On more evenings than not, after my partner walked through the door I would hand him an angry toddler and try to block his view of the mess on our main floor. "Just take him downstairs for 10 minutes so I can clean up and get dinner on. Then you can come back up!" I would beg.
I didn't want to banish my spouse to the basement playroom before he had even taken his shoes off, but I needed to.
Actually, what I needed was day care but I wasn't ready to admit that yet.
I have the incredible privilege of working from home, but I was also incredibly stubborn about wanting to keep my son with me, and so, day by day, everything fell apart. I felt like I was drowning, but I also felt like I couldn't say that.
Other moms seemed to have one of two opinions about my situation: Either they thought I was amazingly lucky, or they were in awe of how I was managing to work and care for my son simultaneously. "I don't know how you do it," they'd tell me. "Coffee helps," I'd say.
But the truth was no amount of coffee could cover up the fact that I wasn't managing it all, something my partner could plainly see. I would immediately demand a few child-free minutes to catch up on chores, on dinner prep, on work. I was forever catching up.
I'd been against day care because I wanted to be the one spending quality time with my child, but each day I found myself spending all our time together waiting for the next bit of time without him. I tried to get as much work done as I could before he would wake up in the morning, but it was never enough. From the moment he said, "Good morning Mommy," I was waiting for the minute when I could be alone with my laptop.
Everyone (including me) thought I had found the perfect solution to the dilemma so many parents face: I didn't have to choose between working and staying at home with my son. But by trying to do both, I constantly felt like I was failing at both.
I was the mom who showed up to toddler gym class on the wrong day (twice!), I was the coworker who always forgot the meeting was today and the partner who had nothing left for her spouse at the end of the day.
I started touring day cares and preschools but each facility felt like, well, an impersonal facility where I couldn't just leave him.
But in the back of my mind, I wondered: "What if day care could make me a better mother? A better partner?"
I shoved the thoughts away every time I considered the expense of childcare, so I lied to myself: "You can do this, it's not that hard. You're saving money."
Our breaking point came one day when my spouse arrived home to find the living room covered in blue and yellow Play-Doh, Raisin Bran and hot sauce. I'd given my toddler the Raisin Bran to buy me time to clean up the Play-Doh, and when I got distracted by an email, my frustrated baby dumped the Raisin Bran on the Play-Doh and walked through it.
When I insisted on cleaning up instead of playing with him, my baby did the one thing he knew would force me to chase him: He opened the fridge and took out the first condiment he could reach and ran with it. He flipped the lid open and the Frank's went flying.
Too soon, my partner arrived home and peered past me to the mess, to a couch now decorated with angry streaks of buffalo heat. "What the heck happened here today?" he asked before I banished him to the basement with a nearly naked, wailing toddler.
What happened? I tried to work and parent at the same time, that's what happened.
My partner gave me time to calm down and clean up before coming back with words I never thought I would hear him say: "We have to find a day care."
I knew he was right. We toured two more day cares before choosing one for our son. It was everything the ones I'd toured before weren't: safe, secure, non-profit and high-quality. I knew it was the right place for my son, and I knew the decision to enroll him there was the right one for both of us.
The first week, drop-offs were not tear-free (for either of us), but soon they were.
Soon, my son was having fun, making messes and new friends.
Soon, my son was eating nutritious snacks and lunches instead of the Goldfish and drive-thru cake pops I'd been serving up.
Soon, my stress level decreased, and at the same time, my son's vocabulary increased.
Soon, the house got tidier and we all felt happier.
Now, I can enjoy time with my son, and be truly present with him instead of just mentally cataloging everything I need to squeeze into nap time.
Now, when my partner gets home, we come together as a family and no one is banished to the basement so that I can catch up.
Now I feel like a better mother and a better version of myself.
I can't make more hours in the day, but I am able to make the most of the hours we do have by being physically apart for some of them. Day care gives us the space we need to reconnect.
Finding a great day care was an act of love. I didn't do it because I don't love spending time with my son, or because I don't love being a mother, but because I do.
And I love our day care, too.