Ellis' first swing ride. He is so fun these days. So curious and happy to see new things.
I asked a fellow working mother if it gets easier to be away from your baby all day. No, she said, it gets harder.
I didn't believe her. I thought that as he got older and as he enjoyed his social time with the kids at daycare, or the afternoons with his father...it would be easier to leave him.
I was wrong. Its breaking my heart.
He starts to whine when he sees me packing my laptop away, getting my coat. He army crawls over to me. He wants to be held.
I know that after I leave he is fine. I know that his father takes good care of him, that the eight hours a week he spends at daycare with other kids are good for him.
I know that I have to work.
I know that we are lucky that he doesn't have to go to daycare every day of the week, that we have friends to trade childcare with, that he is healthy and happy and social, that we like the caretakers at our daycare, that our daycare is at Dave's college, just down the hall from his classroom.
Still, as I see how fast he is growing--a new skill mastered everyday--I understand how precious these days are. And eight hours away from him seems so long.
My relatives in the Netherlands have many options. They have subsidized childcare on site at their workplace. They have year long maternity leaves. They can job share with other mothers so that they have time off during the week. They have options.
I have a very flexible workplace. I shouldn't complain.
Still. There should be a value placed on mothering. A value that is reflected in labor laws, in company policies, in government subsidies, in our collective common sense.
Everyday in the news, another story about someone getting overpaid for a job they did badly, while public school teachers, social workers and parents get underpaid for the difficult jobs they have committed their lives to, jobs they are doing well.
All the price tags have been switched around.
I don't know how to write policy, but this is what I know to be true: No one can take better care of a child than its own mother/father/caretaker. Invest in ways to allow mothers and fathers to stay home with their children and you invest in your future citizens. This is obvious to me.
I like going to work...
But I would like to have options.
I would like to be living in a country that gave me those options, that supported me in my efforts to raise my child. Tax credits are all good and fine. But they don't give me back those eight hours I miss everyday of watching him grow, of getting to know him, his preferences, his budding personality.
Today, Ellis in the highchair, eating his cheerios. Dave and I drinking coffee. Dave is sketching out his family tree. He is looking back, trying to find the source of the sadness he sees in many of his family members. He writes notes next to each person; little haiku's that sum up the lives of each family member. "Divorced. Sad. Drinks."
He puts a smiley face next to Ellis' name.
Ellis babbles and eats unaware of his loaded lineage. Between Dave and I's family there are a lot of powerful narratives that each new generation hears and retells. These stories define how we think of ourselves. They define us in ways we don't realize.
Dave is looking back and looking forward. As parents, we can chose new ways forward. We don't have to repeat the patterns. But it requires consciousness of those patterns. It requires that we sketch out our family trees on Saturday mornings, and look for the codes, the repetition, the continuation of behaviors from generation to generation. And then it requires that we change course. Deliberately. This is harder than it sounds.
My great grandmother came through Ellis island in 1913. She was pregnant on the boat, miscarried soon after arriving. After that she gave birth to two stillborn children in the space of three years. The light went out of her. She was a hard woman to live with, my grandmother told me, she lost her ability to love. This affected my grandmother, and in turn affected my mother.
My grandmother's first child died in her arms at five months, because my grandfather refused to take the baby to the doctor. The impact this had on my grandmother and grandfather's marriage, affected my mother, and in turn affected me.
My mother's father died when I was six weeks old. The shock of this dried up my mother's breast milk and I screamed for days, my wailing the soundtrack to those first days she lived without her father on the planet. And then my pregnancy in the wake of my mother's death. One heart stops beating and one starts. What do I do with all of this death at the moment of birth, birth at the moment of death?
These stories seep into our skin, permeate our view of the world. We wonder why we feel sad for no particular reason, and then remember, we are carrying the sadness of the people who came before us.
The choices of my grandmothers have affected my trajectory, and now Ellis'. My grandmother herding three children through Ellis Island, ultimately resulted in Ellis. He is a combination and culmination of all of our choices, and all of the things out of our control.
When we were children, we were passive recipients of our reality. Now as parents, we are the deciders. We get to decide bedtimes, activities, which religion to endorse, what to make for dinner, the politics we preach.
I always told my mother that she did the work of many generations in moving us forward. She drastically changed our course. She ran away from home to go to college. She shook off the conservative religion she was given. She rejected her family's belief that women were inherently inferior. She moved away. She moved abroad. She broke all the rules.
The miles she traveled outside of her comfort zone, and the battles she fought against limiting ideas are the gifts she gave Ellis on the day of his birth.
Today the weather is finally warmer. Its been a long winter. We need Spring badly. I can't wait to take a walk around the frozen lake today. There are many things I want to teach Ellis, many things I want to tell him, the good stories and the bad stories, the folly of his ancestors, the wisdom of my mother.
Today's lesson: When the sun is shining, go outside.
In our old office, whenever I needed to pump, I would have to clear everyone—staff, artists, interns— out of our one room office. Having to request this mass exodus, and calling attention to my milk laden breasts every three hours was far from ideal. When we moved into our new office building, I asked the facilities manager if there was somewhere private that I could pump during the day. She gave me the keys to the “Health Realization Training Room.” She explained that this was the office of the Health Realization outreach worker, who was never there, since she was always doing health and wellness outreach in the community.
A small luxury in the middle of the day. Privacy. Alone in a room. A moment to take a breath.
Then a few weeks ago I bumped into the Health Realization outreach worker. I told her that I used her office to pump. Wise, calm, centered. These are the words that came to my mind when I met her. “Doesn’t that room have great energy?” she said.
I had never thought about it before, but yes, it had a good energy.
Last week I was a wreck. Everything seemed to be conspiring to undermine me. My mind wouldn’t stop racing. I wasn’t sleeping. Spinning thinking – this is what my mother used to call it. Round and round we go:
What if I don’t get another job? What if they cut the state budget and Dave loses his job? Is Ellis healthy? My body aches, I need to go to yoga, I don’t have time for yoga., I miss my mom, How is my brother really doing?, We haven’t properly mopped the floors in weeks, Is Ellis eating enough?What if I don't get another job?
My anxiety levels were soaring.
Then, on Thursday, when I went to the Health Realization room to pump, I found this chart that diagrammed a busy mind and a calm mind. There are always photocopied handouts lying around the office, but this chart was dead in the middle of the table, in front of the chair that I sit in to pump. As if it were waiting for me.
Health realization, it explained on the back, is the theory that our thinking creates our reality. If we change our thinking, we change our reality. If we learn how to calm down our thinking, we have access to the health that is within us all (“innate health”).
I have never heard of “health realization” but I am familiar with these concepts. This theory was very important to my mother and her practice of psychology—she used it with her clients and in her own life. I never knew the technical term for this body of thought.
My mother took every chance she could to remind me that I could change my thinking, and therefore change my world. Still, I needed it charted out and placed in front of me in the Health Realization room. My mother finds me in all sorts of places.
Remember the things your mother told you: Still your mind. Real-ize your power. Make your own real.
I took the busy vs. calm mind chart to my therapist, like you take a picture of a haircut from a magazine to your hair dresser.
Here, this one, I want this mind, I said. The calm one. The one that gives me access to my creativity. That helps me see innocence and opportunity, rather than dysfunction and obstacles. This one.
Ok, she said. Start by breathing. Deep breath in. Deep breath out.