The Salt Mines

I’ve had pretty steady freelance work since Joey was a couple of weeks old, and I am anything but grateful. No surprise to any of you moms out there that I’ve found it incredibly difficult to get work done—I have to work while Joey’s asleep, which means that I am not sleeping, which often means that I am going to bed at 4 a.m. and then getting up at 9 with the baby. I keep hoping to run out of work, which frustrates my husband; now I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be offered a real job next week, and he’s upset by my sincere desire not to have a career.

Mr. Book thinks that I should do graduate school, have a real career—he likes my brain, I guess. But Joey hates to sleep without me, and after a couple of nights of me sneaking out, he’ll start fighting sleep like anything to keep me from leaving. Last night I was in the living room copyediting while his dad was trying to put him down (after I’d tried to nurse him to sleep for awhile), and finally the Mister had to come out and tag me in. The baby was wailing and wailing—and then stopping every so often to give his dad these awful, frantic little smiles: I’ll be good, just please, the mama I need mama mama mama mamaaaa! I went in and lay down to nurse him, and he grabbed me with both hands and jammed both feet into my thighs. I feel guilty and awful, and the thing is that I want to be in there with him. Mr. Book had been talking about how really I am working for him, and that a career for me would be a good thing for the little snerks. But looking at the baby, I thought, Christ, how could I possibly have a career?

I know that some women manage it, and that they have great jobs and awesome kids and feel good about life. Me, I don’t feel capable of it—I dread the probable job offer, and I want to be able to just go to bed with my kid tonight. When he started throwing up (again) at 2 this morning, I was already huddled around him with the laptop, working—I tossed it not too carefully aside to help with the baby, sent Mr. Book to go sleep in the living room, and then sat the little snerkleberry in my lap and sang in a ragged voice for almost an hour before he was recovered enough to nurse and go back to sleep. While I worked. The whole time, I worked.

When I was a baby, my mom did transcription for court reporters, and she said that I would cry whenever I saw the typewriter. I know parenting is hard, and I don’t mind that—but I hate feeling like I’m failing Joey, and especially I hate feeling like I’m failing my son and my husband at the same time.

8 thoughts on “The Salt Mines

  1. Oh, I know exactly how you feel.

    He is still so little – you don’t have figure it all out right now. You will find your rhythm and as he gets out of the baby stage it gets so much easier – once my son was sleeping through the night and mobile things really eased up on the neediness front and I felt human again. Balancing work and motherhood is HARD. There are days where I feel like I’m failing at both. You will find what patterns work well for all of you and you will find that you re-evaluate periodically.

    My mother had it both ways when we were growing up – worked when we were younger and then became a full time stay-at-home-mom. She assures me that both situations come with their own challenges and my endless worrying is pointless. Doesn’t stop me from calling her to cry about it periodically.

    I’m an adoptive mom and I know part of my craziness comes from recordings I hear in my head – if I were a real mother I couldn’t possibly leave my baby and go to work everyday, there is a reason why so many first moms list a stay-at-home mom as a top priority when choosing adoptive parents, etc, etc, etc…At the end of the day I’m actually the bread winner in the family and I’m proud of that. My income means we can live in a good neighborhood with excellent schools and my husband and I both believe that is important. Our down time is really child focused and I wholeheartedly believe my son is getting the attention from us that he needs.

    Sorry for the long ramble. :/

  2. Oh SusieBook, I love you and I hear your screams, sister. I have no answers except that wanting to be with your baby all the time every minute is FINE and a valid choice. Another thing is that we bookish/writerly types can restart our careers at other times or slow down and speed up (thank goodness) but you know, it’s always hard to figure out what to do at any given moment. It’s ok for something to be fine now and then not be fine later — it’s not that you’re flaky or not committed enough, it’s that motherhood is ever-changing and so reassessing my choices (seems like every few months!!!) is part and parcel of the juggling.

    I’m thinking of you. And if you ever want a bitch session, I’d love to have one with you!!!!!!

  3. As my friend Michael is fond of saying Time wounds all heels.

    You don’t have to make a ‘D’ decision. He’s tiny & he’s your first. At the same time, obviously, there’s more than sheer want that goes into decisions about work ($$/balance between adults/even modeling to kids that parents are people beyond their care taking roles). I agree: those conversations go on in my head regularly, how much of each world I hope to participate in.

    Check out Third Path Institute: an organization a friend of mine runs that’s all about shared care. It’s pretty inspiring.

  4. This has got to be hard. There’s so much to juggle, and Joey’s so little. This conversation involves a lot of layers of feelings and identities. Maybe it’d be good to talk through things now and set a date in the near future to revisit the topic.

    It must be so different in countries where they have parental leave systems where parents are supported while they stay home for the first three years of a child’s life, or where both moms and dads get up to a year and a half of leave.

  5. You are not failing! Please be kind to yourself. I think it’s amazing that you were able to work and soothe your baby at the same time.Give yourself credit for what you are accomplishing. I know it’s easier said than done. I wish I had some great tip or advice or something helpful to tell you. All I can say is there is no perfection, balance is tenuous and we are only human!

  6. A curse of motherhood is that we always feel like we’re failing. At least, that’s the curse that has been plaguing me for the past 5 years. If you feel like you want to stay home, do it! Easier said than done, I’m sure, but I think you should follow your gut.

  7. The mama/baby relationship is just so intense in the early years. It won’t always be this way, but maybe in the meantime you can cut back on work? I don’t know if that’s an option, but you certainly need your sleep, and your time with Joey. I’m amazed with all you do – it’s truly impressive!

  8. And this is why I quite my big fancy law firm job. Of course it took me baby number three to realize I was miserable and dropping the ball at work and at home.

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