Happiness Is My Desk and a Latte
by Abbie Pappas
I had wanted to send my son to daycare, but in New York City, “daycare” equals “waitlist.” After being told by four different daycares that they wouldn’t be able to fit Yoni in for my April 24th start date, we caved and hired a nanny. As I lay in bed at night during the weeks leading up to my return to work, angsty questions ran through my brain while I imagined this stranger taking care of my child.
“What if she doesn’t read to him enough?”
“What if she doesn’t cuddle with him?”
“What if he doesn’t learn to socialize with other kids?”
“What if he does that thing again where he chokes on his spit up-snot-ball and she doesn’t know how to suck it out of his nose and save him like I did?”
But April 24th came anyway, and I squeezed into my stretchiest work dress, blow-dried my hair for the first time in five months, and dragged my puffy feet onto the subway so I could arrive promptly at my law firm. Then I met with HR, sat down at my desk, and watched as the first email came in.
Nine hours later, surrounded by empty coffee cups and newly-formed piles of documents, I looked up. Somehow, it was 6 p.m. The day had flown by as I had happily bounced between my colleagues’ offices and attended department meetings, discussing clients and cases. And then, I felt my stomach sink as I realized that I had completely forgotten to check in with the nanny.
It was my first day back, and I had gotten so overwhelmed by assignments rolling in, forms to fill out, and computer updates to install that I had completely forgotten that I had a child at home. A child who, until that very morning, I had spent every waking (and sleeping) moment with for the last five months. What kind of mother was I?
Several of my mom buddies told me they couldn’t stop sobbing on the first day back. A friend warned me about her new-mom colleague, who spent hours sitting in her office and crying. I had seen other women in my department return to work after their maternity leaves, and I saw the way they had Skyped with their nannies and texted their husbands and frantically checked their phones for any missed picture or post.
Where were my tears? Did I not miss my child as much as all the other moms? Did I not like my child as much as all the other moms? How could I forget about him so easily, my cherished little lovebug, when presented with documents to draft and other adults to talk to? Why was I perfectly content to return to work, and even worse, why had I ENJOYED it? The guilt sat like a rock in my chest as I took the subway back to my apartment.
If I am being honest with myself, there are many, many pleasant moments to be found in my working mom’s day. And I can’t find most of these moments at home. There is the moment when I get to drink my hot coffee in peace – and then refill it as many times as I want. There is the moment when I get to spend as much time as necessary picking out my toppings from the salad bar, then eat the salad with both hands. There are the moments when I have witty, rewarding conversations with other grownups. Oh, and of course, there are the beautiful, uninterrupted nine hours that I spend sitting down.
But going to work also provides me with a sense of validation.
And I know what I’m really good at. It’s the thing I spent three years in grad school learning how to do. I also know what I’m really clueless about. Parenting.
At work, I feel confident, capable, and productive. At home, I feel like a mess, blundering my way through every minute of my child’s day as I awkwardly try to keep him entertained. It is not surprising that my confidence at work correlates with my happiness.
This is not to say I’m not happy to spend time with my kid. I cherish spending weekends with him and getting to see all the adorable things he’s learned to do over the past week (like, for example, spit puréed squash out his nose).
I race into the apartment at the end of the workday and scoop his squishy, cranky, overtired little self into a massive hug while I plant a million kisses on his puffy cheeks.
And this isn’t to say that my experience is universal. I am in awe of the mothers who spend every day not only raising their children but enjoying it. And I recognize there are mothers who wish they could stay at home with their kids but don’t have the financial means to do so, and mothers who slog through days at boring or stressful jobs.
But there are also moms who relish the opportunity to do something they enjoy, uninterrupted, for hours a day while drinking unlimited amounts of lattes. And I am coming to terms with the fact that I am one of them.
People always ask if it’s hard being a working mother. My response, much to the chagrin of my colleagues…
“The mothering part is harder.”
About this mama: Abbie Pappas is a lawyer and kid/dog mom living in Manhattan. You can follow her on Instagram at @stay_at_work_mom.