The one about maternity leave.
I’ve now been back at work for well over a year. I went back when V was only 5 months old. My six months of maternity leave flew by, and the next minute I was handing my tiny human off to a bunch of people I didn’t know, and then heading to the office.
The days and weeks since that first day have been the most challenging I’ve ever experienced – beyond anything I could ever have imagined. Relearning my job, negotiating a new identity, and fitting a tiny dictator into all the moments between: wake, public transport, daycare drop-off, work 8 hours, daycare pick-up, public transport, dinner, bath, bed, bed. This is not to mention all of the extra things we’ve brought home from daycare with us: gastro, colds, ringworm, conjunctivitis.
I never really felt any qualms about daycare. I knew it was inevitable: I had to go to work; he had to go somewhere. And, in retrospect, I think there were plenty of advantages to him starting when he did. It was pre separation anxiety (his, not mine: that was immediate), so he rather happily adapted to his new environment without filling me with total guilt. Added to this, daycare provided him with opportunities that I couldn’t (without making friends with the entire neighbourhood), namely: other children.
I have to admit, I was somewhat relieved to return to work. The first month of maternity leave was pretty gross: weighing in at close to 100kg, in the middle of an unairconditioned Sydney summer leaves a lot to be desired. And, there was no one to keep me company (except RuPaul’s Drag Race): all of my friends continued their daily lives, while I beeched myself on the lounge, hoping Greenpeace or a baby would arrive quickly. When V did get here (almost on time, but following 2.5 days of labour, 2 epidurals, some morphine direct to the spine, and an emergency caesarean), not a lot changed. In fact, the monotony increased. Not only were my friends continuing their daily lives without me, but I’d become the personal slave of a rather particular taskmaster, who’s commands mostly sounded the same, but demands varied between feed, sleep and shit.
#652 on the list of #shitnoonetellsyou: babies are really boring. And, for the first few months of their lives, they don’t give a lot back. Sure, the smiles kick in, and you have a new reason to love them. They tick through their milestones. You dress them in ridiculous-slash-unnecessary outfits. But, they don’t ask how you’re doing. The don’t laugh at your jokes. They can barely hold their own heads up. Mostly, like an adorable baby seal lying in the snow, they lay on their playmat, staring into the sky with big helpless eyes, demanding your love.
And then, one day, they manage to sit up on their own. You begin to marvel at their talents. They manage to swallow an entire spoonful of pureed something, and you convince yourself that you’ve most definitely got a baby Einstein on your hands. Cue rolling, noises, giggles. All of the great stuff.
It was at this stage that V started daycare. I wish that a year had been possible for us, that I could have afforded to stay away from work longer, and that I could have kept him to myself – all those giggles – for a little bit longer. I think it could have been wonderful to spend this time with him. But, that wasn’t our reality.
Instead, I got to see the look of pure excitement on his face whenever I arrived to pick him up. Over months, this turned into excited crawling. Now, he runs toward me, yelling ‘Mama, mama, mama.’
Each morning, we chat about who he’s going to see that day, and every week, he’s mastering his friends names. We get great works of art to magnet to the fridge. And he gets love and cuddles, wherever he goes. His teachers all come from different places, as do his friends. They play games. They sing songs. They learn and they laugh.
Once upon a time, they would say ‘it takes a village.’ Daycare is our village.