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I have been thinking a lot about this post by Aisha Iqbal earlier this week.  We, as mothers, do a great job at beating up ourselves and others over parenting.  To work or stay home?  To breastfeed or formula feed?  To co-sleep or not?  Regardless of what side of the coin we find ourselves on, and regardless of whether it is by choice or circumstance, I think that neither realm is free from guilt.

I work part-time as an attorney.  I am fortunate that my employer has given me the option to spend part of the week with my daughter, and I am even more fortunate that this arrangement seems to work.  I have seen other part-time arrangements – particularly in the legal world – where this isn’t the case, and the mother essentially gets paid less to work full-time.

In the early days of my dissatisfaction with my first job out of law school, I remember standing in the elevator one morning with a senior associate, who was a new mother working part-time, and a partner.  The partner asked the associate how late she had been at the office the previous night, and she responded, “I was here until midnight.  When I got home, my son was already asleep, so I went to bed.  A few hours later, he woke up crying, and when I went to him, he said, ‘Mom, thanks for coming home.’”  At this point, we had arrived at my floor, and with a backward glance at her, I stepped off the elevator open-mouthed and headed thoughtfully for my office.  The associate announced that she was leaving the firm a few months later.  After she left, I mentioned what I had overheard in the elevator that morning to a partner, and he replied, “Part-time arrangements never work.  Women shouldn’t even try.”

While I will be the first to admit that my part-time arrangement is as ideal as they come, I am not free from guilt.  When I was on maternity leave after having Bear, my employer hired someone to take my place.  I work at a small firm, and admittedly, my absence created a need for another person.  This new colleague has been helpful and is partly why I can work part-time, however, my boss now refers all interesting and challenging work to her.  Not to mention, I make considerably less than I once did and now rely on my husband to provide most of the support for our family.  By having made the choice to work part-time, I have made myself less valuable to my firm and have limited my career.

I feel guilty that I send Bear to daycare.  Bear loves her class and teachers and, for the most part, we do too.  However, there are days when I pick her up late and the regular care providers have gone home and no one can tell me about Bear’s day.  Sometimes when I pick up Bear after work, she has wet rings around her legs because someone didn’t change her diaper quickly enough.  And, my heart breaks when at home, Bear cries because she does not get to go to school that day and has to stay with me instead.

I also feel guilty when work takes away from my time with Bear.  The fact that I must be available even when I am not in the office is an unavoidable hazard of being a lawyer, I suppose.  For example, Bear was sick on Wednesday.  I stayed home with her and did my best to work from home.  I propped Bear up on the couch, and she watched a lot of PBS that day.  I felt guilty.  When she was feeling well enough to play, she’d pull out her blocks or her books, and say to me, “Sit, Momma.  Sit.”  I felt really guilty.  When she was crying from hunger and nausea, I tried to make her lunch and talk to a client’s accountant on the phone at the same time, accomplishing nothing on either end.  I felt really, really guilty.

While I think that I have the best of both worlds in working part-time, I am afraid that I still find guilt in both of them.  Perhaps regardless of whether a mother is home with her child or whether she works away from her child, there is going to be the occasion for guilt.  Like Aisha, I’d like to shed my guilt, but I find myself asking, “How?”  Is there a way for mothers, who by nature want the best of their children, to mother as the imperfect beings they are and not feel guilt?  After all, we feel guilty because we care.  Maybe guilt just the by-product of motherly love.

 

“Bountiful implies that your cup is already overflowing so you simply tip your abundance into the hands of others.”  Christina Katz at The Prosperous Writer, “52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers:  Number Thirty-Four is Bountiful.”

My cup overflows.  It’s true.

I should regularly reflect on the gifts in my life so I can more fully appreciate its bounty.   Instead, I often focus on the minutiae of each day rather than savoring each sweet, small moment before it has passed.

I spent the morning with my daughter.  We had appointments to meet and errands to run, but before the flury of daily activity began, I sat at my kitchen table soaking in the early morning light streaming through the window in front of me as I sipped my coffee and Bear chattered in her chair about “doggy” and “cereal” and “agua.”  The morning light softened her bedraggled hair and face sticky from peaches and post-nasal drip.  I turned my thoughts from the piles of magazines and junk mail on the table and dirty dishes in the sink.  Instead, I focused on the loveliness of sitting quietly at my kitchen table, with a warm drink in hand, and a sweet soul next to me.

Later, as we waited in an exam room for Bear’s allergist, Bear and I read a beautiful book about butterflies that my dearest friend gave us about a year ago.  I pulled the book from Bear’s bookshelf today for the first time, knowing that a long doctor’s visit might be the perfect time to read it.  Bear gazed lovingly at it from the moment she laid her eyes on the cover.  We spent long moments lingering on each page where Bear could pull out flaps revealing elaborate garden scenes and run her fingers over vibrant butterfly wings, kingfisher feathers, and sunflowers.  She continually amazed me as she pointed at the ladybugs and fireflies that I asked her to find, even though I didn’t think that she knew about such things.  I found myself holding Bear a little more closely, breathing in the smell of her hair, and sending a silent thank-you to my friend for the thoughtful book that had so completely captured my daughter’s interest.

As Bear has napped this afternoon, I checked in with the world at work and found that it has not fallen apart in my absence.  This has left me with a span of uninterrupted time to think and write.  The dog sleeps on the floor next to me.  The locusts sing and buzz soothingly outside my window, and our homebuilding neighbor builds quietly across the street.   I can sit at my computer reading, thinking, and typing; embracing this rare time to be alone with my thoughts and to focus them in the directions I desire.

My husband told me earlier that his day has been passing smoothly and quickly.  His work has been going well, and clients have been cooperative.  Before long, he’ll drive back to our home and his family.  When the garage door begins groaning and rising, the dog will scamper wildly around the house, and Bear will run to the door shouting, “Daddy!” and he will step through wearing an expectant smile at our celebration.  Then, we will start our long weekend together.

All is well in my world, and I am thankful for each sweet, small moment of the day and the bountiful life they signify.  I hope that by sharing the bounty that I enjoy in life, I’ll tip my cup to help fill up yours.

We were well into our bedtime routine this evening when I discovered that we were nearly out of whole milk and did not have enough to make a full bottle for Bear, my thirteen month-old.  My husband had stepped onto a plane less than 30 minutes earlier – begrudgingly, I might add, as his work was sending him away for several days of depositions – and I found myself wanting to blame him.  If he were here, I could send him to the store for milk for Bear’s bottle.  Since he was not, I was faced with several options.  I could add several ounces of skim milk to the whole milk in her bottle to top her off for the night, or I could put her in the car and take her grocery shopping.

 If Bear were not my first child, I may have been more willing to break those “rules” that they give new parents at pediatrician’s offices.  “Do NOT water-down baby’s bottles” is a cardinal one.  Of course, I well understand the reasoning behind this rule, but it is not as though I were going to dilute formula.  I just wanted to give my semi-toddler a full bottle milk before bed.  I doubted that a few ounces of skim milk on top of several ounces of whole milk would cause Bear any real problems.  But, well…there is still that new parent doubt.  So instead, I opted for Plan B, which in my mind wasn’t necessarily better, but one that would allow me to sleep a little more soundly tonight. 

Bear fussed as I strapped her into her car seat.  She was already dressed in her p.j.’s, and because we also subscribe to the No Blankets Rule, Bear sleeps in long sleeves despite the fact that it is June and already sweltering outside.  I carried my overly-warm and barefooted child into the grocery store and slipped her into the front seat of the cart.  I did not even think about carrying in the cart seat cover…that hideous, overgrown pile of material that Boppy (and others, I’m sure) sells to nervous new parents.  I also made the calculated (and lazy) decision to not wipe down the cart with the antibacterial wipes that the store so graciously supplies it’s germ-wary patrons.  As I reached down to fasten the belt around my little houdini, I discovered that the plastic fastener had been broken off.  Instead of switching carts like a careful mom would do, I resolved to simply keep a hand on my child and pray that she didn’t choose tonight to practice gymnastics.  I simultaneously gave myself a mental “high-five” for my relaxed parenting choice and a mental chastizement for potentially endangering my child by using a defective and germ-laden cart.

I purposefully steered the cart to the refridgerated section of the “Natural Foods” aisle of the store and eyed the three remaining containers of whole milk in my chosen brand, which carries an organic label that likely serves no other purpose beyond a good marketing strategy to get moms to spend more money.   As I grumpily stacked the three milk containers into the cart, I noticed a man standing behind me a little too closely.  When I turned to look at him with a “don’t-mess-with-me-I’m-buying-all-of-this-for-my-hungry-baby” look, I saw that he was grinning.  He gestured knowingly at my daughter.  “I’m here for the soy milk,” he announces.  For his hungry baby.  Of course.  I nod understandingly.  It could be worse.  At least my child is not lactose intolerant.  I wheeled Bear to the checkout counter thankful that he hadn’t wanted my milk but wondering if that daddy knew something that I don’t about milk and if I should be feeding Bear soy milk instead.

 As I set them  onto the counter, Bear began screaming and lunging for the milk cartons.  I did my best to reign her in and watch the increasingly bewildered look on the high school boy who was scanning my purchases.  Bear’s milk-grabbing manuevers and screaming continued, and several other shoppers turned and eyed us disapprovingly.   But at that moment, I didn’t care.  I took my milk and carried Bear to the car with her curly hair flopping in her eyes and hungry tears on her cheeks.  And about thirty minutes later, put a tired, but satisfied, little girl to bed about the same time that her daddy’s plane touched down somewhere else.

Thirteen months into parenthood, and even though I am more relaxed in many ways than I was a year ago, I find everyday that I am still a new mom.