This may seem to be a tale of woe, but it is, in fact, a tale of redemption.
For years, my boys have begged me to have another baby. One wanted triplet brothers, so he asked a neighbor traveling to Israel to put his written request between stones in the kotel. Even after finding out exactly how babies arrive in this world, the others repeated their wish for just one sister, as if the process were akin to placing an order for a burger and fries.
Without recognizing any disconnect, they decided that I should also return to full-time employment. The middle one is approaching high school and the eldest is looking his year in Israel and college in the eyes. Even in their cocooned little universe, they know that bigger bills loom on the horizon.
They insist, with full teenage bravado, that they really don’t need me much anymore anyway. They can surely stay home alone, know how to work the DVR much better than I ever will, and can microwave practically anything. The squeaky wheel among them should finally learn to manage on his own (he’s 11), the older two insist. It’s high time, they say.
Get out there! You can do it, Mom. We’ll help out more!
The youngest, who always shares his opinion, wisely kept out of the debate. They think they are independent, he whispered to me, until it rains and you have to drive them home from the bus stop.
Well, someone’s paying attention.
They all forget, of course, that my current assortment of part-time gigs, by necessity, replaced what had been a full-time job in the city. When one child simply needed more of me than that position and its commute allowed for over the course of a given day, something had to give. I may now be running hither and thither to multiple work environments, but I have the flexibility to manage their needs and complicated schedules. And, by the way, I enjoy what I do.
A few interesting things happened as the discussion gathered steam. I stood my ground on the baby thing (they were too young at the time, or still in utero, to remember my last difficult pregnancy). Yet the working full-time piece crawled under my skin. Admittedly, the boys had struck a nerve.
Now G-d has a sense of humor. It’s one of the things I love about Him. At exactly this time last year, the boys got what they asked for on both counts, though no one realized it at first. The opportunity to research and write the 100-year history of an international Jewish organization fell into my lap -- overnight. It suited me perfectly. I’d be exploring an amazing archive and putting together a book.
Although I was savvy enough to know the project wouldn’t be limited to the proscribed hours, I figured I could manage with a little juggling here and there. My family pledged to give me full support, so how could I say no?
We were all excited when I dove in head first and swam straight into what now rounded out a full-time schedule of part-time work. Through it all, I planned a bar mitzvah and carried on with the rest of my life. I did not miss one big moment on the home front. The boys only noticed when the little conveniences of having a flexible mother seemed to disappear one by one.
Still, I soon enough realized that I was sleeping very little and I missed spending regular time with my family.
Perhaps it was because it had all happened so suddenly, without giving me the chance to make accommodations that full-time work requires.
Perhaps it was because those promises the boys had made about picking up the slack around the house never came to fruition. Perhaps, too, they realized they’d gotten what they’d wished for and were licking their wounds.
Regardless, I realized that I was, essentially, having a baby. The gestation period stretched the usual nine months. It took its toll on my body and my psyche, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I was exhausted and could hardly move. I became grumpy when I needed quiet. A whole lot was happening to me at once.
The laundry piled up. The mail piled up. Completely out of character, the presence of clutter no longer bothered me, even when we were hosting company for Shabbos. Making dinner became negotiable, and I rationalized the fact that nachos were, in fact, a nutritious meal. Cereal and milk, too. Both offer protein and some combination of vitamins, right?
I even failed to make doctor appointments, to return calls, and to answer correspondence. I saw few friends. I wrote just a handful of articles and I posted my blog a lot less frequently.
One day this past July, my eldest texted to ask me if it were almost Pesach. There is no food in the house, he whined. When I wrote back, insistent that there was most definitely a bag of pancake mix in the pantry, he replied that alas, there were no eggs or milk in the refrigerator.
My husband, who works a 90+ hour work week, emailed me to say that he was proud of me, but he wanted his wife back. I missed him, too. Finally, our three boys shouted in unison, No one told you to go back to work!
Well, I’ll tell you. I now fully understand why authors’ acknowledgements ooze with gratitude to their families. The writing of a book, as I now know well, takes on a life of its own.
Though it was rough for all of us here to go from where we had been in terms of my near-total flexibility to such a sudden, intense lack of it, I am hopeful that when the book arrives, the boys will be proud of their contribution to it. I believe fully in the project and am so thankful to the generous angel behind it and to the editor, who graciously appreciated that sometimes life gets in the way.
As my deadline loomed, one son had an accident and lost one and a half adult teeth, while twisting around a third. I wrote to my waiting boss, Sorry, chapter eight is on hold. Thank goodness, my son was fine and everything that really had to get done, both on the work and home fronts, did. All I could do was to stand back and wipe up the mess from the working mother’s paradox as I cleaned the blood off the living room floor.
Meanwhile, I delivered the baby last week. It is scheduled to ship out to China for publishing shortly. I’ve set to combing through the piles that have accrued to new heights around the house, and I have plans to cook a real mid-week dinner. As I make my way, I admittedly daydream about what it will feel like to hold the actual book in my hands this coming spring.
I scheduled date night with my husband. I will take my son to visit an aunt over his forthcoming school vacation and plan to strategize about redecorating the older boys’ bedroom in time for Chanukah. I’m meeting a friend for coffee, taking my regular morning walks, and writing my blog.
Yet the maternal amnesia that washed over me after my first two sons were born – the one that erases the less than pretty moments of childbirth so that we are willing to go through it again—has slowly begun to work its thing. Surely, too, the “me” that came out of hiding over the course of this year will likely not want to crawl back into her cave.
I will plan better in order to strike a better balance, but I’m definitely ready to have another “baby.”