I remember the nerves I felt when it was time to talk to my boss about maternity leave. I knew in my heart that I wanted to take a significant amount of time off to be with my baby, but I couldn't help but feel like I was letting her, and the school where I taught, down.
My boss could not have been more supportive. We talked about me coming back a year later as a tentative plan. And just as everyone warned me it would, time flew by and before I knew it—my son was approaching his first birthday.
I felt a mild sense of panic set in whenever I thought about returning to work. I was pretty sure my son would be okay, but I was a whole lot less sure that I would.
I needed more time and thankfully my boss was, once again, super understanding.
But three months later, she contacted me again and I didn't feel the same sense of panic anymore. I still felt unsure, but along with the sadness I felt at the thought of giving up time with my son, I also felt excitement about seeing my colleagues again and returning to the work that I love.
But nothing could prepare me for how hard my first few weeks back at work were. There were three things in particular that were especially hard for me, but also helped me grow.
1. Letting go of control
I'm pretty much as type-A as it gets. I was lucky enough to know and trust the people who would be caring for my son while I was teaching, but it was still incredibly hard for me to give up control.
I no longer totally controlled his nap schedule. His class took one mid-day nap, while he was still used to taking two, so we needed to adapt.
I no longer controlled the germs he was exposed to. Even with a very clean classroom, he has had so, so many colds and sniffles since starting school.
I no longer controlled everything he played with. This was not really a problem, as everything in his classroom is beautiful and purposeful, but it did make me sad to think he might have a favorite toy I'm not even aware of.
Not knowing how he spends half of his day has been hard. I have no idea who he likes to spend time with or what he likes to do when he's at school.
It has helped me remember though that he is his own person, living his own life, and it's okay for me not to control Every. Single. Detail. We can still be just as close, just as attached at the heart, even if my picture of his day has blurry spots.
2. Missing other moms
Why is it that all organized activities for parents and kids seem to be scheduled for nine or 10 o'clock in the morning?
We used to go to so many story times and I genuinely miss those types of activities, both to connect with other moms and to watch my son interact with other children.
As a relatively shy introvert, it was hard for me to build up a group of mom friends and it's been even harder to keep that going now that we can't attend most of the events they go to regularly.
I've been clinging to the one afternoon story time near us and trying my hardest to maintain the friendships I've built, but it hasn't been easy.
I've had to push myself to reach out, to invite people over and to be the one who organizes social activities, which doesn't come naturally to me. I've had to embrace quality over quantity, to realize that while I can't do nearly as many social things as we used to, I can still nurture a few really deep friendships.
3. Feeling like I want to do so much more (because there's more to do)
Apart from just generally missing my little guy, this was, and remains, the hardest part about working outside the home for me.
Of course I feel like things piled up before. There is always laundry to fold and the dishwasher always seems to need unloading. But going back to work brought on a new feeling, one of inadequacy, both at home and at work.
I can no longer devote the same amount of time to my classroom as I did before having a child. I can no longer devote the same amount of time to my home as I did before I went back to work.
This has been incredibly hard for my type-A, perfectionist self to come to terms with.
It means we eat simpler dinners and the house isn't as clean.
It means I've all but abandoned the dusty cookbooks sitting on my shelf, full of fun toddler meal ideas.
It means that when I think of something I want to create for my classroom, it may take me a month instead of a day to get it ready.
But it also means that I have to be more flexible, more discerning about what really needs to get done, and a little more forgiving with myself. It means I have had to learn to ask for help.
I'm still working on being comfortable with always being a little bit behind, but I feel like the softening of my expectations may be a good thing.
Going back to work has been harder than I thought it would be in a lot of ways, but it has also been wonderful in some ways I didn't expect.
Now that I'm not with my son every waking moment of his day, I treasure our time together in a different way. I have always enjoyed and appreciated my time with my son, but now that it's more limited, I find it easier to be more intentional.
I am less tempted to scroll through my phone while he plays nearby.
I find myself taking mental snapshots of the perfect way his hair curls and tucking them away in my heart.
I truly look forward to and enjoy our time together and (almost) never feel like time is dragging.
I only hope that he feels the same way, that he understands that while we're not always together anymore, the time we do have is precious and means more to me than anything in the world.