Blissfully playing with toys at daycare
Sometimes I feel so guilty for (sorry to use the technical term) going bananas this past year. I wonder why I couldn't just take things in stride, why I felt like I was constantly trying to climb a mountain with roller skates on .
But now I think I understand it a bit more.
Stella started daycare this week. I'm not back at work yet, but to secure our spot in the daycare we really liked, we had to go ahead and enroll the child. Part of me was so excited about the idea of having an entire day to myself. Of course, being a good, well-educated, perfectionist American mom, I also felt wretchedly guilty and nervous about the whole shabang, too.
Monday came and I neurotically packed the box of requested supplies, each and every item meticulously labelled with Stella's name, just in case some toddler with sticky fingers decided to try to take her diaper balm. I even included a bag of 20 oatmeal raisin cookies, a suggestion from a friend, as a way of letting the staff know what a sweet, kind, bribing mom they had on their hands, JUST IN CASE they were tempted to ignore my child for a moment or two.
Dave dropped her off, because he'll be the one to do so when I go to work, and I sat in our apartment all by myself. The realization dawned on me that this was the first time I'd been all by myself in our apartment. Ever. It felt unreal. All of the booming and banging from our upstairs neighbor seemed amplified and ominous (even more ominous than usual). The mewing of the feral cats in our courtyard seemed more frequent, the techno that someone boomed from their window seemed more annoying, the cigarette smoke from our neighbor's apartment seemed more vile. Well...you get the idea.
I did all the dishes -- no toddler underfoot, no baby monitor blasting in my ear. I took what felt like an incredibly long, steamy shower -- shaving my legs and everything -- and emerged to find that it was only seven minutes long. I put on makeup. Let me repeat that. I put on makeup. And earrings. And took more than a second to pick out my outfit.
I left the apartment, no stroller to navigate, and stopped by the library to pick up a ridiculously fluffy mystery novel. I ran up the subway stairs, not carrying a stroller with a 25 pound child in it, found a seat on the train, and read my book for 45 minutes. Again, I repeat, I read a book for 45 minutes.
I checked my messages when I emerged from the bowels of the Earth and was relieved to find none. I wandered around the East Village, where I used to live and do theater, and was confused and dismayed to find a lot of my favorite haunts replaced by flashier, kitschier, more expensive hipster outlets and restaurants. I ate a falafel for lunch, walked around some more, saw a gloriously empty midday showing of Julie & Julia (which made me crave French food with a vengeance), and went to Lush to spend a gift certificate that my amazing friend and ex-college-roommate Katie sent me in the midst of my insanity. Then I met up with Dave, who works near all this, and hopped back on the subway to go pick up my darling.
This may not sound like much to you, but to me, it felt restorative, calming, deliciously decadent. I realized that my favorite part of the day was not the movie, or buying yummy toiletteries, or walking around my old nabe. My favorite part was the time spent reading and vegging on the subway. A combined total of one and one half hours of sitting on my rump, reading a silly book, looking at other folks, and not even having the ability to answer my cell phone should someone try to call it.
For us stay-at-home-parents who live a distance from our families, this time to ourselves often does not happen. Our spouses get this time one their way to and from work or on lunch breaks. But if we don't have someone to relieve us, a mere hour and a half of time to ourselves per day is just not a reality.
I, of course, made the situation worse by refusing to let others help. People would offer to babysit, Dave would offer to take Stella for a walk without me, but part of my disease was an overwhelming and crippling fear that noone could care for my daughter with even remotely the amount of competence I had. I'd let people take charge of my darling for a moment here or there, but I'd always be in an adjacent room, ready to jump in at the slightest sound of unhappiness. This, in case you couldn't guess it, is not relaxing.
I did go out a few nights, leaving Stella in Dave's loving care. Those nights I clutched onto my cell phone, scared to death that she'd somehow tumble out of her crib or find a mysterious object to choke on out of the blue. I'd call Dave from time to time, and he'd always assure me that Stella was fine and I should enjoy myself. Alas, that was hard to do.
So, you get the idea. For a year and a half, I didn't relax. Ever. I barely slept for the first ten months, because Stella didn't sleep, and even when she did finally learn to sleep, I'd stay up, afraid something was wrong. I took no time for myself, didn't do the things I like to do, didn't let others help me. And that put me in a bad place.
I have to take a moment for a small PSA: If you've had a baby and are feeling similarly -- like you can't trust someone to watch your little one or you don't have any time to yourself -- go get help. This is not normal. And you cannot keep going at that rate. Nobody can. Hire a babysitter and trust him/her. Let a friend help. Let your significant other help. Help yourself.
OK. Enough good-deedery.
How did my day end, you ask? I walked into the daycare to pick up my girl and felt a rush of excitement and love upon seeing her gorgeous face. I missed her, and that felt so healthy and good. She beamed at me and came running into my arms. Her hair smelled like rainbows and unicorns. Am I overdoing it? Sorry.
The workers told me she had a great day and even took a rare two-hour nap. They also told me my cookies were delicious. (Cackle cackle cackle.) And then when I turned around to leave, Stella cried and reached back for the daycare. It seemed my social butterfly wasn't ready to leave her friends.
Which makes me elated. I have an independent kid who'll go far in life. She's back at daycare today, and although I plan to pack for our blessed move on Sunday and go into school to meet with my principal about my work this Fall, it still feels so indulgent to be on my own. It feels healthy.
So...I guess that means I should stop blogging and go back to work. Geez -- we stay-at-home moms lead such a cushy life.