me to finding your dad which led me to having you. I know all about the life of Robert Frost, and what it means for way to lead onto way and to take the “road less traveled by.”
But unfortunately, I know only too well, the other side of the Frost coin, and what it means to have
“miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.”
A couple of kind folks have asked me recently, How do I do it? How do I work, and write, and raise a baby, and keep a home, and get to spend any time with my husband? The answers are: Sloppily, sloppily, lovingly, sloppily, and barely at all. The truth is, though I used to be such a perfectionist at work, I’m now a weekend warrior. And I’m trying to be okay with the fact that Monday is a prison and Friday is a jailbreak, instead of thinking, as I used to, that Monday was a mountain and Friday was a vista. I keep the trains running on time where I work, and that’s all they ask of me.
When it comes to writing, in some ways, I have more time now than I ever did as a graduate student in writing. There was a time when I was teaching two classes as an instructor, taking two graduate-level classes as a student, working a string of part-time jobs (as a landscaper, cleaning lady, editor, office worker; you name it, I did it) in order to save up for my wedding and all while planning that wedding across state lines. My life has been busier, but never more fulfilling, than it is right now.
Pregnancy made me slow down a bit, and in doing so, I had the time to engage in one task that barely takes any energy: submitting my work to journals. And I got published more in that year of being pregnant than I ever had when I was a student in poetry, or when I was a college instructor, and the pressure was always on to “publish or perish.” And though the first six weeks with you, Lily, were about as difficult as any I’d ever lived through, I also just lay with you on my lap and read and learned and loved and loafed and lived. And reading so many blogs made me want to write one. And because you’re the reason I write and the primary audience I’m writing to, I have you to thank.
I’ve dropped things that used to be more of a priority–like keeping the apartment “lick the floor” clean–and I miss some things that have always been a priority–like spending “do-nothing” time with your dad. I multi-task, and I multi-slack. And my Saturdays and Sundays are sacred because all parts of my heart can be in the same place at the same time: right through the bulls eye of Zeno’s target.
I know that there’s some proof now of the benefits (other than financial) to mothers who work outside the home. According to a Harvard Business School study written about by New York Times journalist Claire Cain Miller, “daughters of working mothers earned 23 percent more than daughters of stay-at-home mothers, after controlling for demographic factors, and sons spent seven and a half more hours a week on child care and 25 more minutes on housework.” I guess you could argue, Lily, that I do it all for you and your future. But the truth is, our family doesn’t have the financial stability to stay afloat in the present on a one-parent income, so your dad and I shoulder the burden at different times and in different ways. Knowing it’s for your own good–whether it helps you to eat now or aspire higher later–doesn’t make the morning’s kiss goodbye any easier.
Still when each Monday comes, and my miles begin again, I make myself a barrel of coffee. I pull on my big-girl panties, and I don’t make a fuss. I do what I have to do because I love you: I leave you. But I don’t leave you alone. I leave you, Lily, with my heart. Please keep it safe until 4:30pm. I’ll be seeing you, for as many years as it works, then. You have my word.
- “Working Mother March 2009 cover” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Working_Mother_March_2009_cover.jpg#/media/File:Working_Mother_March_2009_cover.jpg
- “Ducks in the ponds” by Masum Ibn Musa – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ducks_in_the_ponds.JPG#/media/File:Ducks_in_the_ponds.JPG
- “Baby boom 1987” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Baby_boom_1987.jpg#/media/File:Baby_boom_1987.jpg
- “UnderwoodKeyboard” by The original uploader was Infrogmation at English Wikipedia on en his/her summary, “typewriter keyboard, from nl wikipedia” – http://www.pdimages.com/X0022.html-ssi. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UnderwoodKeyboard.jpg#/media/File:UnderwoodKeyboard.jpg