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.
I have a couple half-done posts in the hopper about our trip to Cuba last month, and how things are going now that I’m back at work full-time (spoiler: pretty good!). But I’m tired, and busy, and tired. And they have been difficult to finish.
Then, as I was lamenting my lack of posting, I remembered a story a lot of people ask about and I don’t think I’ve shared here yet. It’s also seasonally appropriate.
The story of Isaac’s middle name: Odin.
Neil has wanted a kid named Isaac for a very long time. It happens to be his brother’s middle name, and he likes the uniqueness of the double-vowels. I like that it’s a classic name without being particularly trendy or common. And we both love that it means “the one who laughs.” Picking it for his first name was easy.
But we had no idea what to choose for a middle name.
Going through web pages and books of names weren’t generating any inspiration. But inspiration did strike in an unusual place: the middle of a joke.
Depending on how my pregnancy was measured, my due date was either the 15th or 19th or March. Split the difference, and it’s St. Patrick’s day. So, I declared, should we have a St. Paddy’s day baby, we should give him the middle name “O’” (yes, O-apostrophe), so he could be Isaac O’Watkiss.
After a good laugh, we realized we really liked “Isaac O. Watkiss,” and started digging into “O” names.
Let me tell you, there are not many of those I like.
Oliver? Octavius? Oberon? Oedipus? No thanks.
We did like the cadence of how Owen fit into things, but happen to know a TON of Owens who were born recently, so weren’t super keen on using it.
Then, while paging through an old book of Gaelic and Scottish names my mother-in-law found on one of their many bookshelves and brought out as a lark, we discovered “Odin.”
Similar cadence to Owen. A little different without being too weird. We liked the juxtaposition of a name meaning “the one who laughs” with “the god of fury” – furious laughter? – and with our wanderlust and perpetually itchy feet, also liked the idea of Odin the Wanderer.
So Odin it was. And Isaac O. Watkiss he is.
And yes, he does fancy a Guinness, when his dad will share a few spoonfuls.
I can’t believe Isaac is a year old already. It’s hard to put into words what having him around means to us, how much he’s added to the joy and chaos and love and labour and excitement columns in our family ledger. Suffice it to say, he’s the coolest little dude I know, and I’m awfully glad this is just year one of oh, so many.
Happy Birthday Isaac! You’re super keen.
It’s been a while since I’ve just had a thought or feeling and gone all stream-of-consciousness and blogged it. In the early days of blogging, before blogs became a “crucial component of your personal brand” or a “multi-channel advertising vehicle” or any number of other sets of strung-together buzzwords, that was the norm. After all, blogs were just online journals. Logs of what was happening lately. Let’s hop in the wayback machine and go there again for a moment, yes?
So right now I’m watching the Grammy’s. Since it’s time-delayed for the West coast, I already know that Adele swept the awards, winning for every category she was nominated in.
Also, earlier this week I was out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long while at a going-away party.
These things are somewhat related, stick with me.
Between travel and baby-wrangling, I haven’t seen much of anyone since Isaac joined our merry band of Watkii. So naturally, a lot of conversation turned to how being a parent was going. I said it was going well, and I heard from a few people that I seem like one of the more sane and together new parents that they know.
It’s something I hear not infrequently, and other than “have a pretty good baby” I have little-to-no idea how to replicate. Nonetheless, I’m asked a lot how we do it. And one thing I often think, but have never said is, I ask myself: What would Derek K Miller do?
Before I was a parent myself, I admired Derek’s approach to fatherhood. He had an amazing capacity (at least it appeared to the rest of us) to be both logical, realistic and considerate of how his kids impact the world, without an ounce of coldness. Right alongside that he was equally proud of and loving to his girls. He believed in free-range parenting and letting his kids shine. And it was never something he was arrogant about. He was just raising his kids the best way he knew how, even though to some of us, it seemed extraordinary. I’m not the only one who thought so, it also came up at his memorial service, as others shared what a parenting role-model he was to them.
I am so, so sad that as I’m a parent now myself, I only have his memory to reflect on, rather than his mentorship as I navigate raising my own kid.
Back to Adele.
In the last months of his life, Derek mentioned how much he loved her music, and how her latest album, 21, touched him.
Watching her accept her awards, so full of grace and disbelief at how her native talent, just being Adele, was being recognized. She seems at each one surprised that just making music the best way she knows how is so extraordinary to the rest of us.
It’s an incredibly special thing to watch.
And tonight, I really miss my friend.
After a whirlwind week last week in which I dragged Neil and Isaac off to a few auditions, mostly for my own entertainment, it turned out we booked a shoot for an upcoming diaper commercial.
Except at the last minute they changed the job from “families” to “dads & babies” and expressly asked the moms not to come along, because it makes the babies act differently.
So I find myself unexpectedly alone, all day. For the first time in most of a year.
I’m totally discombobulated.
It’s not that I haven’t been away from Isaac for long stretches of time. He spends lots of time with just Neil while I go get any number of things done. He’s also in daycare once a week, and is watched by family or sitters when Neil and I go out.
It’s just that whenever I’m away from the rest of my family, it’s usually because I’ve got to go off and do something. This time it’s them doing something away from me, and I didn’t have a chance to fill the time with chores and errands in advance.
Frankly, I’m a bit delirious with the possibilities!
I rattled off a list of things I’ve considered to a friend on twitter: baking, shopping, cleaning, napping (glorious napping!), spa-ing. I might actually get to a few of them.
But so far I’m reveling in drinking coffee while it’s still hot, eating cereal without anyone begging to share it, and reading the internets without a million tiny tugs on the computer power cord.
You people whose days still primarily belong to yourself: what else should I do? I have forgotten how this works.
Edited to Add: that was remarkably short-lived. Isaac was in the group of “backup babies” in case the primary babies didn’t perform well. Except they did, so he and Neil were sent home early. They arrived about an hour after posting this. Oh well.