Thursday, August 18, 2011

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This Is Not A Mistake

I have been repeating those words to myself all night. The source of my doubts and the need for the repetition of that mantra is fear. Fear and a sense of helplessness and a smidgen of anger.

I start school next week. I was so excited about starting this new journey, about focusing on myself, and feeling like there is more of me to give beyond my mothering role. I wasn't nervous about spending two nights away from Cati. The truth is I was looking forward to it; two nights a week without the delicate dance of feeding a finicky eater dinner, without giving baths, and without putting a baby to sleep. I could literally feel the old me creep back into my bones. I was nervous about opening up my home and giving the precious task of caring for my child to someone who will, initially, be a complete stranger to our family. As morbid as it sounds, I wasn't even worried about what a sitter and Cati would do in their time together, I was more worried about a sitter doing something horrible to my child. Obviously, that's what recommendations and referrals are for, but I feel like nowadays you just don't know and you have to operate on a healthy serving of faith.

Initially my plan was to have a sitter fill the gap between me leaving for school and Alex or my mother-in-law getting to the house. With that plan, it would be either dada or Abuela doing the bedtime stuff. I was comfortable with that. Then it was pointed out that there would be nights when dada or Abuela wouldn't be able to do the bedtime stuff because either Alex would be on call or get home too late or it would be Abuela's busy time at work and she would also have to work late. That is the moment I lost it. Cue sobbing and the resulting red and puffy eyes. Something about the bedtime routine is so intimate to me; it's something only those who truly love Cati should be allowed to do. It just seems weird to have an outsider do it.

On top of that, it's the unpredictability that gets me. Abuela is predictable with her work schedule; Alex is not. Every day is different for him and every rotation is different for him. I'm already dreading the rotation where he works nights. How do you tell someone they might have to put your kid to sleep because you don't know if your husband is going to make it home at a decent hour? Or would it just be easier to say, "Hey, I need you to stay until I get out of class tonight so do you mind keeping what will certainly be a cranky child up past her bedtime so that I can put her to sleep when I get home?"

This leads to a bigger issue for me: not being able to count on Alex. Yes, his job has given me the wonderful opportunity of staying home with Cati for the past 18 months of her life, but his job has also taken a lot. It's not an even trade. His job rules him, he doesn't rule it. It's not so much the hospital itself, but the nature of his program. You have sick days but you don't use them. You don't ask to leave early. You don't ask to come in late. God forbid you do any of these because if you do, you will be the laughing stock of the entire program: "Did you hear so-and-so called in sick? He can't handle it! Ha ha!" The only time off you are allowed is your designated vacation and, even then, you can't really disconnect. You have dictations to catch up on, online lectures to view, text messages to respond to, the list goes on.

Then comes the inevitable, "but you knew what you were getting into." Did I? Single Me knew what I was getting into. Mother Me had no clue because there was no way I could understand the cocktail of emotions that come with motherhood and loving another person with the very essence of your being. I could handle the schedule, the unpredictability before Cati was around because it was just me I had to worry about. Once Cati arrived the game changed. I needed, wanted, and wished for Alex's presence. I grew to resent his job. Ask Alex how many times I've refused to go to work-related events on the grounds of "they have you enough, why should you give them more of your time?" and he'll tell you he's lost count. My expectation was that the demands on him would lessen just a bit because he added "father" to the list. The reality is that the demands on him stayed the same because it doesn't matter what you have going on outside the hospital walls; it was just my disappointment that things stayed the same that grew. The reality that he would never be able to take Cati to the doctor if something came up or that he would never be part of a PTA hit. I would always and forever be the "available" parent; the one who would drop whatever she had for her kids' sake. That's how the equation of parenthood worked out for us. Most days that's fine by me because I really do appreciate how things have worked out for us, but on days like today where I am doubting going back to school, even if it is just for a couple of hours, I hate feeling angry at him for something like his career; the career that has been generous enough to bring us back to Miami, allow me to stay at home with our daughter, and allow me to take my time figuring out "what I want to do when I grow up."

I feel angry at myself for being angry and sad at the fact that, at this precise moment, there is nothing Alex can say to comfort me. I'm angry at myself for feeling selfish about going back to school and wanting more out of life than just being a mother. Angry at myself for being afraid of something that might not even be an issue. Mostly, I am angry at myself for being a ball of contradictions: I want to go back to school to feel accomplished as a person but at the same time I'm scared of failing Cati as the "available parent" because I can't be there for her while I'm at school.

I know everything will work out. I know that once I get used to having a new person caring for Cati and once I see how comfortable Cati is with this new person, all my fears will melt away. Giving Cati a bath and putting her to bed will seem natural and like what it's meant to be: an extension of their time together; time that allows me to go back to school so that I can feel like a better person which will help me feel like a better mother. It's just the fear of the unknown and the prospect of change that makes the steady unsteady.

This is a moment to learn from. How can I teach Cati that fear should never be a reason for not acting if it's fear that's making me second guess an act that will lead to better things for our family? See? More contradiction! I need to be an example and teach her that there will always be fear and it should be faced instead of avoided. I bet a month from now I will look back and laugh at my foolishness and 15 years from now when Cati is old enough to get things, she'll be proud that her mom acknowledged her fear, voiced it, and didn't let it stop her from moving forward. And if she doesn't get it then, then she will get it if and when she has children of her own. 

So after all that, I repeat for one final time going back to school is not a mistake. Being scared is the only mistake here.


The Gourmet On A Diet said...

Everything happens for a reason. Enjoy that electric moment of the first day of school, and it will all work itself out. Good luck!

Christina @ This Woman Cooks! said...

I'm sorry you're feeling this way. But I think it's only natural. I don't have a baby yet, but we will one day, and I know I'll feel the exact same way when there are times I can't be there and neither can my husband, because he will be in his fourth year or going through residency. It is hard to be the doctor's wife when sometimes (or 95% of the time), you have to hold your own. But like you said, you need to do this for you and it will help you be a better mother. You need to think about yourself too!

What is your husband specializing in? Is he already in residency? What hospital in Miami?

A/K said...

Beautiful post, Stephanie. You're absolutely right--it's the anticipation that is the worst part. You'll find your new rhythm and everything will fall into place. All change is hard--bravo for not letting that stop you from making it!!