02 January 2012

Bye, Bye, Maternity Leave

79 days. That's how many days I have been at home on maternity leave. 76 of them have been with Baby Nerd. The first couple of weeks were a blur with all the laundry and diaper changes and cracking the crying code. Roughly 14 days worth. Just--*poof*--gone. Then came the baby weight gain and immunizations and learning to smile and storing away the newborn onesies. When your friends tell you not to blink, that it all goes so fast, it makes you feel a little less crazy for starting the college fund now and insane enough to be committed because you want to reproduce more.

79 days, folks. A pregnancy that seemed it had just scarcely begun is now over, and we have time as parents growing behind us.

I return to work on this upcoming Tuesday. I consider myself a fool for sitting here writing about my sorrow when I could very well be hogging the waning hours of "Mallory time" I have left. But Michael is nuzzling with her on the couch while they watch football together, and keeping the blog helps me release some of the emotional pressure I tend to bottle up.

So how did I did I make my decision to go back and finish up the school year? Sure, things like salary and state benefits factored in. I like making money, contributing to our society via skills and taxes, and putting my own education to use. Then there were articles I read about staying at home versus returning to work. They had me leaning more toward going back to work since studies had shown that stay-at-home moms run a higher risk of depression.

It's tough to imagine parting with our little beauty 5 days a week.
But the actual decision-making really started when my teammates came to my house for a holiday dinner and gift exchange. They looked at me with compassion and asked:
"Are you coming back?"
I still haven't figured out why this question made me tear up. Maybe it's because I wasn't secure in my decision. Maybe it's because I'm comfortable enough around them to be vulnerable. Either way, I didn't expect the sudden stinging in my eyes and held Mallory a little tighter against my chest. And to make it even more difficult, Tamela gently put it out there:
"You know, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if we had to find a replacement in the middle of the school year."
It was my dinner party, and I was crying. And I didn't really want to. But at least I knew that my team supported any decision I made, even if it meant more work for them. Four of them are mothers. Not only had they been in my shoes, they had worn holes in them.

I still needed time to make a final decision.

Two days after the party, I visited my classroom. The highlight of the day was the holiday party my kids were having, as it was the last day before the 2-week winter break. Maria, my substitute, had them engaged in games and fun writing prompts. The room mother arranged for my kids to have pizza for lunch. I expected my students to give me a couples of hugs, wave at Mallory, and return to their plates of confections and cheesy greasiness, but I was way off. Despite the fact I had been away from them for 8 weeks, they brought me gifts, food, and poems. They fought for my attention to catch me up on their educational successes and progress. They bragged about what treats or drinks they contributed to the party. One boy, Dre, showed me the personalized gift he had made for Maria: a frame of boldly printed words reflecting their relationship as teacher-and-student in my absence. He had matured in my absence and was proud of his growth. I was proud of him, too.

One child's father came by to drop off a gift for both Maria and myself, taking the time to pull me aside and tell me how much I have meant to his son. When he told me I was his son's favorite teacher, I couldn't help with my reply, "But I only had him for 9 weeks before my maternity leave!" The father's response: "You're not the kind of teacher who's here for a paycheck. It's obvious you are here because you love what you do and you love your kids."

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook saw this photo posted last month.
A true example of sacrifice and sharing a skill (drawing Yogi Bear!) in gift-giving.
I tried to visit with my class as long as I could, but the heat in the building was up too high and was contributing to Mallory's fussiness. A little girl helped me take gifts out to my car before returning for the diaper bag and the stroller. As I started to give my final hugs and push Mallory out the door, several of my students began to cry. Not tiny tears they mustered up for show, but real please-don't-go tears that required a box of tissues and 10 more hugs. Omar remarked aloud that he even come near the cryfest for fear he would fall victim, too.

That did it. I was going back to work. My kids showed me how much they need me because, even if it's only for 18 more weeks of their lives, I am a reliable source of love, discipline, and knowledge. Does it make me less of a parent to Mallory to commit to a room of 26 fifth graders? Heck no! Do I realize how hard it's going to be at times? Of course. Other women go back to their classrooms all the time…with 4 kids at home. Or a severely ill child. Or a non-supportive husband. Or no husband at all. Or a really long commute. Or a second job on the weekends. Do they love their children any less? I should think not.

It was not an easy decision, but I made it. I can change my mind for the next school year. I might research jobs or new careers that will allow me to work part-time or at home (like writing the next bestseller, right?). But as for now, I return to work on Tuesday. I expect to cry when I drop Mallory off…and think about her as I drive away…and when I text at lunch time to check in... It'll be my first time giving our daughter to someone other than family to care for her. Emotions will run high, and thankfully, we have a great babysitter, Christina, who I've known since I was in high school. We were fortunate to have her living so close.

Now let's put it all in perspective. This time last year, we had reached our 19th month of negative pregnancy tests. On Tuesday, 3 January 2011, I will be a working mom.


A. Hab. said...

Vik, I know this was a hard-won decision...and I'm sure there will be days when you doubt yourself. But I'm proud of you for making it. I haven't read up much on the benefits of working or staying at home (mostly because I just can't bear one more debate, lol), but my personal opinion on the matter has always been that every good mother makes her decision based on the needs of her family and how best she can meet them. But we also have to consider the needs of the mother. Is it possible you'll change your mind next academic year? Sure. Is it possible that after changing your mind, you'd change it again later down the line? Sure. The beauty of this arrangement is that you will always be able to change your mind in order to meet the needs of your family and yourself.

For a while my mom worked part-time. She worked at a bank or an accounting firm or something (I can't remember now, since that was so very long ago) on the weekends. Then, she went back to nursing and worked part time in the same pediatric clinic we ended up going to. Then, and you might remember this stage, she worked at our elementary school's clinic. Then, she went part-time at a children's hospital. By the time I was heading off to college, she started working full-time at the hospital. Nowadays, she's full-time at a cardiologist's triage clinic. My point is that she was able to assess her family's needs and work in a way that would suit her while also providing one more paycheck toward the household income (since that was a priority for my parents--it isn't for all parents, and I don't believe that there is necessarily a right or wrong).

As the daughter of a mother who worked, I can promise you one thing: neither I nor my sister came out psychotic or deranged or warped or incapable of love or unaware of our mother's love for us. Quite the opposite, in fact. We treasured those days off with her because she would make them special girls' days. I know my mom worked harder than she probably needed to because she put so much energy into her paid job, and then came home and put double the energy into her home job. I know she was tired a lot, but she never complained or blamed us for her exhaustion.

I do not doubt for one little second that Mallory will treasure her time with you, whether it's 24 hours a day or the time after you get home from work. Whatever you establish as normal for her will become normal, and she will love you and appreciate you in all the ways that the kids of stay-at-home moms love and appreciate them too. It sounds like right now the right decision for you is to go back to work with these students. That is you taking care of your needs, too. And you and I both know that a mommy well cared for is a mommy who is able to take care of her family.

I'll be thinking of you today and sending you positive thoughts. No doubt it will be tough (as so many "firsts" can be), but I believe you made the right decision for you and your family right now. And I applaud you for sticking to it, even if it was tough. See? You're already showing your natural prowess at being a good mom! :)

Good luck today!!

Anonymous said...

You are not alone!!!
I want to wish you the best of luck and let you know I have been there. I still go through it every time I go to work. It is not that bad when all the kids are in school but on weekends and I have to be at work and they are home; it makes me sad. I don't think it will ever go away. I hope that you find peace with it. You are amazing for caring about those 26 kids just as much as you do your own. Not a lot of people out there like that, sadly to say but true. Just remember, I am praying for you and your family. I thank God everyday that you are a part of our lives. Haley still talks about you and thinks about you all the time. She wants to come see you at school one day. Will let you know if we can make that happen.
Take care and God bless!
Tiffany Landress(Haley's Mom) LOL!


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