It works for me …..

There really is so much rah-rah-rah for Stay at Home moms, but there does seem to be little support for moms who choose to work.

I think the vast majority of us, have chosen to go back to work for one of two reasons.

The main motivator is financial.  The lifestyles we lead and the high costs of food from Woolworths does force us, in most cases, to be a two-income family.  Few families have the luxury of one of the parents staying at home to care for the kids.  Both parents need to be out there earning a living, else someone is going to be wearing PEP hand-me-downs and be home schooled <shudder>.

I have realized that I might belong to the second set of moms-who-work.  Those who have chosen this as an option.  I admit that I make a better mom working, than the mom I would be staying at home all day.  There is something in my DNA that makes it really difficult to remain at home with my kids (or any kids  -so do not think you can drop yours off with me).

Usually this comment illicit a response (in a slightly haughty tone) of “well, why did you choose to have them then?” My reponse:  “I chose to have kids because I like my kids, I did not choose to be with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

When I was pregnant the second time around, I really felt quite heart-sore that we could not afford for me to stay home with my new baby.  Kennith said, sure you can stay home, but then you need to realise there are going to be some financial sacrifices.

I figured he was alluding to the sacrifice of the full-time maid.  If I was choosing to sacrifice a virgin or my full-time maid, the virgin will lose hands down every time.  Though I lamented and beat my chest in frustration, I still was not willing to give up my maid, and decided to traipse back to work.

I did not see much point in not working at an office, so I could stay at home to do house-work, which last time I checked pays very little and basically is a shite job with little chance of promotion!

Granted I was in a fortunate position to move to a flexi-time/part-day job which gave me more time to fetch kids and be with the new baby.  At the time I did not realise that my boss was also going to start paying me late/never/sort of when he felt like it, which did not really go a long way to making me a calm and serene soul, so I left that after a year and returned to full time employment (actually to the job I have now – which I am eternally grateful for – thanks job!!).

When pregnant with Isabelle, I was so sure that I would not be returning to work.  I told the folks at the office I was coming back.  But I thought in my soul that I would want to stay at home with my little wrinkled little person more than anything else in the world.  Because I was a mature mom, and I had this entire thing sorted … yes I did.

Kennith, being wise and more philosophical about things, took one look at the situation and knew it was doubtful I would even stay home long enough to get through my maternity leave.   He knew the safest route at the time was to keep his opinions to himself.  He had learnt long ago that trying to reason with a heavily pregnant women, was just not worth the blood shed, so he held his own counsel on the subject.

Second pregnancy, I lasted 28 days at home before heading back to work.  So he was pretty sure that 4 months at home, or an indefinite stay would probably be unlikely.

But I set out to prove him wrong!!

I had tons of books to read, friends had lent me four-score-and-twenty DVD box series sets, I had my freelance work to do, I was set, I couldn ‘t fail.  I was going to juggle this baby, and my need to be a fulfilled individual.  I was even a bit smug about the entire thing.

The disappointment – the devastation – when I realized I really was not happy being home was a tad crushing to say the least.  I could not believe that I could not be happy staying in my jammies all day, feeding and burping my little cherub.  (I had also not read one book or watched one DVD, so clearly time management was a bit of an issue in my little plan for domestic domination.)

The reality was that I was not happy. I was climbing the walls, I was deeply unhappy and I had inclining that I was going to harm this baby – I was so frustrated.  I did go a little off the deep end, and found a therapist, started some meds and really was feeling it was all a bit bleak.

But then I had an “ah-hah” moment and that was “get your arse back to work! Now, do not wait another day.” I tend to listen to the voices in my head. I phoned – actually I emailed – and asked if I could come back early.  Of course they said yes, and there I was three days later at my faux-wood desk, drinking tea out of the blue Disney mug, with the sound of the factory around me and my annoying telephone ringing – it was such bliss, it made my soul so happy.

As soon as I got back to work, I no longer needed the meds and the therapy.  I was not miraculously better, but I definitely felt more hopeful and much happier than I had in weeks, and able to cope with the little things life hands us.

I was really disappointed with myself that my baby was not enough for me to stay home.  Just to be with her was not enough to keep me satisfied and sane.

I love my daughter so much that I get a little knot in my stomach when I look at her. I whisper sweet nothings into her ear when ever I see her. I love getting up in the morning to pick up her warm snuggly body out of the cot.  I love the way she nuzzles in my neck for a love.  I love the smell of her, I love putting my face against her cheek and just breathing her in. I really am obsessed with her.  But I just cannot be with her all day.

I need to work.   Working is what I do.  I find me in my work.  My work restores my sense of self, my balance in my universe.  Part of who I am is because I work.

I really am jealous of stay-at-home moms.  Not because they get to stay at home with their kids, but because they can, without going certifiably insane.

I really really wish I could.

My next hurdle is that soon I am going to have my son in Grade 4, and my daughter in Grade 1, and my other daughter in pre-school.  I think at a point not to far in the distant future, there  is going to come a time when I need to be available in the afternoons to cope with homework, extra-murals and school stuff.  Already I am finding it a bit of a challenge and that is with one in the school system.  So I am hoping that by 2012, I make another plan, but for now I get to skip off to work and be a big person.

I want to outsource homework …..

I was never good at doing homework or assignments in a timeous fashion.

The issue was partly that when I started school, I really should have been listed as legally blind, as my eye sight was so bad.  But I thought it was normal, so created coping methods to get through the day.  I would listen well, even while working on something else.

I was always keenly aware of what was going on around me.  If the teacher stood at the chalk-board and wrote things, I would listen to what she was saying and remember. My sight was so bad that I could not even make out the wording on the board even if I sat in the front row.

When I was at school the eye nurse would come along with the big eye chart, all the kids in the class would stand in a row.  They would file forward and read off the letters and she would fill in a form and send you on your way.  If you had a problem you were then referred to go and get a more extensive eye test.  My surname started with an “M” so that always put me somewhere in the middle.

There was always more than enough time to memorise the letters, so I knew the order by the time my turn came.  So no matter which eye I covered, I could fly through that eye chart like no-one’s business.  I knew I could not see, but I just thought that was normal, as no one had ever said I had a problem before, or these little deceits of behavior were second nature to me as I always covered up that there was any problem.

As I got older, I continued to develop a pretty good ability to take in information and recall it with ease.  The upside was that I did not have to do homework or revision, as I picked up what I needed to in class.  The result is that I never really learnt to do homework and study correctly.  There was also no one at home when I got home as a child who insisted that I should go and do 45 minutes of home work.

My homework was never checked, so what ever was or was not done, the onus was on me to deal with when I went to school the next day.  I also was able to read when I was in Sub A, so the work was not exactly a hardship at the time.

The result was that I never learnt to be diligent about my school work. I am a classic crammer under pressure.  Some exams I would write and had probably spent 2 – 3 hours briefly reading through the work the day before.  Sure, I would get a bit worried that some of my school friends had revision calendars that had weeks if not months of revision laid out for them.  Unfortunately that is not how I rolled.

I managed to get through school and did okay, not great, jus tokay.  Obviously I look back and wonder if someone motivated me and made sure I spent the necessary time on homework and revision would I have done better and achieved more.  The old “what could have happened” argument.

Connor had an oral to do today at school.  I go the note last week.  I only started working with him on it yesterday late afternoon.  In my defense he had to “interview” his grandparents and then talk about how things were when they were young.  I was only going to visit my mom on the weekend, so used that to justify the late preparation of the oral, but in reality I could have started with him before.

So last night I am sitting trying to revise this oral with Connor. I am getting stressed, as I am thinking I have left it much too late, and now I am annoyed with myself.

I am getting more impatient with him as he is not taking this in, and recalling it the way I want him to.

Georgia is climbing on my shoulder and insisting on giving me kisses and hugs.  Isabelle is about ready for bed, and is cranky and does not want to drink her bottle.  I am thinking about the hours of work I still have to do before I can go to bed.

I remedy the situation by screaming and Georgia and sending her to her room for 15 minutes. I go and put Isabelle in bed in a bit of a rush, and then I bark at Connor for not putting an effort into this oral.  I really am terrible at helping kids with homework.  I have no patience, and want to just have it done.

I get really short tempered, and impatient, and I am sure I am doing psychological damage to Connor one assignment at a time.  I really want to be that mom who wears a floral apron and whips up a batch of brownies while smiling with enduring patience as they assist their child to build a volcano that spews ash, from and a piece of cardboard, three drawing pins, and a roll of twine.

But I am not, I really suck at it. Of course I put the blame squarely on my parents who never taught me good homework-ethics, and never insisted I do well at anything.  It really is all their fault.

Poor Connor he really sometimes must think he got the short end of the stick when he got me as a mom!

<note to self, get sh*t together before this child gets to grade four and then the trouble really starts.>

Rise up, you can walk ….

Last week when Pepe abandoned me and I started to worry a bit about my sanity in all things kids related.

I spent two days with Isabelle at work, and carried her around a lot of the time. I think the stress and the extra +9 kilograms that I carted around on my left hip, threw my back out.

Well my shoulder actually, which made my neck hurt, which made me tilt my head to the side, which made me walk funny and then my back hurt. It really is a play on that old song of “leg bone connected to the knee bone…”

I woke up on Friday morning with a burning pain in my shoulder blade, which progressed to make me lean my head skew and walk like the Hunchback of Notre Dame for the day. It did not get much better over the weekend and the only high point was when Kennith’s mom said she would buy me a dishwasher as a wedding present.

I was immediately cured of all my symptoms – if only for a few minutes.

This morning I still felt sore and gave my good old chiropractor a call – I love Dr Mark.

So there I was lying on his table, and he was prodding me. It is funny how he does not go near my left shoulder blade where all the pain is sitting, but prefers to mince around behind the back of my right leg and in the temple area of my head. Clearly biology was a bit sketchy for me, but I will leave the details to Dr. Mark.

All very strange, but like Lazarus I could stand up and walk and leave his office with an almost hop in my step.

He suggested a good night sleep and that I will feel much better tomorrow. I am already salivating at the thought of sleep – hhhmmmmmm.

He is a “click your spine” chiropractor guy, but does not do it often. He seems to use pressure points and sort of stands there with his fingers like hot pokers on my tender regions while he asks me to breath deeply and look down – all this whilst my eyes are closed.

Any doctor that lets me lie down in peace for 5 minutes in the middle of the day gets my vote, I am too fussed what he is doing. The amazing thing is he finds my tender regions without me even knowing they were my regions or tender.

I don’t know how he does it, I have no idea what he does, but he manages to relieve so much pain in a fairly no-fuss manner. So I am putting that claim through my medical aid, and off to make my cup of tea while I wait for the hours until bed time.

Even in the Abyss things can get better

I am not sure if that moment was a bit of a wake up call for both of us, but things did get better.   After Kennith received my email he came home early and he tried to chat to me.

Kennith – bless his cotton socks – has always been the one who will extend the olive branch first – I am the one who will hold a sulk for days if need be.  I know  it appears that I slate him, but he really does try very hard to be a good partner and a great dad.  Sometimes with our relationship in such turmoil, I forget what a good guys he is.

I don’t think I was really open to a discussion. I felt exhausted by the process that we had been through, but also relieved that a decision had been made – even though it was painful and awful.  I can’t quite recall how things began to change at home, but they did.

I think the issue was that I could not really afford to move out anywhere initially, and would need to still remain in the house until I had made a plan.  I just was not sure what the plan was.  It was not like he came home and I had my cases at the door, with my cactus balanced on top.

The sun went down and then it came up the next day and we were still two people who had a house, two kids and some problems to work through.  I think to Kennith’s credit, he could have just thrown in the towel and agreed with me that it was “over cadovers” but he felt there was still a reason we should try to make this work.

It was gradual process and every step might not have been recorded, but it did get better.  We both worked on being a couple and getting rid of some of the animosity we had been carrying around.

We tried to learn to communicate with each other – rather than just wait for the other person to take a breath so you could get your say in.  Kennith put a huge amount of effort in being present, and I put an effort in making him feel less isolated from the family unit.

I tried very hard to stop being angry and so resentful all the time.  I had so much anger within me, and struggled to express it in a constructive manner.  I think he also tried to listen to what I was saying, which was a huge help when you feel you are not being heard.

I think it took at least a year for things to gradually get better until they were on what we could call stable ground.  We just started doing things differently and behaving differently.

When things had stabilized a bit, Kennith and I decided to leave the kids at home and went overseas for a just over a week to see friends and family – my brother’s first son was being born and we were trying to time being there for that.

It was great to spend some time together doing our stuff.  I missed the kids terribly and pined for Georgia especially, but it was great to be able to enjoy each other’s company again.  It really was a great experience to be together even if it was just walking through the streets and stores, but it was nice to reconnect and be big people again.

A month or two after getting back I started a new job which offered me a great deal of challenges and also made me feel more secure and fulfilled.  Though it required a huge amount of juggling it definitely made me feel much better about myself.  I realized a big part of me required affirmation in what I do for a living – I really get my kicks from doing a job and doing it well.

I think the thing about expecting a baby, and preparing for the impact of a baby is that you spend so much time thinking about the baby, and the sleep deprivation, and whether you are going to buy the right pram and cot, that you forget about the impact this person is going to have on your relationship.  Not for a second had I factored this in as an issue.

Kennith and I had been together for more than 7 years when we decided – it was not an accident – to have Connor.  We were stable and prepared.  We had never had a “get out” fight in all the time that we had been together.

I could never have accounted for the amount of trauma and strain a baby would introduce to our lives and relationship.

I am not saying that the birth of Connor was to blame for all of our issues, but the introduction of a third person into a stable relationship was definitely a catalyst that we just had not factored in, and were ill equipped to recognise and deal with.

Some of the issues that came to the fore was how much baggage I was dragging with me about my own upbringing and childhood.  I thought I had that securely locked away but the introduction of my own child just seemed to bring that all up.  I suddenly had real “mother” issues that also impacted on my relationship with my own mother and my son.

When friends tell me that they are pregnant, I really wish I could tell them how stressful that first year is.  How it will literally shake you to your roots, and make your gums bleed.

You will doubt yourself as you stand in the bathroom at night crying in desperation and loneliness.

You will begin to despise your partner because your life has changed so dramatically and theirs seems to have remained the same.

You will question every decision you have made, and feel you know nothing and are the most worthless creature on the planet.

But at the centre of it all is this round little baby whose cuddles will warm your soul, and whose smell will ease the pain.   He or she is the calm in the storm – and it is a bit of a storm – the kind where people take canned food down to a cellar and stay there until the dust settles and then they come out to see what form of life survived.

Most moms I have spoken to remember the acute loneliness of the 2am feeds, and feeling so isolated and desperate while everyone skipped to work.  It really is one of the most difficult challenges I have ever had to face in my life, and you know I can’t even put it on my CV as an achievement.  It’s such a sense of despair that your soul literally cries!

And what’s even sadder, is that we all know it, but no one talks about it and prepares new mums.  I wonder why that is.

Surviving the first few months

Within the first month after we got home with Georgia, Kennith had Kilimanjaro to climb and spent some time in Zanzibar.  I was at home looking after a new born and a 3-year-old.

Clearly he got the better end of the deal.  After the MBA Kennith’s horizons had shifted and he wanted to be challenged more at work, and his views on life also started to shift.  He had definitely changed, in a good way.  I think for him, he was also going through some fundamental changes in his life in terms of what was happening in his head.

While pregnant I had been approached with a job which was near to home and allowed me real flexibility – it was not hang challenging, but the idea of easy really appealed at the time.

When Georgia was 28 days old, I headed to work. We had a lovely Xhosa speaking nanny at the time, and she was really wonderful with Georgia – I also used to work flexi time, so it allowed me opportunity to pop in and visit with her when ever I wanted to.

I felt okay, I went to work, I chased around collecting kids and bringing them home and life sort of ticked by.  The relationship between Kennith and I was limping by.  I was focused on the kids, and he was out conquering the world.

At a birthday party we attended, a mutual couple we are friends with, announced that they were in the process of starting divorce proceedings .  I always viewed my friend’s relationship as solid, and felt that if they could not make it who could?  Definitely not us based on our present state of affairs.

It really sent me into a bit of a tailspin and I began insisting that Kennith and I start doing couple therapy – I was not sure it would work, and had no idea what it involved, but if I was doing something, then I was sure I would start to feel better.  Things were pretty bad and we just did not know how to make it better.

Eventually Kennith agreed and we went along to couple counseling.  I thought that we might have found a 3rd person who could fix us, because hell, we sure as well were so far down the line, that we could not fix ourselves.