I believe we receive moments of pause as gifts that we can choose to open, or leave sitting to collect dust. As I experience massive pause with the world, I reflect back on a time that feels like ages ago, yet still hits home as freshly today as it did back then.
When Summer, now 6 and a half, was just a week old, I knew that her very presence was going to change my way of thinking; about family, my priorities, my marriage, my career. I remember writing her birth story and getting to the very end and writing, “You’ve answered questions I didn’t know I had”. That sentence right there was it. That was the moment I woke up and realized that things were going to be different for me.
Prior to her birth, the path I was on was great – for us financially, and for my career. On paper, it was what I always wanted. A great job, with a great company, with amazing people. People I consider family. I cared so incredibly much about what I did there every day.
I found myself caring more about my accomplishments at work than I did about my accomplishments at home.
I battled hard to leave work at work. But when I got home, I found it relatively easy to check my phone constantly during dinner for just “one more” response back to an email. I’d do the same thing during bath time, getting frustrated with Wyatt if his splashing interfered with a text conversation I was having about a project at work. All of that came first. He wasn’t even a year old.
I’ve asked myself why a lot on that. Why was it so hard for me to let go? Why did I struggle to draw lines, create boundaries, set expectations? The only real answer I can come to is this – it fulfilled me to do well there. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I felt good working through professional challenges. I enjoyed supporting people and their professional careers. I loved the people I worked with. I knew I was good at my job, and I knew I wasn’t nearly as good at being a mom. (Side bar: I realize now, that when you become a mom you’re on the steepest, most emotional, learning curve you’ve ever been on. It’s the hardest “on boarding” experience you’ll ever have. Typical U.S. maternity leaves end at the peak of the roller coaster, right around 3-4 months. It’s there, at the tippy top you get the chance to get off the ride right before you get to experience the exhilaration at the bottom. We aren’t even close to on-boarded as new mothers when we decide to go back to what we know how to do – kicking ass at work. We prematurely head back to work, often thinking we simply aren’t good at it. The truth is, we need more time. We swiftly go back to where we see a faster return on our efforts, and more recognition. We go back to where we feel more confident, before even giving ourselves a solid chance to kick ass at home, too.)
As I reflected that week Summer was born, I came to a couple of pretty rough conclusions. As much as I cared about my work, I didn’t really like who I was becoming. Not only there, but mostly at home. I didn’t really like the mom I was – on the weeknights especially (I tended to rally ok on the weekends – turning email off on my phone on Friday afternoons and not turning it back on until Sunday night). Absent, distracted, impatient. It wasn’t who I imagined myself to be when I had kids. I didn’t plan to be a mom that cared about letting the people she worked with down more than she cared about letting her own family down. It was easier for me to disappoint the family I always wanted. Ouch.
I remember reading this article a couple of months into my maternity leave and really feeling it – to my core. It was about the need toddlers have for your time. It was a story from a mom of a two-year-old that basically calls out that the struggle at bedtime could very well be related to the lack of time your toddler had with you that day. That last 6 weeks or so of being pregnant weren’t pretty on me. I was so tired. I was on the verge of cracking – both mentally and physically. I wanted to leave everything wrapped with a perfectly tied, giant pink taffeta bow at work. I cared so much about the loose ends, the unanswered emails, and the never ending to do list. I rushed through my evening routines with Wyatt just so I could get back online and finish whatever it was that definitely could wait until morning. That last 6 weeks, bedtime was what I considered at the time “a joke”. I remember complaining about how difficult it was – that it was worse than when we attempted CIO at the 6-month mark. The kid would NOT go to bed without crying. Sobbing actually. After reading that article I felt like I got punched in the stomach. I felt like someone just handed me the “You Suck as a Mom Award”. Why didn’t I realize that then? Those were my last few weeks with my little guy. Why didn’t I slow down, and just think for one second that he needed me? Most likely for just 5 more minutes of hair stroking, hand holding, story telling, song singing time. For that first couple of months, until I read that article, I never really knew why Summer was so late. Why was I pregnant for 8 days longer than my due date? That thought crossed my mind a lot, even after she was born. It just didn’t make sense to me. Wyatt came a week early. What could I possibly have done to deserve such torture?
Looking back, it’s so obvious. Those 9 days of being overdue were a gift; a much needed pause. I stopped working the morning of my due date. I spent that entire day with my family of three. I was home. I was present. I walked and talked and played and soaked in every moment I could with my 20 month old. I spent that week waking up every day with him, bringing him to bed with us, watching Sesame Street, and knowing that could be it.
Even though I didn’t understand, my higher self knew that I needed more time, so I wouldn’t look back on those last few weeks feeling like a complete asshole.
In many ways, the gift of pause (albeit in utter chaos) continued on post delivery. Throughout my entire maternity leave I knew in my postpartum gut that I had some things to sort through over the next four months. I needed to make some changes so that I started caring about the right things, and less about the wrong things. I needed to create change in myself somehow. I knew the kind of mom I wanted to be and feared I couldn’t be her if I went back. I feared that I would not only let people down at work, I felt I would let my family down. Most importantly, I felt like I was going to let myself down.
I found conviction quickly into my leave, and after having conversations with my boss while out, I officially resigned when I returned. I expected an “I understand” and a loving “good luck to you”. Maybe a “you’re welcome back any time you’re ready”. Instead, I got the opportunity to stay on in a capacity that I could do, and in a role that allowed me to spend a more time with my family, and less time pouring myself into my work. It was behind the scenes, half the hours, and exactly what I needed. I still felt like me, while being a lot more like the mom I wanted to be.
This blog post circulated shortly after my paired down gig became official. It was another “sock it to me” read. It talks about “the ache”, also known as “no matter how many kids I have, I’ll always feel this void in my heart for more”. I couldn’t see out of my eyeballs about five sentences into it. Big, giant tears filled my eyes, and soaked my cheeks. I felt the ache immediately into the post. I knew exactly what she was going to write before she wrote it. I nodded with every word, every description, every visualization. I related to it all. Everything from the absolute elation I felt after having, at the time, both of my babes, to the realness that is breast feeding.
As my babies become kids, I still long for the early days that sometimes seem simpler. Their tiny bodies, clung tightly to me, never talking back or pushing my buttons. With each passing year, the once raw memories of struggle become more distant, and I truly miss it. I still ache for it. What I wouldn’t give for just one more day to go back, experience it again and really appreciate it for what it was. What I wouldn’t give for a do-over. I can’t help but think that this struggle I feel in this uncertain time, will someday be a distant memory, and I’ll wish I enjoyed it more and truly miss it.
What if the do-over I’ve always longed for with my babies is actually right now, in this exact moment of pause and uncertainty? It is a choice every day to see this time as a gift – not only of pause, but also of healing, of peace, and of presence. If I do it right, I may stop longing for the past and instead, invest in the future. Maybe these can be our good old days.