Monday, December 15, 2014

Daycare: the hidden bonus my maternity leave self would've really appreciated knowing

I spent a lot of time in the weeks leading up to my return to work very angry and sad. I was growing a deep wrinkle between my eyebrows, trying to figure out how I could not return to work without sending our family into deep poverty. 

I didn't anticipate feeling like that. In fact, I loved my job before Theo was born. I loved the culture of the work place, the friends I made there, and most importantly the work that we did. I was able to make a contribution to something bigger than myself through this work. I planned to have my kid, do maternity leave and then I was magically going to be ready at 12 weeks to return to work, what did I even know about babies anyways? HA! It took about 4 weeks for me to fall madly in love with Theo. Once I learned how "to do babies" all I wanted to do was learn more about how to parent and do it better. I wanted to watch him grow up, I wanted to be there for every milestone. It still hurts that I might miss the big ones. Or at least miss the first sighting of the milestone itself. 

When I considered the other options, I thought, "I don't really have skills... I can't offer to paint people's houses, make jewelry, refurbish furniture and I would still have to figure out a time to do all of that without caring for Theo 100%." That didn't really answer my problem. I also really really didn't want to sell stuff out of my home. I watched my mom beat herself up over a failed Mary Kay attempt and at a young age remember my Dad getting so mad when the neighbor tried to get him to sell Amway with him. 

It just seemed like a problem that couldn't be fixed unless we moved to Canada, Sweden or Norway. There, I could be a mom at least for a year, care for this new addition that I wanted to watch grow, breastfeed him directly instead of going through a machine to bottle routine, and learn how to take care of a baby. I imagined days of strolling to the park to meet other stay-at-home parents, visiting the library, having a good grasp on our financials as a family, cutting coupons, making quality dinners, maybe even cleaning a little! These countries wouldn't punish me for leaving the work world for a year, they understood the weight of responsibility in bringing a new baby into the world and understood that I would still have talents to contribute in my job after my baby was walking and more independent.

I cried so hard to my partner who nodded in agreement. "Yes, it's unfair, but you have to go back to work, that's what we planned on and need you to do for our family." I knew that, I didn't want to be a family that never got to do anything, never take a trip, never go out to eat, never paying off my student loans, our mortgage... but paying for daycare made me feel like it was going to be the worst of all possibilities. With daycare, I framed up my job as somewhere that I had to pay to be $1,000/month. Right, without the job I'd be losing more than that a month, but still I essentially was saying to myself that my job was worth paying someone else to watch my beautiful little monster for.

What I failed to know (how could I have known?) is that the daycare providers (sounds so cold) would actually be a blessing. I know that Theo's Dad and I love him the most in the world, what I didn't know is that Theo would be getting two "tias" (Spanish for auntie). I didn't know Theo would be getting new friends.

I didn't know that he would be exposed to toys, adventures, experiences that he wouldn't ever otherwise had with me, especially as a new mom learning as she goes. These tias know Theo very well, but they don't tromp on mom territory. I do believe the old saying, "Mamas know best," but I wonder if part of that might be that they know what they don't know and what they can't offer. 

I wasn't going to set-up my own daycare, I wasn't going to take a night shift job. I was going to go back to that place I felt I made a solid contribution. After a couple of weeks I could admit to myself that I even enjoyed the small parts of it, drinking coffee every morning, eating lunch without bouncing a kid on one leg and connecting with other adults in the cafeteria, and of course being a badass at the actual work too. 

It was also fun sharing Theo with the tias. They tell me about his day, his new favorite toy at the daycare, and we laugh together about his latest "words" or noises or monster poops. It is a unique relationship, not one that you can have with others as they will never know your kid like that. I am so grateful to have found these two women and share the Theo love with them as they were the best teachers for the hardest lesson I've had as a mom yet, "how to share Theo with the rest of the world."

Note: I still fight for a longer maternity leave in the United States and write to every elected official that represents me about it. This is simply about finding the peace in a situation that seemed so unfair, so backwards (and it is), but there silver lining.