I’ve been a #workingmom since January of this year, but up to this point, I’ve been a blessedly #parttimeworkingmom. I’ve cherished having Fridays with Emmy – to close out each work week with an entire day of just us two. Some weeks it made me realize how thankful I was to just be responsible for a desk job the other four days, but most weeks it made me realize how much I had missed Monday-Thursday. Had she always been this tall? When did she first say the word “bubble?” How did my little baby become such an independent toddler?
It’s the end of yet another chapter with Emmy that I wish could go on forever. Could she stay just this age and size (but not in the 18-month sleep regression, thankyouverymuch), could we freeze this moment and stay just as we are for just a little bit longer? I have no doubt that it was the right move for me to go back to work, and ultimately to accept this full-time position, but it definitely doesn’t mean that this and any transition will ever be easy. I wish someone had warned me that nearly everything about motherhood is bittersweet.
Today, I plan to enjoy my nearly 18-month-old toddler, who will never be exactly this age again. I will enjoy her sweet smiles and hugs, her frustrated foot stamping, her wiggly dance when her favorite songs come on. Most importantly, I will look forward to all of the things that are still to come, because there are so many more chapters ahead.
My sweet Emmy, we can hardly believe it has been 365 days since you came into our lives. 365 days that have felt so long and so short all at the same time. We celebrated you surrounded by friends and family, with a big cake and a bubble machine, and you in a watermelon romper dress. On the day of your actual birthday, your dad left work early so we could spend the evening together. We walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant and you ate a quesadilla while your dad and I toasted each other with wine and an old fashioned. The entire time we reminisced on what we were doing exactly a year ago: “It’s 4:17, Emmy was just born!” “Remember that clear plastic bassinet they put Emmy in?” “Did we really try to squeeze into the twin size bed together at the hospital?” It all feels like just yesterday and a lifetime ago.
We have been seeing your personality blossom lately. You love to laugh and smile and to be part of conversations. You are curious and brave, wandering across a room from me and then crawling back to share with me what you found. When your cousin Max was here to celebrate your birthday, you made clear it didn’t matter that he is 6 years older than you, climbing all over him and grinning from ear to ear. You know what you like and what you don’t like – throwing asparagus, bell peppers and string beans off the side of your high chair with a look at me that says, “You should know better by now.” You love to honk the horn on your red push car and point at the road ahead while we explore the neighborhood with Riley walking by your side.
Will we ever get tired of being amazed by you? Will we ever stop being surprised that actually yes, we can love you even more today than we did the day before?
We’ve only known you a year, but we already know exactly who you are: our sweet daughter, cherished beyond words for all of your perfection as well as your flaws. Your entire life lays ahead of you, filled with possibility, with hope. Wherever you go, whatever you do, my wish for you on your first birthday is that you will always carry with you the knowledge that you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.
Maybe by now you know how much I hope to give you a love of reading. Your agong did the same for your Auntie Witty and me from a young age, taking us to the bookstore more often than the toy store throughout our childhood. From fantasy to sci-fi, to Sweet Valley High or down the yellow brick road, between your Auntie Witty and I, we read (and continue to read) them all. Reading was never an experience I anticipated could change after becoming a mother. It didn’t occur to me that becoming your mother could make reading somehow more immersive, more emotional.
I find that things I read echo in my head a lot longer now. Recently, I finished a book by Celeste Ng, “Little Fires Everywhere” and this quote has stuck with me:
“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all at the same time. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you know how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.”
Probably none of this makes sense to you now, but maybe someday it will.
As a first time mom, I have been acutely aware of the “firsts” we’ve experienced: the first time I held Emmy close after delivering her; the first time I heard Emmy laugh; the first time she slept through the night. What has been harder to keep track of have been the “lasts”: the last time Emmy would nap in my arms; the last time she would fit into my favorite pink leopard-print onesie; the last time she would want a bottle in the middle of the night. These moments slip by unnoticed and sometimes weeks will pass before I realize how much things have changed. So, now when I see a “last” coming I can’t help but imbue it with all the bittersweet feelings and nostalgia I haven’t been able to relish for all of the other things…
Emmy and I recently attended our last Mommy and Me class.
When Emmy and I first started making the weekly 30 minute trek from Westchester to Redondo Beach, she was only about 8 or 9 weeks old. Meaning, I had only been a mom for 8 or 9 weeks, and at that point, had only driven my precious cargo within a 2 mile radius of home because anything further than that absolutely filled me with terror. But, with Alex back at work, and how easy it was to hide in the comfort of our home, I knew if I didn’t start getting out more I would turn into a weird hermit mom that never wore real pants, had crazy hair and haunted the aisles of the local supermarkets 6 days a week. So, I signed up for a Mommy and Me class that made the most sense to me time-wise and had the best parking situation (seriously) – which happened to be at Mother Nurture Network in Redondo Beach.
What I didn’t know walking into my first class was how little the next 90 minutes would actually be for the babies. Yes, we sang lots of songs to our babies, we discussed a pre-designated parenting topic, and a penguin-shaped bubble machine made an appearance at the end – but the actual meat of the class was focused on letting each mom share whatever she wanted to with the group. So, as you can imagine, we had a couple of awkward silences in those early sessions together.
For at least the first few weeks of class, I was convinced Emmy and I would do the initial 6 week series and probably not continue with the year-long curriculum. But, the turning point for me came when one mama in our group – Taylor – emailed me out of the blue and invited me out to lunch after class one week. We invited two more moms, Lori and Nikki, to join us as we walked out of class that day. Over an El Torito lunch of salads, we exchanged phone numbers and emails, we talked about who we were pre-babies, and how desperately tired and overwhelmed we were. We also marveled at the fact that we were managing to have lunch in a restaurant with babies in tow. At that moment I understood what Mommy and Me was really about. The next week we invited more moms to join us for lunch after class.
Emmy is 46 weeks old now (aka 10.5 months for those of you that don’t compute the passage of time in weekly increments) and it is hard to believe just how much things have changed. The wonderful, unintended side-effect of pushing ourselves to be out of the house for 3-4 hours once a week was finding out that I knew how to be a mother in more situations than just in the comfort of our home. It also helped me see that Emmy is an incredibly adaptable and resilient baby – despite how protective I can be about her schedule most days. And that 30 minute drive? No longer terror-inducing, just sometimes mildly stressful.
Looking back now, just a few months shy of completing the year-long Mommy and Me curriculum, I don’t know how I would have survived these 10 months of motherhood without the incredible women I’ve met in class. Sure, everyone’s heard the saying, “it takes a village,” but now I understand how that saying manifests itself in real life – it’s having an entire WhatsApp thread of women to turn to in the middle of the afternoon, when I’m home alone and crying after Emmy had an upsetting doctor’s appointment. It’s celebrating victories and milestones together that we never thought we would reach (most recently, it’s babies taking their first steps!). It’s finding opportunities to meet outside of class – whether it’s with our husbands in tow, or without babies and over bottomless mimosas. It’s watching these amazing babies grow and develop side by side.
To my mom tribe – Thank you for helping me thrive in ways I didn’t think I could. You’ve each helped me be a better mother to Emmy, and for that I will always be grateful. We’ll miss seeing you every week, but we know that friendships are not confined to the walls of a classroom. Here’s to many more milestones and victories together.
After many tears of uncertainty, waffling and flip-flopping, accepting the offer, and then trying to back out – it’s time to admit the truth: in two weeks I join the ranks of working moms.
First of all, I just want to be upfront about my privilege. I have been home with Emmy for 8, almost 9, delicious, hard, wonderful months and I know many women that wish they could have had the same opportunity. I was lucky enough to be at home for the past 8 months solely because my husband works hard for a company that treats him well. I am forever grateful for this time I’ve had with Emmy that the vast majority of American women don’t get to experience.
After feeling ALL the emotions, and after much soul searching, I can finally admit to myself that in recent months I have been yearning for something more…and then feeling incredibly guilty for feeling that way at all. I’m not ready to leave Emmy, but, I never will be. Emmy will be 18 years old and headed to college, and I’ll still be wishing for more time with her.
While I never had a set timeline for when I would go back to work, I promised myself that when the right offer came along, I wouldn’t let fear prevent me from seizing a new opportunity. That being said, I still tried to find every reason I could to turn this down. Ultimately, I knew that every “no” I came up with was rooted in my fears – and not only that, every “no” was countered by two reasons to say “yes.” So, I accepted. Unfortunately, the fears are still here. I’m afraid I will miss Emmy too much. I’m afraid I will regret leaving her. I’m afraid I will fail at the job.
A lot of things are uncertain about this next transition, but based on these 8 months of motherhood and the things I’ve learned about myself along the way, I know at least these 4 things will be true…
1. I will wonder if I made a mistake.
Maybe I should have turned down the job. Maybe I should have stayed home until Emmy turned 1. Maybe if I had turned the job down, I would have always wondered if I made a mistake not taking it. It feels like a no win situation right now, but I know I want Emmy to grow up seeing her mom do work that she believes in.
2. I will cry. A lot.
I’m going to cry about missing a milestone. I’m going to cry when I realize how little time during the week I will have to really spend with her. I will cry when one day I realize that everything has, for the most part, worked itself out, and I can see how far I’ve come balancing motherhood and a meaningful career. There is no shame in crying, and crying often – “it’s beautiful to feel everything this wholeheartedly,” and I owe that to being a mother.
3. I’m going to be too hard on myself.
I won’t feel like I’m being a good mother. I won’t feel like I’m the same kind of employee I used to be pre-baby. I’m going to berate myself for not doing either thing up to my standards. I never knew before I became a mother just how hard I can be on myself. I’m hoping that some of the lessons I’ve learned about giving myself a little grace and a lot of kindness will stay with me into this next chapter.
4. Leaving will always be difficult, but the homecomings will be sweet.
The best piece of advice I’ve received from many working mothers, and the one I’ve found the most comfort in. Yes, it will always, always be hard to leave Emmy, but I’m going to focus instead on the many sweet homecomings in my future.
Thinking back on my childhood, I struggle to come up with something that I can consider a family tradition. Almost every Saturday night growing up, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant in Alhambra – a steakhouse run by a Burmese man who knew all of our orders by heart, only faltering when it came down to what flavor ice cream my sister and I wanted at the end of the meal. I remember years where we spent our Christmas break taking long weekends in either Las Vegas or Big Bear – one year spent amongst the neon lights and boardwalk games, the next riding a plastic sled saucer down a mound of snow. We did Thanksgiving dinners, but only once my sister and I were old enough to insist on it and took on the work of cooking it for our family, inevitably serving our dry, overcooked turkey at 9p. For Christmas, we got real trees most years, until our mom insisted we get an artificial tree because the real ones were so messy and wasteful. My sister and I would decorate it with plain red and green ornaments, hanging strings of silver tinsel and candy canes from the branches. We even convinced our dad to put up Christmas lights on the house for a few years, and subsequently died of embarrassment when he failed to take them down before March.
But eventually, we grew up and got busy. The Christmas vacations fell off the calendar, and even the Saturday night dinners became less frequent. My sister left for college and went on to spend holidays with her husband’s family in Wisconsin. And eventually, I got bored of decorating the Christmas tree on my own, until finally, both the tree and the coils of green and red lights stayed in the garage gathering dust.
For pretty much all of my childhood my parents worked hard and had long, impossible hours – my father’s face lit by the glow of his computer screens well into the early mornings, week in and week out. Despite this, I know they did everything they could to make our childhood fun and memorable. Maybe we didn’t have a house decked out in Christmas tchotchkes and presents overflowing from under our tree, but we did have annual passes to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm and received red envelopes with cash for every birthday and Christmas.
So, where exactly does that leave me – a first time mom and second-generation Taiwanese-American, married to a second-generation Chinese-American, both raised by parents that didn’t pay all that much attention to the American holidays that are so emphasized by the culture we grew up in? How do I reconcile my practical, immigrant upbringing with my desire to create feeling and meaning around the holidays for Emmy?
Ugh, I have no idea. And honestly, like most parenting-related things, the plethora of options is overwhelming. There are personalized stockings I could hang and fill, Elves on Shelves, advent calendars, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, deciding if we should pretend Santa is real, matching pajamas for Christmas Day…it goes on and on. So, instead of me obsessing as I usually do, we’ve decided to instead focus on a few basics this first year, and see where it takes us. After all, as I keep reminding myself, traditions take years and consistency to build – and at least in this instance, we have the luxury of time. There’s no rush for us to figure out exactly what we want to do every year for the rest of our lives, right this very minute (despite my innate desire to be “good” at Christmas NOW).
The year Alex and I got married, we hosted our annual Friendsmas at our apartment. We asked our friends to bring us ornaments for our Christmas tree since we had none that were meaningful. We have been married almost 5 years now, and it is still my greatest pleasure to hang them all, one by one, on our tree each Christmas. I had never understood how a simple ornament could be special until that year, and we hope to show Emmy how meaningful they can be too. This year, we will make an ornament from her hand print, and we hope that next year she will pick her own to place on the tree next to the tiny hand print she likely won’t register as her own until much later in life.
This year, I’ve also broken with my normal Christmas protocol with my parents and have requested an actual gift rather than the red envelope I would typically receive. I’ve asked for my own hot pot set. I don’t think we’ll ever be a spiral ham on Christmas kind of family, but I do think we could be the type of family that gathers around a communal hot pot, warmed by bubbling soup and each other’s company.
So, that’s where we’ll start. And I’m excited to watch Emmy experience the holidays as she grows, to see her look forward to the things we do as a family that will eventually shape her perspective of the holidays. Maybe someday she’ll even ask me for her own hot pot set – but, of course, that’s getting ahead of myself.
Ah, perspective. Don’t you just love it when it comes around to bite you in the ass? When one of my closest friends had a baby the year before we did, I was genuinely confused by her new mom attitude. I, of course, understood that having a newborn was hard, but didn’t things level off after awhile? After several failed attempts to get her out to different social events, I remember how hurt I felt when she said something to me along the lines of, “You just won’t get it until you’ve had a baby yourself.” Well folks, I’m reporting to you now from the trenches of early motherhood – no, I would not have gotten it, even if she had spent hours (not that any mother has that much extra time) explaining to me what she was going through.
To all of my friends who became mothers before me – I’m sorry for the not helpful (but well-intentioned) things childless me said and did. This post is for you. Thank you for still being my friend.
I’m sorry I said you should disrupt your baby’s napping schedule and routine because coming to our house to see us and all of our friends is important.
No. In no world is coming to a house party worth disrupting baby’s nap and daily routine just as you’re starting to get into the swing of things. Nap schedules, I’ve learned, are part wishful thinking, part superstitious voodoo magic, and essentially up to whatever the baby feels like doing that day. If yesterday baby had the perfect nap day, you can bet that I am going to do everything exactly the same today in an attempt to replicate that one perfect day. And you know what I didn’t do yesterday? Go to a house party.
And yes, friends will always be important, but if you’re looking for me to just come out and say it – my priorities have changed. I will always love my friends, I will always lean on them and count on them for their support, but my world, at least for now, revolves almost entirely around the tiny human that holds my heart in her hands.
I’m also sorry that when you attempted to explain some version of the above to me, my response was to tell you (magnanimously, may I add) that baby could sleep in our guest room.
Nope, the baby is not going to just nod off to sleep without her blackout curtains, 2 sound machines, sleep sack, crib, lovey, and just right ambient temperature. Nice try though.
I’m sorry for all the times I was annoyed you couldn’t hold a normal conversation with me.
This used to be one of my pet peeves: I’d be talking to a mom friend and as I chattered on about this or that, I’d see her eyes slide away from mine and to her child. “Uh huh,” she’d say in response to whatever I’d just said, as she checked for the millionth time in a 5 minute span that her kid was okay.
Now I know that if my child is in the room, you should expect at worst 30% of my attention, at best 90%, because there will always be a part of me that isn’t paying attention to you and is instead focused in on my kid, no matter how juicy the gossip you’re sharing is. Now one of my favorite pastimes is trying to have a conversation with an equally distracted mom, both of us attempting to juggle a conversation, a glass of wine, and our squirming children.
I’m sorry I didn’t acknowledge and celebrate what an absolute BEAST and sheer force of power and strength you are each and every time I saw you.
No matter how you did it – medicated, unmedicated, c-section, in a tub in your living room – labor and delivery is hard, scary, and unpredictable. And before that, you gestated that baby in your womb and experienced the bizarre feeling of your body becoming distinctly not your own and unrecognizable to you. Then, when that baby finally came into the world, you operated on less sleep than you probably ever had in your entire life – not to mention the crazy levels of hormones coursing through your veins – and then likely attempted to suction that child onto your breast to provide sustenance for her with just your body. All while still recovering from the physical trauma of this little person’s exit from said body.
Why this level of badassary doesn’t get daily recognition and praise from the masses I’ll never understand.
I am deeply sorry and regretful that I secretly judged you when you expressed your desire to be a stay at home mom.
This is definitely one that I could not wrap my mind around before having a baby. Why would any feminist woman, highly educated, working on her career for practically a decade or more EVER want to give up (or even pause for a year or more) all that she’s built to stay at home with her baby? I am actually very ashamed that this used to be my attitude, and that I so discounted the value of the work a mother puts in when she is with her child full-time. As I’ve shared in the past, I still struggle from time to time with the label of SAHM, and a lot of it stems from my own misconception that work that pays monetarily has more value.
I get to be the main influence and caretaker in Emmy’s life. I am present for her 100% during such an incredible and fleeting time of her early life. I am beyond lucky that we are able to provide this for her – and for me, this has been the most fulfilling period I’ve ever experienced in my life. Also – this work is hard. Harder than any job I’ve ever held, with so much more at stake than a company or manager could ever inspire me to care about in the corporate world. I am so very sorry for ever thinking that making the decision to stay at home is anything less than an amazing opportunity for any woman or man.
But, the thing I want to apologize most profusely for is this – it is absolutely none of my business, nor my place to have an opinion, about what works best for anyone’s family but my own.
For some women, working outside of the home makes them a better mother, or they wish they could stay home, but can’t. Some SAHMs knew since they were young that this is what they wanted to do, and some are like me, who hadn’t considered it before experiencing motherhood for themselves, but are so grateful to find themselves able to be with their kids full-time.
So, for all the badass mamas out there, you deserve daily hero worship for all that you’ve done and continue to do – whether you are juggling a desk job and your household, or spending your days running to doctor’s appointments and doing endless loads of laundry. The old, childless me sends a sincere apology for all of my past blunders and ignorance, of which there are many more instances than what I’ve written above. This work is hard, and it only gets harder when the people around us, intentionally or not, make us feel like less for doing what we know is best for our babies, or think, mistakenly, that they get to have an opinion about the decisions we’ve made for our families. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – we are exactly who and what our babies need. We just need to spend more time trusting and listening to the inner beast that birthed this baby into the world in the first place.
Emmy arrived two weeks early and an entirely different astrological sign than we had anticipated.
It was a little after 1am when I woke because I had apparently peed my pants. I was at that glorious point in pregnancy where I was getting up every hour or so to pee at night, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine my bladder had decided to skip the part where it woke me up. I went back to bed after cleaning myself up, only to be jolted back upright when I realized it was happening again – only I definitely did not need to pee. While our labor and delivery classes had assured us that water breaking would be nothing like how it’s depicted in the movies, what they hadn’t mentioned is it can be continuous small gushes, happening minutes apart. After a failed hope that maybe if I went back to sleep this would all be a dream, I poked Alex in the back and told him my water broke. “Are you kidding?,” he said.
It was about 2am when I felt my first contraction. Alex and I were throwing things into a suitcase (because we hadn’t packed our hospital bag yet), and I said to Alex, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad! I can totally handle contractions!” (#famouslastwords) We agreed to wait as long as possible before heading to the hospital, mostly because we didn’t want our first child (aka, our dog), Riley, to be left home alone in the middle of the night. So, we decided to go back to sleep for as long as we could. Alex fell asleep instantly. Seriously. One minute he was talking to me, the next he was snoring, so I did my best to follow suit. Around 4am the contractions were getting more intense and I started timing them. By 5am, I gave up on attempting sleep, and decided to send work emails in between increasingly intense contractions (the messages I got back from my colleagues are definitely some of my all time favorite email exchanges).
I’ll be honest, at this point, I was in pretty terrible pain. The contractions did not feel like anything I had imagined – it was like someone was trying to bend me backwards over their knee and break my spine in half. By 6am I was on my hands and knees in the kitchen, trying any position I could to attempt to alleviate some of the pain and pressure. But, I knew I had to hold out – our doggy daycare didn’t open until 7am.
An hour moves so slowly when it’s bisected by contractions. When the clock finally read 6:30a, I told Alex I was ready to head to the hospital. By 7:30a, we were admitted, and 3cm dilated. Our labor and delivery nurse, Jocelyn, took one look at me and asked if I would like to get an epidural. Now, I always knew I could never be a crunchy mom primarily because of my outlook on drugs – which is, yes please! (And if you don’t know what a crunchy mom is, good for you.) Before I knew what contractions felt like, I had written in my birth plan I would wait to get my epidural until I was at least 6cm dilated because they sometimes slow down the progression of labor. I told Jocelyn to screw my birth plan and to please put me in line for the drugs.
Oh, the sweet, sweet relief of that epidural! I have never held so still in my life as when they were inserting that needle into my spine, even as I felt the peak of a contraction rack my body. But 30 minutes later, with my entire bottom half numb, and a button in my hand to press whenever I wanted more drugs, I finally got some sleep.
The rest of the late morning and early afternoon was just waiting, napping, and Alex visiting the hospital cafeteria and surfing Reddit on his phone. Jocelyn came in and out of the room, checking my progress and delivering giant pitchers of ice cold juice. I remember the stillness of our room, the soft hum of the medical equipment, the curtains drawn so I could nod in and out of sleep, Alex sitting just an arm’s length away. Our final moments as a family of two. Around 3p, Jocelyn checked on me and asked, “Are you having a sensation like you need to poo?” Apparently, I was fully dilated.
The delivery room unfolded like an origami crane – lights came down from the ceiling, a table materialized and nurses unpacked sheets and metal instruments. My OBGYN appeared by my side having just rushed from Northridge to be at my delivery. “It’s time to push,” she said. With my OBGYN holding one leg, and Alex holding the other, I wondered if there was some way to pump the brakes a little here. Could we rewind a few months? I was completely unprepared for this – for the moment I would be transformed into a mother.
My memory of actually delivering Emmy is spotty, coming in and out like scenes from an action movie trailer. I’m pushing, and then I’m waiting. I’m looking at a terrified Alex who is doing his best to smile encouragingly at me, alternating between holding my hand and my leg in between contractions. A nurse is asking me if I want to touch the baby’s head as she’s crowning (I said yes, and immediately regretted it because it was so much grosser than I thought it would be). And then suddenly – a release.
They put Emmy on my chest, she is mewling and wriggling, shocked by the sudden experience of life outside of my body. The nurses are suctioning gunk out of her mouth and nose, wiping her down on top of me. Alex and I both remember noticing with some alarm how much hair covered her arms and shoulders. I remember how slimy and tiny her body felt on my chest. Alex remembers cutting her umbilical cord and being surprised by how much pressure he needed to apply.
This is a day I thought was etched into my brain forever, but even 6 months down the line, I’m finding it harder and harder to recall the details of those first few moments of Emmy’s life. The older she gets, the more the little things from that day escape me, replaced now by new memories of her laughter, or the way her face lights up and her tongue sticks out when she smiles. But I know I’ll always remember meeting Alex’s eyes for the first time after Emmy’s birth, both of us still in disbelief and smiling from ear to ear, completely bonded and transformed forever by the new Aries in our lives.