The mundane and the sublime

Eli is nearly four months old, and I have been out of the paid workforce for about that long, having left my old job permanently a few weeks before he arrived. The rhythm of my days is very, very different than it was last spring, when I worked full-time and was taking two grad school classes. Although I’ve kept very busy since Eli’s birth taking a class, and I am finishing my master’s project over the next four months, it’s a completely different kind of life in many ways.

I’ll start by saying I can’t imagine missing any part of the last four months. Some women in the U.S. get twelve weeks off from work after a birth, but some get as little as six weeks, and some can’t afford to take more than a week or two of unpaid time off. I’m very thankful for every unpaid minute I’ve had so far despite the financial sacrifices required, and this is likely a temporary arrangement for us. France and other European countries really know what they’re doing when they provide paid maternal leave for new moms for a full year. By taking the economics out of it, women could just decide which constellation of fulfilling paid work and fulfilling unpaid work is best for them and their families (since every mom, employed or otherwise, is a full-time mom). If I were in charge of the world…

Caring for a new baby as your exclusive unpaid employment is a complicated gift. It is a puzzling mix of the mundane and the sublime. There have been days when I’m still in my pajamas when Todd’s workday ends after 5:00pm, days when I don’t brush my teeth until bedtime, and days when even a shower seems like it will take too much energy. It seems Iike I’m always hand-washing spots of poop off of onesies before throwing them in the wash to prevent stains. If I blow-dry my hair at all, I do it with Eli watching me from the bouncy seat. I shower in a state of hyper-awareness, watching the lights on the monitor from its perch on my bathroom sink. The times we venture out inevitably get delayed by a slowly eaten meal, an epic diaper change, or a necessary wardrobe change after he’s strapped into the car seat. Since I spend more time in our home than I used to, I’m more bothered by dirty dishes, dusty floors, piles of mail, and clutter, which inevitably means I do more cleaning and tidying than I used to despite our commitment to housework equity and non-traditional gender roles. And sometimes, I do this begrudgingly!

My days are divided into repetitive three-hour cycles; Eli wakes to eat and we play happily for awhile, then while he sleeps for the next hour and a half I scurry to “get things done.” Just when I am ready to take a few minutes of down time, Eli wakes up to start the next cycle. When the first two months of breastfeeding was not going well at all, the sheer frequency and duration of it made large chunks of the day feel unbearably frustrating.

Those are some of the mundane things.

But the sublime things – oh, the many, many priceless things I love about having this baby! He has been a dream baby, eating and sleeping well and rhythmically almost since the beginning. He would catnap in my arms when he was very small, and I could spend hours just staring at his little features, memorizing every eyebrow pucker, and marveling at each tiny yawn.

He clings to me like a little monkey when he wants to be snuggled. I love to watch him take in the world from his perch in the stroller, and imagine what he thinks of it all. He has deep, almost navy blue eyes that are striking and beautiful. He produces a distinctly new sound every week to add to his repertoire of coos. There is pure joy on his face with a big gummy smile when we go in to get him from his crib in the morning and after naps. I love the feel of his soft baby skin. He is wildly expressive with his face, his animated sounds, and his moving body. I love scrubbing his little toes in the bath, and the way they flare when his foot is touched. His big crocodile tears stop and his red face goes back to a normal hue when I soothe him. His little butt rises high into the air as he’s waking up in the morning and starting to stretch. I love the way his hair sticks up in all directions when it’s been freshly washed. He oohs and ahhs very expressively at the illustrations when we read books together, as if to say “how interesting!” Is there anything more absolutely delicious than a little baby, one who is a fascinating combination of your own and your partner’s life forces?

Parenting is both extremes – the mundane and the sublime. It is strangely both the hardest and the easiest thing I’ve ever done, and absolutely the most rewarding.

Sometimes, at the end of the day when all the items on my to-do list remain, I’ll tell Todd that “I literally got nothing done today.” And he will sweetly remind me, “You spent the day taking care of Eli, and loving him. That’s not doing nothing – that is the whole job.”

Hanging out with Eli is the best job I’ve ever had.


Joanna said...

Amen sister! Most rewarding job on the planet!

The Svoboda Family said...

LOVE todd's response when you told him you "got nothing done today"!

mena said...

it's so true! thank you for reminding me:)


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