Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The New Year

Happy New Year to all. It's hard to believe that I enter this year with a newborn at my side. This little girl's a dream, I must say, and cooperative. She's resting next to me as I type, quite amenably, and I appreciate her willingness, since at 2 1/2 weeks she's a bit young for a babysitter, and I, her mom, don't feel like taking the same kind of career interruption I experience seven years back after her sister was born.

We parents face terrible choices. It's the obvious thing to say, but it strikes me all the more. It's not just moms. My husband took off the first two weeks after Amelia Jane was born. He held her, cuddled her, stared long and meaningfully at her. Then, January 3d it was back to work. He gets our eldest off to school, drives to work, returns home at 5.30, helps get dinner on the table, then helps our eldest get herself bathed and brushed, and listens as she reads before bed until they both fall asleep. It's 8.30 before he gets to cuddle with the squidget, as we call her. We can tinker with this formula. I can make dinner while he gets the baby, but you get the idea. There's not a whole lot of time left. And his schedule is rather flexible, as such.

It's the issues we all know, ad nauseum. It's just tough to be starting anew, and to see how nothing changes. We can be more creative with our time, and we will. We can learn to manage our time as best as possible. I can take digital photos and email them over at lunchtime. I can contort my body into all sorts of positions so I can care for the baby and type at the same time. I can face some of my assumptions about how early is too early to hire a babysitter (2 1/2 weeks still seems too early, even if I am ready to return to writing). But this is all in the realm of the private. If the upside of my free-lance life is flexibility, the downside's that there's no security, no paid time off for family leave. I taught a two-hour seminar on Tuesday; the baby was in a chest carrier, though I was offered the chance to hire a substitute, I decided to go in myself, as it was the last day of class and I wanted to be the one to tie all the pieces together. My husband works at a small firm without a family leave policy, and one that let's him be flexible about his time as long as he gets his work done. Still, there's a ton of work to get done, and it needs by and large to be done at the office. I know I'm not supposed to think about dads in Norway, dads in Denmark, dads in Iceland at this moment, dads who might get months off, with salary replacement, if they wish, dads who get family leave in a big way. I'm not supposed to dwell on the pain of living in a society that sends its fathers back to work so quickly. is it totally utopian for us to be thinking about a changed world that really supports us as we start our families and care for our kids? From where I sit right now, a newborn at my side, it seems farther away than ever.

When I realized last spring I was pregnant, one of the horrible thoughts I had was that I knew ahead of time the work-and-family struggles we would face. I could quote to myself the statistics on the income and status that mothers lose when they increase their family's size. What an odd position to be in. I've researched so many of the statistics about family life, about desires, about how so many of us want more hands on lives as parents than seem possible, given the work we do. It's hard, I must say, to see once again what it all looks like in our family life.


Lone Star Ma said...

It is so hard. I have recently been struggling with the fact that my older daughter has to get some one-on-one time with me, too, especially now that she is approaching young womanhood, even though I am loathe to leave the baby for longer stretches than my already too-long work hours. Bleh. Such a crazy way of doing things. I read a letter in the current issue of Brain, Child that talked about all of Hungary's family-friendly policies. They sound even better than the Scandinavian countries! I'm so jealous.

Mother in Chief said...

Your comments about fathers is so interesting and sadly true. So often we think about the moms and maternity leaves, but we often forget that there are two parents who are likley struggling with the desire to be at home with the baby, but the need to be at work to continue making money to support the family. I know that my husband had a really hard time going back after our son was born. And somehow his conflict isn't respected the same way it is with women.. I think that at least people *expect* women to want to be with the new baby, but with men, they are expected to be indifferent.

And congrats on the new baby!!!

Scribbling Mama said...

Your comments about being so aware of the statistics and risks as you became pregnant for a second time were very interesting to me. I too am thinking about adding a second child to our family. When I had the first one, I knew that I couldn't obsess about the impact it would have on us and my career as a professor. I just had to jump in with blind faith. But it's harder the second time around. Like you, I know a lot more this time. Still, I suppose mothers always have to take the leap the faith that their children will be able to grow up in a peaceful world and that everything will turn out okay. Then we have to slog through the hard parts. Congratulations on your new baby and best of luck adjusting to the new circumstances. I admire your work and hope you can continue it.

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