These days I'm spread a little thin. That shouldn't be surprising as this specific back-to-school cycle is the first in which I am adjusting to life as a working mom. Although I knew it was going to be hard, I didn't anticipate being hit by a baby with a 9 month sleep regression and (mild but still obvious) separation anxiety. Sleep deprivation makes me feel ineffective and unproductive. Not to mention irritable and tired! But there just isn't time to be unproductive at the moment.
Chris is trying to finish and defend his dissertation and I am trying to help him as much as he helped me. I am trying to complete a few grant applications and a book proposal over the next few weeks. I have a house to maintain. And I am back to my regular work schedule with a heavy teaching load and the usual service responsibilities. My summer class gave me a trial run of the work-life balancing act that so many women I know make look effortless. But that period was brief and I was only teaching one condensed session with very little service work. So I guess in reality I'm spread very thin at the moment.
On my commute home the other night I listened to Terry Gross interviewing Debora Spar about her new book, Wonder Women, which examines what Spar describes as a post-feminist internalization that in effect "privatized" feminism. She says that rather than working toward the social changes that could help all of us, the trend instead sees women attempting to "have it all" individually, entailing a never ending quest for perfection. I haven't read the book yet but hearing her speak about it intrigued me. So I added it to my to do list... which continues to grow at a faster pace than I can manage. Still, the discussion was a nice reminder that perhaps I should try to cut myself some slack.
I know that I am doing the best that I can with constraints. I know that my work is not only important to me but necessary to the livelihood of my family. I know that Emilia is taken care of, comfortable, and happy, despite the teething, sleep regressions, and separation anxiety. I know that everything will be ok in part because it has to be. And thankfully, I have a lot of support on my side.
Thankfully my own upbringing involved a working, educator mom. It really helps to remind myself that my mom did this with an even more demanding schedule that required her to work out of the home five days a week. It helps to remember that she and my dad were able to balance things, raising (not one, but) three kids, while maintaining a really loving, happy marriage. It really helps to have my family's support and encouragement. I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who is very adept with a bedtime routine (without the benefit/crutch of nursing) and who loves to cook. He cooks more than I do and when I come home exhausted after my long teaching days, he always has a warm meal waiting for me. Talk about supportive!
I reflect often on my mom's (and really both of my parents') example, trying to model myself after it. If I'm feeling especially down, I remind myself that I am modeling this role for my own daughter and for the women students I mentor, advise, and teach. I don't want to let anyone down by being a negative caricature of new motherhood, rife with anxieties and "baby brain." And I'm probably overly self-conscious of the alleged "baby brain" drain, due to harsh self-criticism. After all, I had enough brain power to finish my doctorate this summer. That has to count for something!
Still, this is hard. It's hard to leave her. It's hard not to let my curiosity about what she is doing, how she is doing, if she is taking the bottle/napping/crying/etc. distract me from what I need to be doing.
I am especially relieved and lucky that Emilia is being taken care of by my sister on the days when I go to campus. I'm sure she would have been fine in daycare if we had gone that route. I see the babies in my moms' group enrolled in daycare and thriving. But family help brings a peace of mind that is priceless. Chris and I wanted to start a family while we lived near our loved ones for a bunch of reasons. And this is one of them! Emilia adores Katie and Katie adores Emilia. It's amazing to see them grow so close because of this arrangement. After my grandmother passed away, my Aunt Patty (my mom's sister) took care of me and my brother (before my sister was born) while my mom worked. And I feel such a strong bond to my aunt because of it. I am sure that Katie and Emilia and I will all be even closer because of this time together. Thanks to my sister, my baby and I have yet to suffer tearful goodbyes even though both of us are experiencing pangs of separation anxiety.
I keep reminding myself of how lucky I am in those harder moments. I need to remember that everything that is new feels hard and stressful at first, until it eventually becomes normal. If anyone has any secrets to managing things or just words of commiseration, I'd love to hear them!