Reflections on a year at home

I was so worried I’d be bored with a year off, and had such grand plans for the time.

After a year of maternity leave, yes I was bored a not-insignificant amount of time, but those plans? HAH.

I thought I’d play the piano more. Cook more. Have a super-clean house. Read dozens of books. Redo my website. Take amazing, artistic photos. Teach the dog how to play chess. All things I like to think I’d do with day after day to while away, beholden to nobody but that tiny baby and myself.

So what happened?

First off, I spent a lot of time outside. Fit4Two mom & baby fitness/bootcamp/aquafit classes really saved my sanity, combated a lot of the loneliness I’d have otherwise felt, and got me back into great shape – I haven’t been this fit in far too many years. And especially in the early days, getting out for the twice-weekly one-hour class between feeding/napping/diapering episodes was enough of an achievement, I didn’t feel the need to do much else.

But once things got easier, I started thinking about that original “whatever will I do with all the free time?” list. In my aspirational mind, I like the idea of doing those things. But in reality? I like sitting around, watching TV, surfing the interwebs. Those things also happen to be highly compatible with caring for a tiny human whose needs and movements are sporadic and unpredictable. It’s easy to pay limited attention to daytime TV that I don’t really care about when I know it’ll likely be interrupted. Same goes for following along with a twitter or Facebook stream, or reading brief blog updates.

Turns out rearing a baby is hard work. And while I knew this, and had heard it multiple times, I didn’t really process that it’s not hard like quantum physics, it’s hard like ditch-digging. Except you can’t put down the shovel and walk away.

I will say I’ve been fortunate: I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression, and by all reports we’ve got a great baby whose default emotion is “happy” and has never cried much. But caring for him is still a manual slog. Feeding, changing, dressing, re-dressing after he spits up on his clean clothes. Then later, playing, following, chasing, redirecting, entertaining. And then there is the whole thing about making small-talk with other moms while the babies play together in an effort to get them some different mental stimulation and socializing. I am terrible at small talk (which is why the fitness classes were great – hard to chat through pushups).

The timing for returning the work has been perfect. I am not cut out for all-day baby-wrangling, but Isaac is in a great daycare with someone who adores spending her day with babies and a couple other kids to play with. We have our little morning ritual, a few hours of playtime & dinner once we’re home, and adventure on the weekends.

So am I glad I took the year off? Absolutely. Each time we hit a milestone where in other countries I may have had to go back to work (6 or 12 weeks for the US, 6 months in many other places), I was thankful we had a little more time, another few months, weeks, days to learn, discover, observe each other. Cement the bond a little stronger. And I’m equally glad it’s done. Just enough, not too much.

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