The happy medium

Freelancing is hard work. I like the variety of it, the ways that it has forced me to grow, but I am constantly searching for my next job — networking, sending emails, feeling desperate. I had planned to find a part-time job after having Henry, but good part-time jobs are very hard to find. Impossible, so far.

Even before having kids, I knew that I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. No judgement. I just knew that I wouldn’t be a great one. I liked my career, and I knew that I would miss having work that both challenged me and made me feel capable. But I also felt that having a full-time job and raising kids would be a lot — maybe too much — to juggle.

I’ve had little freelance work the past few weeks, and so it has felt more like I’m a stay-at-home mom. I am really missing work and adult companionship. And of course there is guilt with that. My mom worked when I was growing up, but she always suggested that she would have preferred to stay home. And I remember some of the women at our wedding shower saying how nice it was that I was marrying an engineer, implying that I would be able to stay home with the kids. There was this assumption that oh, of course I would want to stay home if I could. So even though most of my friends work, and even though no one has told me that I should stay home, I still wonder what is wrong with me that I can’t be happy at home. This is supposed to be the dream! Clearly, not my dream.

Given the dearth of part-time jobs, that leaves full time. There’s a catch, of course. We live in suburbia, far from most of the jobs that I would like to have. A 40-hour job would mean more than 50 hours away from home because of commuting. But, in suburbia, we are able to live on one salary, a very lucky situation. If we move into the city to cut my commute, we will need two incomes. Working is no longer optional.

Nothing is happening yet. I am not ready to put our family through such a dramatic shift, and I continue to foolishly hope that more freelance work will come my way. And I stew. Why does our society work this way? Many of the stay-at-home moms that I know would like to work part time. Many of the parents I know who work full time are overwhelmed and would be happy to cut back to 30 or 35 hours a week. A lot of us seem to want the same thing, a job that gives us some balance in our lives, and yet that doesn’t exist. (If it does, please let me know!)

Reading: “Life After Life”

I picked up Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” very reluctantly. Actually, I picked it up several months ago and quickly put it back on the bookstore shelf. It kept poking into my life though. I saw friends mention it on Twitter and found it on a handful of must-read lists.

My reluctance grew from my limited knowledge of the plot. A baby girl is stillborn in England in the early 1900s. Then she is born again and dies a bit later and is born another time and so on. I didn’t want to read a novel about the life that a stillborn baby might have had. No escapism there. I spend plenty of time thinking about that already.

Despite that, I read the book. I loved the book. Ursula, the protagonist, has a strong sense of deja vu, and with each successive life, she tries to correct past problems. She lives through both world wars and encounters a handful of horrid men, so there’s plenty for her to improve. Some of Ursula’s deaths upset me. At other times, her life looked so dire that I rooted for her to die.

Atkinson does toy with the truth. There were major events in Ursula’s childhood that changed over the course of the book, and I wasn’t sure whether those events really changed or whether she became more fully aware of the events of her childhood. Either possibility was plausible.

What I liked about the book was that none of Ursula’s lives were perfect. She learned from the past but still made mistakes. In some cases, she confronted problems that didn’t have a good answer. It was a good reminder that sometimes we need to quit stewing, make a cup of tea, and get on with life. The British setting didn’t hurt either and definitely made the characters more endearing to me.

I’ve been a bookworm this summer. I’m in the middle of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” and I’ll probably have plenty to say about that when I finish. That sentence wasn’t meant to be ironic.

Month eight — Henry

Dear Henry,

Today you turned eight months old. You are finally making yourself heard within our family. You are saying many things, important things that make you very enthusiastic. Daddy is pretty sure he hears you crying “Mama” in the middle of the night. We’ve got to work on your d’s, kid.

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You are sitting up, which makes it far easier to play with your toys. Almost as soon as you mastered the sitting up, you grew bored with it, and now you tip yourself over and roll onto your stomach so that you can work on crawling. You are so close. I walked into the room this morning after a jog, and you spun yourself 180 degrees and then began your beached-whale struggle to get to me. Sometimes the whole front half of your body is lifted. Sometimes you push back onto your knees. But these things never happen in conjunction.

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You continue to delight in every food we offer you, though it’s increasingly looking as though I will be pureeing your meals for the next 18 years. Where are your teeth? You’re so seldom unhappy that I tend to always ascribe your bad moods to teething. I have been doing this for months now. And it looks like you’re really getting the benefit of the doubt on all of this because you are not teething. There are no teeth!

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You have become so eager to connect with us. You can barely contain your glee when I sing to you, particularly “The Wheels on the Bus” and the alphabet song. You are always reaching out to grab my cheek or my eyelid (ouch!) or my hair.  I know that babies explore the world with their hands, but I also think this is your attempt to interact. You are a little person.

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We were a family of three for a long time, and I didn’t give a lot of thought to how we would adapt to you beyond worrying about whether Eleanor would feel forgotten. I did not know how much complexity you would add, and I mean that in the best possible way. I love watching you look at Eleanor and knowing that you two will share a relationship independent of your dad and I. I like imagining that your dad might have a comrade in the house, someone to stand befuddled with him as words spiral from Eleanor and I. Your sister is a lot like me. I think that I will have to work harder to understand you and to know how to be a good mom to you. I’m looking forward to that.

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Love,
Mom