Sunday, May 27, 2007


Recently as I was walking on my street with Noah in his stroller, I asked myself if I was overstaying at my job. The last time I remember asking myself an overstaying question was with my ex-fiance ten years ago. I mused in a journal entry in the messy middle of things if I would one day look back at the experience and see clearly how right it was to end the relationship. In fact I did, and it was. Just that small remembering is enough to help me already be bouncing back from the sad news I received last week that the flexibility I have enjoyed at work in bringing my baby with me has bottomed out.

The universe seems to have answered my current overstaying question in the affirmative, because my recent proposal to begin working from home for the bulk of my part-time job was rejected by the Executive Director of my organization. This proposal was based on the fact that in the past several months that I've been back at work since maternity leave, much of my work could have been done from home, and also that my son is getting increasingly mobile and in general less comfortable in the office. It was also based on the fact that I still feel passion for the work and think I still have a meaningful contribution to make.

I've worked at a domestic violence organization for coming up on 8 years now, and it would not be an understatement to say that I've poured myself into the job from the time I came on board. I think it's also fair to say that I have grown up at the job, both professionally and personally. Being a part of a social movement, one that has allowed me to blend passion and profession, has made for an exciting career so far. When I was in college and law school, I didn't know there was such a thing as a domestic violence community educator out there in the world. It's been a powerful fit for me. I don't want to stop doing it, working as part of this organization, being a part of this team of individuals.

Except, maybe I do? My history frustrates me in that I know the two truths. I've had those experiences where there were lots of indicators saying move on and find the next thing, but other parts of me clinging, clinging, clinging to the current reality.

Becoming a mother has changed everything, and now I face the decisions that working mothers everywhere have had to consider. Who am I working for? I work for the man - the little man, that is. Little Noah. He needs my best contributions. And with what I have left over to think about working outside the home, in the years that I have worked at the Family Violence Project in Maine, I have grown the program and grown myself and there hopefully is enough stability in both to find the next iteration of the work. I do feel confident that whether it be consulting, or creating some new organization, I will find some other way to continue to give to this movement that I care so much about.

I also have thought a couple of times in the past few days about the actress who plays Susan on the television show "ER." This actress was in the original cast for several years, and left during the show's initial wild popularity. She said she needed to spend time with her family and ground her life again. I don't remember seeing her act in anything else for several years. She then returned to the cast of "ER" and brought the same talent and warmth to her acting and character as she had in the earlier episodes. This helps me take heart that even if I totally "opt out" as the pundits are now calling it when a mother does not hold a jobby job, "opting in" later will work out if I want it to.

I can even quietly admit, that since hearing from my supervisor last week and navigating that first weepy day, a strange peace has come over me. I remember when I worked for years at a bank in my early 20s - when I went to law school I kept working on weekends, but it was less and less, and when I finally left altogether I had a good feeling thinking about the things I would no longer need to do because I was not a teller anymore - no more having to try and sell bank cards to older folks who preferred passbooks, is just one example. So even in these moments of getting a handle on this big change, and worrying a bit about our finances, I am also having moments when I consider the things at work that I won't mind seeing go out of my life. I don't need to list those things here, because I'm sure most people have certain things about their jobs that don't fit on their personal favorites list. But I will say, that I won't miss them, and that is an interesting thing to recognize.

So, into a new kind of freedom I leap, as I prepare to give my resignation in two days. The next part of the road is not yet laid in front of me. I am lucky, though, that I can look back and feel proud of the well-cobbled path I have carefully worked on to this place where I now stand.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Fall From Grace

In the past 72 hours, I have heard many scary stories. Heart-stopping moments for mothers. A young son who became trapped under a capsized canoe. A girl who lifted her baby brother from the ladder of a jungle gym and he went face forward into the wood. A daughter who toddled toward traffic-laden Route One from her quiet yard. A little one who sat with a friend and they painted their teeth with White-Out. A tiny girl who lifted her baby sister from a crib and carried her down the stairs by herself, to the adults' horror below in the living room. (That last "baby sister" was me.)

And now I have my own first scary story. Noah is fine. But he might not have been. He took a major tumble on our cellar steps late Monday afternoon and miraculously has only a tiny bruise on his left cheek to show for it. His parents however, Matthew and I, suffered psychic damage that I now undertand time will likely alternately repair and keep rubbing raw as life continues to happen to this baby boy.

Noah began crawling just a few weeks ago. It's a miraculous and wonderful thing to see his big round bottom wiggling along as he puts one knee in front of the other. He is fast, and so proud of himself to be able to move toward things he is interested in. He can also pull himself to a standing position, and cares less about his toys because he wants to be up, up, up. He has a curious mind and is adamant about doing things. Days after the safety locks went on the under-sink cabinets in our bathroom upstairs, he continues to go back and check to see if the doors will open the way he remembers they used to. And today if that cellar door were open just a crack, he would still go for it. He has no memory or fear even though those stairs could have done him in.

I have read so many articles and magazine blurbs about babyproofing a home. Safety latches, baby gates, outlet covers, poisons, cupboards, electrical cords, crib bars, houseplants, and on and on and on. But I haven't seen a single piece of writing on how to handle the emotions around the first big fall, even though I am gathering that every baby has one, and then some. Nor did any mother share details about this side of parenting with me during my pregnancy, though I heard many labor stories and other exciting and sometimes wrenching things.

If I consider my own injury list as a little person, I can rattle off many, many incidents: pulling a pottery lamp down on my head, requiring stitches; breaking my leg by falling off my bicycle; doing somersaults on my bed and cutting my head when I came up into the chimney that went through my bedroom; sustaining huge scrapes on my hands and knees from running full speed down the road we lived on and falling into the pavement, etc. But in raising this sweet baby for the past 10 months, it never occurred to me what it would be like to be on the other side of this equation. I think I was assuming Noah would never really have anything bad happen - not my baby. That first bump Noah incurred that I mentioned several posts ago seems now like a romantic token little incident. We are in the big time now.

So those emotions I mentioned, so exploding they were physically impossible to ignore, made breathing difficult, caused panic in my body in the form of shaking legs, became a voice in my head screaming, "This is it. I had my chance. He's broken his neck. He's dead." I remember yelling outloud, "Nooooooooo!" Feeling that I needed to be calm for little Noah as I picked him up and felt him all over. This was the stuff of pure trauma and days later my stomach still flips over when I think of it.

After the ER visit and assurances from the doctor and several nurses that Noah had absolutely nothing wrong with him, we went home and he was sleeping peacefully by 9 p.m. And by the next day, Noah had moved on. (He actually seemed to have moved on way sooner than that.) He was maybe a bit more clingy than usual, or maybe it was us that was clingy with him. Really he was his usual rambunctious, sweet self. And he wanted us to go there with him, back into life. Matthew and I were both feeling fragile, our nerves shot. But we absolutely had to take that big breath and go on with the day. His day, our days. What else was there to do? Noah was smiling and wanted us to play with him, and read to him, and give him his bath, and go for walks. He did not want to sit in our laps and be hugged and stared at with big grateful doe-eyes all day.

So here we go, a few days later gingerly stepping along the path with him again. My stepfather offered me a pearl this week when he e-mailed me and said (I paraphrase, and probably poorly, because unfortunately I already deleted the e-mail so I can't quote him directly), "Once you become scared/scarred as a parent, it becomes even more important to stay present and enjoy every second, and also simultaneously more difficult to do so." I cannot imagine it ever getting easy to know that my boy is at risk for something terrible, though already in these past few days I've started to accept it as reality. That first step, from where we were just a weekend ago, is a doozy.