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.
I’ve pretty much always been close with my mom and my dad. I never really went through a notable rebellious phase in my teen years, and my mom has always described my personality as a kid as “xi nai,” or “adorably affectionate” in Taiwanese (I may be adding the “adorably” part). So, of course, I’ve always known that they love my sister and me. But, since having Emmy and experiencing how my heart comes close to exploding on a daily basis, I suddenly realized THIS is how my parents feel about US. Whoa, mind blown.
As I’ve been grappling to understand my identity in relation to new motherhood, I’ve found myself seeing my parents through a new lens and thinking a bit more about what it must have been like for them to become parents and watch us grow from babies to women, to having kids of our own. Here are five things I’ve realized about my parents since becoming a mother myself.
1. They used to be young.
My husband Alex and I were talking about how Emmy will always see us as “old,” but damn it, we’re still young(ish)! It lead me to think about my parents when my sister and I were babies, or kids even. My mom and dad had us young, in their early and mid-twenties, so it was startling for me to realize that in my earliest memories, my mother wasn’t even my age yet (32). They were really just kids having kids.
2. They had no idea what they were doing.
In my mind, my parents have always been all knowing and, prior to Google, my go to resource for random questions. How long should I boil this corn on the cob? Is there something wrong with my car? What is this rash on my arm? Honestly, I still call them with questions like these. But, let’s be real guys, when my parents became parents they were even younger than I am now AND they didn’t have Google, WebMD, Baby Center, iPhones, or lactation consultants to tell them what they were doing wrong. They were improvising and making up a lot of stuff along the way – and they did it free of the crippling fear we new mothers face today with the overabundance of information we have at our fingertips.
3. It hurts when they see us cry.
As I learned in the the first moments of Emmy’s life, as parents we are hardwired to respond when our babies cry and will go to great lengths to make sure they are happy and thriving. I am pretty certain that instinct doesn’t go away just because our babies grow into adults (or dramatic teenagers). I think back now to all those times my mom comforted me post-heartbreak, or how my parents must have felt when I absolutely fell apart when I didn’t make it into my top college choices. They assured me over and over again that everything would be fine, that I would survive this. But, when I didn’t come out of my deep blue funk, they pulled their ultimate trump card: since they had anticipated a private school tuition and I would be headed to a school with significantly lower cost, what if we used that extra tuition money for a new car? My parents are clever people.
4. It may be a little awful to be the firstborn child.
Since Emmy entered our lives, I’ve realized that the firstborn comes out of the womb carrying a world of expectations, unknowns, and all the new parent naivety, hope, and sheer wonder that subsequent children are maybe not expected to shoulder as much of. After all, your first child is the one that forged your new identity as a parent; prior to her, you were just some schmuck eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (or at least I was). I’m the youngest of two in my family and definitely noticed when we were younger that my parents could be a lot harder on my older sister than they were on me. As a kid, I figured it was because my sister was clearly the achiever and the brains between us two – there wasn’t a thing she wasn’t good at: she brought home top grades in super hard classes, she played piano, she could draw, write, dance, was popular in high school AND universally loved by every and any educator that met her. But, her achievements were always a given rather than recognized as something specific and special to her. It makes me wonder if your firstborn child, no matter what age they are, will always carry the weight of your expectations and wide-eyed hope from when you were a newly minted parent.
5. They have regrets.
My mom confided in me the other day that she regrets how much they worked when my sister and I were kids. My parents were immigrants in a new country, chasing the American Dream, so of course at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. At the heart of my mother’s regret is a simple thing though: if she could do it over, she would have made the time to be with us, ask more questions, and show more curiosity about our lives when we were younger. She didn’t realize how quickly those days would be gone. I’ve been struggling lately, wondering if I’m doing the right thing by putting my career on hold to take care of Emmy. While maybe I could take my mom’s regret as validation for the choice I’m making, I think what it actually means is that no matter what choice I make, there is no right answer. I will always have regrets, something will always have to give – but I’ll have amazing memories and experiences, no matter what road I pick.