I work part time. Mostly, I feel like this is a nice balance. But the word “balance” is a little misleading. It’s more like a seesaw than a tightrope. Over the summer, I was slow at work. I had lots of time to get stuff done around the house, and lots of time with the kids (including Bumby). I was able to take time off when he was sick, deal with the sleep deprivation caused by his weird clingy phase, and meet him at the pool when I could get out early. I forced the older kids off the couch and into engaging activities (like looking at their phone by the pool, rather than on the couch.) I was killing it on the mom front. But work was suffering. I wasn’t busy enough to feel like I was involved, I had just switched to a new job and didn’t know anyone, and my boss was irritated with me a few times.
The last month, things have gotten much better at work. I got a bunch of great feedback from a new partner I had not worked with before. My hours were high, and I was really engaged on a couple of interesting projects. I was killing it. But I was totally disengaged as a parent. I often had to plop Bumby on the floor with a toy and hope he would stay quiet while I tried to revise an email, and I worked frantically every time he went down for his nap. Sometimes, I would hear him wake up and be so frustrated, because if he had just slept a little longer, I could get a document out. I was late getting home, so on my in-office days I would sometimes spend only 15 minutes with him before he went to bed. Once, he fell off a rock because I was trying to take a conference call while also helping him climb the rock (because if he couldn’t climb the rock, he would scream, and I would be busted). Also, I left my 11 year old at football practice for a half hour (at 8pm, at the field by the freeway) because I was stretched too thin and messed up the carpool schedule. My non-work hours were getting totally swallowed up by work, and Bumby and the other kids were suffering for it.
So I dug in. I refused to work over the weekend, other than when Bumby was napping. I watched the debates and edited a document at the same time so didn’t have to miss them (and the chance to provide color-commentary to the older kids while we watched). I declined invites for two calls this morning, and took Bumby to music class and on a bike ride to the park instead. We had a great morning, and I did not yell and he did not cry, not even once. He did not fall off of anything high or play with any sharp objects. I cleaned the kitchen and scheduled some home maintenance work during his nap instead of working. And then, when the babysitter got here and my scheduled work hours started, I sat down at my desk to discover I had made an embarrassing mistake in the document I worked on last night, and the partner who gave me the good feedback before said he thought the work I did over the weekend was sort of… not as good as some other stuff I had done in the past. Sort of like I rushed it a bit, I guess.
So that’s it. I kill it here, and it kills me there. Up and down, down and up.
In 2009, my wife and I talked about having babies. Specifically, I informed my then-girlfriend, who was already the mother of three, that if she did not want to have more babies, that was it. It was a deal-breaker for me. “BABIES,” I said, “plural. Not BABY.” I wanted, specifically, two babies. Also, she had to want the babies, not just be willing to go through it for me. Because babies should be wanted, all of them, each of them. There is a big difference between wanting a baby and agreeing to have a baby because the person that you love wants one. She did not answer right away. She said she would think about it, and come back to me. And she did. A day or so later, she said she was in. Whole-heartedly in. Babies I wanted, and babies I would have.
And then, you know, life happened. For one reason or another, it wasn’t time to start trying to conceive until late in 2013. Then it took us nearly a year to get pregnant. So it wasn’t until six years after that original conversation that we had our first baby together.
By the time Bumby was born, the other kids were kind of… old. The next-youngest was 9, and the oldest was 14. Having another child when your next-youngest is 9 is very different from having another child when your next-youngest is 3. To further complicate matters, the Big One was decidedly moody about the topic of adding a fourth child to our nest, and made those moods known throughout the entire experience of talking about a baby, getting pregnant with a baby, being pregnant with a baby, and having a baby. It was, frankly, rather miserable for my wife and me. Although Bumby and the Big One are fast friends now, it is far from clear that she in particular, or any of the older kids more generally, would welcome another addition with open arms.
Then there is my wife. She agreed to babies, this is true. She knows she agreed to babies. But she has reneged. She is happy with our family of six. She is not getting any younger, and although she loves our children fiercely, she also looks forward to our empty nest years (as do I!). She would like to have those empty nest years when she is still young enough to do fun empty nest things and does not have to take too many prescription medications. Before I ever got pregnant with Bumby, she made it clear. She wanted this one more child very much, but only this one more child.
So that leaves me. I wanted babies. I have been quite clear on this, always. I did not want just one pregnancy, just one baby. But I agreed to stop after one, because I still feel just as I did in 2009, that each child should be wanted by its family. Knowing how the rest of the family felt, I almost hoped that being pregnant would not live up to my expectations. Maybe I would feel about it the way so many women do — it is acceptable as a means to an end, but not altogether a great experience in and of itself. I may even be miserable, or have complications. It is weird to almost hope for these things, but I wanted it to cure me so that I would not yearn to go through it again. So that I would be content with just one baby. No such luck. I had an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy. I was at home in my body for the first time since puberty. I felt beautiful. I marveled at the changes and adored having Bumby close to me and with me, always. I wasn’t even really uncomfortable until around 37 weeks, and slept well. Something about the pregnancy hormones agreed with me, and I was just happy the entire time. I can count on one hand the number of times I was angry or sad for the entire pregnancy. Then, I had an uncomplicated vaginal birth just one day past my due date.
After which, I met Bumby. I fell in love with him, hard and fast. Postpartum came with all the rawness and separation and plummeting hormones that it always does. Sometime in those early weeks, I became furious with my wife. How could she, knowing how amazing it is to have a child, knowing how fast and fierce and primal the love is, how could she say I can’t do it again? When I agreed that maybe just one baby would be enough, I didn’t know what I was giving up. But she has been through this before. She knew what she was asking of me, and she asked it anyway. How could she? She didn’t answer.
I cooled off, and my hormones balanced out. I still wanted another child, but I stopped being mad at my wife for being done. She could not make herself want another child any more than I could make myself not want another child.
My confidence as a parent grew, and I found I can actually manage four kids on my own, while my wife works or has a late dinner. I make decisions about the older kids that I previously would have deferred to my wife. I love them more, and have more patience with them. Bumby started sleeping, and I started getting my life back. I went back to work part-time, and found a work/life balance that works for me. Bumby started walking, and talking, and making jokes. I went from staring at him adoringly, to interacting with him. The love grew. I got my hair cut, without Bumby in my lap. I left Bumby with the sitter so I could go to the 5th grade science fair with his big brother. I started planning our spring garden, now that I have a fun toddler to plant it with, instead of a baby who won’t be set down long enough for me to plant even one tomato plant. I became me again. But now, me with Bumby.
And you know what? I can’t imagine having another baby. I sometimes would like to have an afternoon of baby Bumby back, where we just nurse and nap and I eat strawberries in the sunshine while he stares at his own hand. My pregnancy and our first year as a family of six were the hardest and most wonderful months of my life, and I will remember them forever. But I don’t want to do them again, and I don’t want to do them with another baby. I am done, with one. I am sure that I will still have my moments of longing, but in the main I am, shockingly, at peace with this.
Before Bumby was born, we were a blended family. A family, yes, but there always seemed to be shifting alliances — me on the one side and my wife and the kids on the other, or the adults on one side, and the kids on the other. Various divisions. Bumby has brought us all together. We have gone from a collection of people, to a whole family. One family. We are all brought together by loving this little guy more than we thought we ever could. We don’t need another baby, because we are complete now. I don’t need another baby, because I had the baby I was meant to have. Thanks, Bumbs.
Since returning to work, I have been part time. Most days I wish I could stay home full time, some days I really appreciate going to work. Always I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work less than full time so that I can have some extra time with Bumby. Often, though, that extra time gets eaten up with chores, and running around, and I wonder whether it’s worth it to spend extra time with him when that time is spent at the grocery store.
Then, there are days like today.
The weather was finally nice, so I took my guy to the playground. He did lots of very important baby things. He carried a rock around like a pet. He ate dirt (not too much). He climbed up the steps to the slide and went down. He put a short fat stick in his mouth like a cigar with his fat man belly sticking out. He drove a fake car and turned some gears. He ran up some steps and over a bridge and then back and then down the big double slide, side-by-side with his Mama. He followed a big kid over to the swings and he went on them too. He scared a little old lady’s dog with his enthusiasm. Then when he was seeming a little tired, I took him to the car and gave him his water as I buckled him in. He said “MMMMmmmmmmm” while he drank it and was no trouble at all to get in the car seat.
Even if 9 days home out of 10 involve chores, the 1 in 10 that is like today makes me so glad I have the opportunity to spend two mornings a week and one whole day at home.
This post is part of an ongoing series of posts regarding my experiences working through the book Fully Fertile, by Tami Quinn, Beth Heller, and Jeanie Lee Bussell. For previous posts, click here.
The second week of the Fully Fertile program focuses on the role Oriental Medicine (OM) plays in a fertility journey. This week’s exercise required a list of Qi-filling and Qi-draining actions in one’s life. In brief, this required a “pros and cons” style list, where I wrote down the activities in my life that add life energy, and those that drain it.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t do the list. I don’t need to make the list to know that there is an extreme Qi-drain in my life. I don’t get enough sleep. I work too much. Etc. I’m tired all. the. time. I am a 2000-billable-hours-a-year attorney with three kids, two houses, and a cat, whose spouse also happens to have an extremely demanding job. I don’t need a list to tell me I am burning through my life energy but quick. So I didn’t make the list. I thought it would just depress me.
But here’s what I DID do. I got a massage. My wife and I had a gift certificate from our birthday last May (we have the same birthday, just a *few* years apart), which we had never used. So I booked the couples massage. Then, I called back and upgraded it. One Saturday, when our kids were otherwise occupied, we walked to the train station and went into the city, where we then got the best massage of our lives. I am not telling you where it was, for fear of you flocking to this place and booking up all the weekend slots. But it was awesome.
After the massage, we walked around the city in the sunshine without our jackets on and ate Indian food. Then we stopped by my office, because I had the appointment with Dr. P coming up, and needed to get some stuff set for Monday. Yes, our relaxing day included an hour-long stop at my office. But it wasn’t too bad, and by the time we got home we were relaxed, and tired in a good way, for the first time in a very long time. We spent the day together, just BEing. It was just the dose of Qi I needed.
I previously mentioned that the topic of whether I should continue my demanding career after the baby is born was a topic for another post. Well, I guess that other post is this one. With the likes of Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg making news by implementing family-unfriendly workplace policies and asking women to push harder at their careers, I find myself very glad not to have an alliterative name, and wondering more than usual how I will cope with work/life balance once the baby is here.
My job requires, by some calculations, 7.5 hours of work every day of the year. You know, including Christmas and Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. Yes, I am a lawyer. I am actually a pretty good one. I find the work interesting. But. Not a day goes by where I don’t regret my decision to go to law school, mostly because of this.
That, dear reader, is the anticipated payoff date of my remaining student loan debt. Which I am currently devoting my entire salary to, other than taxes and certain fixed expenses, which aren’t going anywhere. That’s two years away.
Last night, something happened that is all too common when you’re a junior lawyer. My boss emailed me at 8:15 and asked me to send out a document. This wouldn’t be a big deal if I was already working anyway, but I wasn’t. I was out for appetizers and drinks with my wife and a friend. I did not want to work. I was not expecting to work. But the expectation of ME was that I leave, go home, log on to the remote system, and send out the document. Immediately. I think this is totally unreasonable, and most people, I think, would agree with me, unless they are also lawyers, in which case they will tell you this kind of thing happens all the time. It has happened to me on New Year’s day, it has happened to me when I was on vacation, it has happened to me when I had said a few hours earlier that I had a “procedure” done at my doctor’s office and my doctor asked me not to work for the rest of the day. It happens ALL. the. time. I am never, literally never, mentally unplugged from my job.
How I could manage this at this current job is one thing, but in terms of long-term plans, this particular aspect of this particular job is not likely to change. So, the question is, do I keep my current, gruelling, high-paying job in the hopes that I can get the loans paid before the end of my maternity leave and hope that it will mean that I can then stay home with the baby and our kids? Or do I try to change jobs now, and find something with a bearable lifestyle, but which will undoubtedly be lower-paying and with a shorter paid maternity leave (if it offers any paid maternity leave at all), and accept that I will have to go back to work, possibly full time, for the first year or two of our child’s life?
My wife said to me this morning that when they are babies is not when they need you most — it’s when they are teenagers. As our oldest approaches her teenage years, I can see that there is some truth to this. But also. Staying home for the baby is not entirely for the baby. It is also for me. I want to do it. I can’t think of anything better than spending my days with our little baby, and being there for the bigger kids to help with homework and make a snack, go the the class party at the elementary school, etc., while they still actually want me to do it. And also to keep the teenagers out of trouble.
I don’t know what to do in this moment. I don’t know whether I can let go of the hope of staying home with the baby. I don’t know whether I can endure another year + of being completely beholden to a job I dislike.