Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Maternity Leave "Vacation"

There are few women at work with kids, particularly in the junior ranks, and both my male and female peers seem to have a wholly inaccurate (although wildly appealing) idea of what maternity leave entails. The brunches and happy hours, movies, late mornings, leisurely coffee dates, spa afternoons...surely this describes a mother's luxurious 3 months off. Maybe with an occasional newborn diaper change, and toddler feeding. The below, a somewhat more accurate account, is something to keep in mind for those skeptical of the maternity leave vacation...those enjoying relatively unfettered access to sleep, showers, and socializing.

Food: In the mornings, you tend to eat whatever your toddler left on her plate. If chef mom made her specialty, you will be enjoying soggy cereal half stuck to the plate by the time you get there. Sometimes you make oatmeal, and suffer the tantrum that results when you take a spoonful from her after she gave you permission but then changed her mind.   Other times, when you are overdue for a trip to the store, you feed your child cherry tomatoes and crackers, or cheese and a banana, or bread and sour cream. On those days, you and your toddler eat together. This quality time may or may not outweigh your feelings of guilt over a meal that looks like Christmas during wartime.

One of you will inevitably be famished as lunch time comes and goes. You have either been sneaking junk all afternoon and will be too full to even think about food (although it's for someone else...a small child, in fact). Or you get so caught up in the two hour ordeal of packing for the park, that you responsibly feed your child while neglecting to eat yourself. By the time you get home, you can't shovel food in fast enough. As you put a cookie between two pickle slices, you hope this nursing-induced ravenous appetite subsides by the time you return to work so you don't have to look like an animal there too.

Entertainment: You must occupy your toddler while keeping your infant alive. These tasks are mutually exclusive during the beautiful moments when your toddler floods the baby with Lenny-style squeezing, suffocating love, when she takes out her frustration at being told she's too rough by attacking the baby's head, or when she explores how far an ankle, wrist or finger can twist. You say things like "stop licking your sister's head," and come up with a different, self serving explanation each time you're asked why the baby has to sleep again ("because you didn't clean up your toys").

To keep the baby minimally deformed, you go to the park. With 40 diaper bags strapped to your bus of a double stroller, you realize you didn't bring your 2.5 year old's water bottle. Maybe you can keep her dehydration at bay by offering her a pack of diapers or whatever other crap you brought with you.

You let your kid go to the sand box, and her friends' caretakers roll their eyes at you for being too permissive because, it seems, there is no greater annoyance than shaking dry sand off a child. You then keep your daughter away from the sprinklers (because you also forgot a change of clothes), and are presumed to be a childhood-robbing monster by others. Having impressed everyone there, you feel only moderate shame when your kid follows around a mom dispensing food to her kids, drooling and staring at them with her green eyes, silently conveying starvation. As you drag your child away, you don't bother telling the mom that 15 of your bags are filled with snacks.

Comfort: Our pediatrician instructed that the baby should wear one layer more than we are wearing, but then clarified - don't go by mom, her hormones are crazy now. Joke's on you funny guy, profusely sweating is how I lose weight.

Luckily, there are other treats in the post partum experience. Whether you gave birth naturally or by c-section, you may also be popping painkillers while either learning to sit again, or waiting for your organs to shuffle back into place and avoiding the sight of your stomach.

Finally out of the hospital gown and disposable underwear, you peer into your closet, eager to return to your regular wardrobe. You quickly learn that not being pregnant and not needing pregnancy clothes aren't the same, but clothes don't really matter when you spend 80% of your day semi-topless and 20% being spit up on. In public, you accessorize your half toplessness with a draped sheet and baby legs dangling on the side. This is a cue for grandfatherly men to sit near you and compliment your newborn.

Leisure: OMG SO MUCH LEISURE. Seriously, all you do is take 1-3 hour naps all night, with a quick hour long nursing-burping-diaper change in between. A solid two naps later, your toddler is up for PLAY TIME! MORE RELAXATION.

Then, when the baby is sleeping and your toddler is occupied playing with knives or whatever, you sneak to the computer to place an order on Amazon. Or wash dishes. Or laundry. Or pick up meatballs from the living room carpet. And you wonder what you would be doing at work now, what your friends are doing, as you bump into them on Facebook.

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