My return to work date for my second stint of maternity leave came and went like an offramp on a freeway. I glanced at it and kept driving, there was zero interest in stopping. I’d taken twelve months off but knew it wasn’t long enough. I was in a good routine at home, I had found time to let my writing breathe again and with my eldest in a standard kindy program I wasn’t prepared to let go of the last six months of weekday freedom we’d have before embarking on the thirteen year journey that is the education system. I needed more time.
When I think back to returning to work after my first son, he was two at the time, I was eager to start something new. We’d been living on the coast for a year after moving from Melbourne, my husband had finished rehab and we were starting to put some roots down. I was excited about the possibilities of the next chapter. I knew it would be challenging but like any road you’ve never travelled, preparation only covers so many bases. Before I jumped back into full time work I’d learned to prioritise my own needs. I was doing yoga four times a week. I was reading a lot; I was writing more. I’d managed to find space for myself. Space to focus on what I needed, do the things that lit me up inside. I was grounded, the balance imperative. But that untraversed road taught me one major thing, how easily habits unravel if you don’t focus on them.
Work started at a relaxed pace. Baker was only in care part time because Carl was studying. Day care drop off and pick up were not my sole responsibility, I could stay back at work if I needed. Life was more structured but still moving slower, we found our groove. Then, like a punch in the face, we discovered how hard it is being full time working parents with a child in care. I was dragging him out of bed each morning to be out the door before seven. I’d play with him at daycare for a little while before heading to work because it was the only quality time we got together during the week. We’d get home after six each night and it would be a mad rush for dinner and bed. We didn’t stop, eat slowly and casually discuss our day. We would hurry, aware of the time every minute from when we walked in the door. I remember one night we sat and watched a movie when we got home and as I lay on the floor with him snuggled under my arm, I watched the arms of the clock tick closer and closer to bedtime and I didn’t move. I didn’t usher him into the shower. I didn’t force him into his pj’s. We just lay there, being still, together. It was an inch of balance in a mile of rushed days and it felt so good.
The long days began to take their toll. By Thursday of each week he’d be asking to stay home. He was tired, emotional and would ask for me constantly. Sit with me Mama, lay with me Mama, I want you Mama. But it wasn’t just Baker struggling. I was too. Everything started to crumble. Meditation and yoga had gone out of the window, writing was non existent. Going back to work had been purely to get back on our feet after the life implosion. A financial decision that began to eclipse my personal needs and passions. I felt like I was drowning in a bathtub. Shallow enough to stand but I couldn’t get my footing. Mothers do this every single day of the week, why couldn’t I handle it? I ended up seeing an acupuncturist and after disclosing a little about my situation and what the previous few years had looked like, the treatment began. In a gentle voice he told me it’s okay not to be the warrior all the time. In here, you don’t have to be strong. Lying on the table, needles in my face, the weeping began. My breathing went from broken crying to long, slow breaths. It was as if he had just released the pressure valve. For the first time since rejoining the rat race, my mind was quiet. Silent. Still.
A moment of honest reflection came one particular day at work when a senior male, sensing I was struggling, told me that I was showing my son what I was capable of, that I could do it all. His ignorance was in equal parts appalling and comical. The reality was I didn’t need to be a full time working mother to show my son what I’m capable of. If there is any lesson I want to teach him it’s self awareness. To be connected enough to know when something feels off and your path needs correcting. To know your boundaries and to know when you’ve overcommitted. To dictate your own life needs based on what matters to you and you only.
Still on maternity leave for a second year, trepidation is all that fills me when I spend too long thinking about returning to work. With a second child in the mix it seems destined for anxiety induced weeks on end of chasing my tail and living on a rigid schedule and I’m not up for it. It was only when I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck and Mark Manson posed the question, ‘what are you willing to struggle for’ rather than ‘what do you want in life’ that put it all into perspective. I’m willing to have less financial security, to rarely treat myself, to live in a smaller house, to not go on fancy holidays, to live a minimal life. In a nutshell, I’m willing to go without to afford myself the luxury to write. The luxury to spend as much time with my kids as I can. I want a life that let’s us explore our possibilities as a family with as little pressure as possible, to do it our own way. Or as Brené Brown puts it, I want to brave the wilderness.
In case you haven’t been asked in a while, what do you want?