Nearly every day, in the wintery pitch black morning, I have to explain to my three year old that it is a “daycare day”.
“Why?” she asks.
I start with altruism, “Because I like to help kids learn to read and it’s important to help people even if they aren’t our family.”
I decide to go for economics 101, “Because we need money to have a house and to eat good food and to go to the doctor.”
“Because it’s my job to take care of you and keep you safe and provide for you.”
This is about to turn dark. So you don’t die! is what almost erupts from my lips. Instead I circle back to simple truth, “Because mommy has to work.”
This satisfies her.
“I don’t want to go to daycare,” she mumbles around her thumb that’s since become lodged in her mouth out of boredom or worry.
I don’t want to go to work either. The rigamarole of bags and crying and shoe battles and trying not to look like the biggest shit show in the parking lot leaves me exhausted by eight a.m.
Once I’m there, I feel ok for a minute. I jump into the work. The smiles of the kids and the humor of my coworkers, who have become like family, warm me up a bit. But then, by mid-morning, I am tethered to a teat-sucking machine for a half hour and the doom and gloom set in again. This is my planning time so all the things that I said I’d do are not getting accomplished. And the shame-list of motherhood begins to swirl in my head too.
Is it worth it? No not really. Not on paper anyway. Children are expensive and exhausting and I haven’t eaten dinner while not also serving as a human jungle gym in about two years.
But what about the love? The snuggles? The smell of your baby’s head tucked under your chin? Surely these moments of joy outweigh the difficulty. But that’s like trying to measure both joy and frustration with the same tool, comparing a fever to an earthquake.
I look down at my milk dripping into the bottle and calculate my worth. The machine’s woo-woos starts to mimic words. Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.
There are minutes of my day that I channel some of the deepest zen I can find and later, I look back on that memory with feathered awe. I’m impressed with myself. But the truth is, in the middle of it, I have so much self pity and regret that you’d think my heart was made of stone.
I love my children. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, as they say. What I hate is the rat race. The suffocating and constricting parameters we shove ourselves into, where there’s no wiggle room for humanity to stretch. So we crack our skin trying to fit into these lives. We lower the bar even though that comes with the rising tide of shame. On a good day, we aren’t overcome by the waves.
Michelle Obama was right when asked about leaning in. “Sometimes that shit doesn’t work,” she said. People freaked out. Mostly because she swore but also because it threatens our very belief that if you just work hard enough then you can have it all. We were all taught to believe in the little engine that could. But most of the time it feels like you are being expected to chug up two different hills at the same time.
Perhaps instead of “leaning in” we need to lean out. Instead of balling up in fear at the center of the merry go round, perhaps I should be like the kid who hangs onto the railing and surrenders to the centrifugal forces that pull them that way anyway. As Eckhart Tolle says, once you stop battling the “isness” of your life, then you can begin to accept the story that is forming before you.
Can I accept a story in which I’m only kind of good at two vocations? Can I accept Macaroni and Cheese for dinner for a third night this week and that someone thinks I’m a flake at work because I’m always late? Maybe. Little by little, I think I might be capable of letting go of the measuring stick that requires perfection. But that would require people to not judge me… My brain begins to calculate the specifications of the story that I am willing to accept. Acceptance never starts with the word But…
Here we are again, in the pitch black morning. My baby boy has miraculously slept all night and I’m sitting at my desk weighing the cost-benefit of checking on him to make sure he isn’t dead. And my three year old is curled up on my lap, sucking her thumb, and watching me type with one hand.
“Is it a daycare day?” she just asked me.
“Yes, honey,” I told her.
But she doesn’t ask me why. Maybe she is accepting the “isness” of this story. Maybe I should too.