Friday, May 2, 2008

Bring-Your-Confusion-to-Work Day

Yesterday was my first day back to work (as a secondary school teacher) since the middle of December, and it was horrible.

At work, I only wanted to be home. The normal, workaday expectation of consistent, competent action felt intrusive and unreasonably demanding compared to the cloudy, intuitive ebb and flow of my days with the baby. As my principal outlined the classes I would be teaching, I felt only a mounting sense of dread at the haphazard nature of the tasks being put to me, at all the work I will have to do, and at the inevitably half-assed way that I will be doing it.

Home, though, was much, much worse. I knew that my working and my husband staying home would not be a simple one-to-one flip of the roles we took when my husband worked and I stayed home, because I am the mother, whereas he is not. But neither of us had really thought through what it would look like. So when I got up with the baby in the morning and my husband stayed in bed, I felt shock – this is no different from the days that he works! – then immediate, mounting fury. Worse, when I returned home around 4PM and eagerly snatched the baby up, my husband, perhaps exhausted from his first baby-care day, went immediately to sleep, leaving me on the living room floor cradling the baby, still wearing my work clothes. I felt, again, shocked and furious – is the baby all my responsibility except when I’m actually at work? – and also tired and alone. The baby was fussy but would not take the breast, instead biting down – hard! – and squirming and complaining irritably.

Just as I thought I would die of frustration, my friend M. called and seemed to understand the depths with which I was struggling. She had a doctor’s appointment, she explained, but I could come with her if I liked, and then afterwards we could hang out. Her doctor was on 74th Street and Broadway, and while she was in his office, the baby and I wandered in wide, ragged circles from 71st Street to 77th Street, from Broadway to Columbus Avenue. I stared absently into the windows at Urban Outfitters, Loehmann’s, and Barney’s Co-op, and I wandered aimlessly into and back out of Starbucks and some shoe stores. The baby, tucked into his sling and cozy in a wool hood, gazed at the people and the cars, and, as only babies can, at nothing.

It was dark and chilly and beginning to rain, but I could not bring myself to stop and sit down anywhere. I felt as though I had never been more confused or unhappy in my life. I did not want to be angry at my husband – after all, what did he really do? – but I was desperately furious. All I wanted was be with the baby, but I felt poisonously resentful that my “getting” the baby seemed to be the default position, and then miserably guilty that I felt resentful. Work, I reflected, beginning to cry, would take the joy out of the baby, while the baby would take the joy out my work, which, after seven grueling years, has lost most of its luster anyway. I do not want to care about work, I thought, or anything at all other than my baby, myself, and this blog. I could not be reasonable and remind myself that this was only the first day or that it would only be eight weeks until summer vacation. I was lost for the moment in misery, wandering the Upper West Side umbrella-less, drawing stares with my baby, my misery, and my thigh-high red boots.

When M. got out of her doctor’s appointment, she asked me what I wanted to do. Really, I wanted to go to American Apparel and buy a T-shirt that my new mom friend H. told me was great for nursing, because all I wanted to think about was nursing my baby and, possibly, T-shirts. But I was aware that this would sound foolish at 8:40PM on a cold, rainy weekday evening. So instead, we bought some raspberry leaf tea and dark chocolate with cherries, then went back to M.’s apartment for tea, chocolate, and television. On Without a Trace, the blond F.B.I. agent was pregnant and telling her boss that she’d be right back to work after the baby came, and I was so dazed with misery and exhaustion that I didn’t really think to connect her situation to mine until the next day.

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