Saturday, August 10, 2013

On the cusp

Augie starts "school" on Monday.

I'm not ready. I don't think I'd be ready in another five months and maybe not even in another five years. I accept, of course, that he has to go. I also accept that I have a certain responsibility to myself, to Josh, and even to Augie to go back to work. But there's really not one part of me that's looking forward to dropping him off on Monday morning.

This is even after I read this at 3 am, when I was up for the second time the other night.

No one is more surprised by this hesitation than I am. Before he was born, I told friends that I wasn't looking forward to the baby phase. I thought I'd muscle through until he could talk. I had no idea that I'd lose all my defenses in his infancy. I had no idea that I’d feel so completely fulfilled by caring for his little pre-verbal self. Now I cry when I look at pictures from his first days and weeks. I already miss that little baby. He and I talk a lot about the days "when he was young."

And so as Monday approaches I've been thinking: I find motherhood the most deeply, magically liberating thing I've ever done. So much of the last twenty years has revolved around my managing my anxiety, my ambivalence, and my depression. And while a baby isn't, of course, a remedy, he has been the closest thing I've ever found to a cure.

Everyone always told me that a baby doesn't fix anything. I think everyone might be wrong in my case. 

There were hints of this in my decade with a hound named Arlo, a mutt so attached to me that he went on hunger-strikes when I left him for the weekend. He forced me outside and onto the wooded trails every day. We logged more miles in those years than I’ll accumulate in the rest of my days. Caring for him made me feel alive; it relaxed my nerves.


Caring for Augie feels a little like that, but also so much richer and so much more satisfying. He lends a shape to my days that feels both new and completely familiar. And the care that he requires, so simple and so immediately satisfying, feels the perfect counterweight to work I do and am supposed to be doing more of, namely writing and thinking about American literature.

That work has always come with ambivalence. I enjoy it in moments of clarity, but I dread it for long stretches of fuzzy thinking and scholarly malaise. Working with students feels vital, but the rest remains a painful struggle.

It’s this ambivalence that Augie has begun to wear away. When I’m with him, I’m liberated from the static in my head. Instead, I think about showing him new colors or changing his dipe, or talking to him about the cake that we’re baking. I’m not plagued by the frenzy of feeling like I need to keep up with the critical conversation. I’m happy to have a reason to “opt out,” if only for an afternoon.

I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m using my baby to spell myself from my career struggles. Instead, it feels like what he’s doing is both concentrating my energies (I work much more efficiently when I know that I only have an hour before I need to take back over) and making my downtime really downtime.

I'm not sure how daycare will affect this rhythm we have going. I worry that it will both make our time together feel much more urgent and that it will tarnish my work time with guilt. I hope that I'm wrong about both of these things, but I want to remember this struggle in any case.


Maura said...

I bet once you both settle into the rhythm it will be good. Will he be there full time, or part time? With F I spent the first semester of part-time care fretting - whether he would take the bottle, about his crying when we left, lack of naps, etc. Then the next semester all of a sudden it all clicked. I'm grateful to have something else to think about, another intellectual and creative outlet, in addition to motherhood. Sometimes it will feel like too much, and you'll feel tethered in one direction to the detriment of the other, but I bet it will be just fine, and really good, even. Love that pic of him on the changing table!!!

Maura said...

ps. I love this post.

Tara F. said...

I think this is my favorite post of yours. I'm so glad you're enjoying motherhood so much! He's a little dream. :)

Pre-kids, I used to think that I should stay active professionally while they were little (even if it was hard in those years) because they'd soon go off to school and I'd want my career there for that time. But once they were born, I realized that the short span of infancy and early childhood meant not that I wanted to preserve my career for afterward, but that I wanted to be present for as much of their early years as possible. Fortunately, my department is really supportive and it's worked out better than I could have imagined. There are times that I'd rather just be at home for the day, but on balance, the mix has been good for all of us--some of our most beloved people have come into our lives because I was working, and I'm glad about what I've been able to contribute to their lives and our family's life by doing both. This is just my experience, but I do think that as academics, we hear so much about the struggle to balance work and family that sometimes it is nice to hear that many, many women (and men) are also finding the academy a really great place for parents. Just my thoughts, and I hope Monday goes well for both of you! XO.

anne said...

Thank you Tara and Maura. I needed those comments. I did indeed cry when I dropped him off this morning (thankfully out of his view), but he seemed happy as a clam. I think I just have to remember that I may well be the one who is suffering, not Augie. But still.

In any case, thanks for paving the road for me!