Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chronicles of a Rookie Mom: Work-Life Balance

The parlance of a working parent took center-stage last week thanks to a live BBC newscast blooper of a scholar who was video-bombed by his children, one-at-a-time, seconds within the interview. As the professor struggled to maintain his focus by holding back the toddler, her younger sibling bulldozed into the shot on his walker, followed by the mom who, head-down, dragged them both off-camera.

Mother and Son, my 7-month old flashing his new set
It literally caused a tectonic shift in social media, going viral and sparking laughter, sympathy and even controversy. Some didn't like the muddled facial expression from the father (why didn't he smile more?) and others judged the body language expressed by the mother as too docile. But putting aside prudes, the highlight was the rapport of the 8-month old who swiftly skid into the room like he deserves the spotlight.

Hey, that's my son's age! And working-at-home parent? Hey! That's me. So while I have yet to be noticed by the folks at BBC, I surely felt a striking empathetic bond with this dad.

My favorite take-away was a hypothetical scenario of how a mother would have handled the situation. Aside from the smoking gun accuracy, it so happens that I am currently knee-deep in trying to balance my full-time professional job with my role as a full-time mother. Notice I do not refer to motherhood as a job. It is silly, in my opinion, to equalize the two, because they are in fact very different. The adage "'Motherhood is the most important job for women" is problematic on many fronts, but for me it is the definition of 'job' here.

Being a mom, and a parent, is a role. And like any role, it has responsibilities. Anyone who has written a resume knows that every job has several defined functions. For example, journalists (job title) have more or less the same duties of reporting, interviewing, writing, editing and meeting deadlines. If you can't write or meet deadlines, you will be fired. On the other hand, if a journalist exceeds his employer's expectations, he or she may be compensated with a promotion, a raise or perhaps (considering the industry's condition) an assurance of job security.

It is obviously very different for parenting. It's impossible to generalize what all parents, especially moms, do - considering the vast-possibility of circumstances that can alter the composition of parenting.

Some moms have one child, others have three or four, some have children with developmental challenges while others have 'gifted' kids. Some moms are blessed with angelic children and others are tested with babies who cry bloody murder five hours a day. Many moms dip in and out of the workforce while other moms worked full-time two weeks after giving birth. The list goes on.

The point is, because every mom's circumstance and preference is unique to her, it makes any attempt to reduce it to a 'job' pointedly flawed.

This brings me to my individual lexicon of work-life balance. What's it like to be a full-time mom of a separation-anxiety stricken 8-month old with a full-time work-from-home job? Well, it looks a lot like this parody. Except the SWAT team reference, of course! And the absence of deafening cries. Which reminds me, if anyone wants to come up with a new torture method, please borrow my son.  I don't know what happened to my easy-going happy go lucky baby. The difference between 7-months and 8-months is maddening.

I realize the last time I really got into the mommy life on this blog was when I was going back to work. That was like, jeez, six months ago. A lot has happened since then. At three months, he was really developing with his facial expressions, always smiling and laughing. At five months, he conquered traveling by plane and joined our trip to the snow-capped mountains in Colorado. At six months, he was sitting and eating real food. By seven months, he got his first set of teeth and slept all night. Progress after progress. It was a bright future for mom. I even considered taking a more demanding job.

Then came the corridors of eight months. The arc. The smiles and giggles became dormant and out came marathonic aggressive cries. The sleep-trained baby who slept all night suddenly hates sleep (he sleeps only 9 hours when it should be 11) and wakes up twice every night. And here's the sweet/taxing part: He is obsessed with me. I mean, I am flattered really. But I was just as happy when you stared at me all the time without you needing me to hold you and carry you. I had read that at this age, babies often go through a separation-anxiety and they fully realize who their parents are. Especially mom. And they think - this is cute - they think mom and baby are one. We are the same person. So if I'm not there, baby will panic. Baby will cry. A lot. Intensely. A frisson of Anger and tormenting of mom. And dad. Yes, even dad is like a stranger now. It is really draining.

Consider this 'phase', which I hope to God it is, with the fact that I am working my desk job full-time at home.

People ask me all the time, "How do you do it?" and you know, by 7-months I was modestly saying, "Oh, it's not too bad. I make it work. Dad helps out. Malik is a pretty good baby."

Well. Not. Any. More.

Now, I seriously go to bed thinking, "How the F did I do it today?" and then "How the F will I do it again tomorrow?"

Look, I'm the last person to be ungrateful.

The work-from-home aspect has advantages that are difficult to quantify because there are simply too many! For starters, I save at least two hours everyday by evading the traffic-coated commute. Two hours is a lot of time! Second, I save a lot of money. No more $40 weekly tank refills, no more $120 monthly toll charges to my account, and no more eating lunch, breakfast or grabbing coffee ($50 a week on average). Now those were only the advantages before being a mom. After entering the parameters of motherhood, I am forgoing the pernicious cost of full-time daycare, in my area around $1,200 a month!

The added bonus of being the primary care-taker of your baby is, of course, immeasurable. I get to keep him at the comfort of our home with all his entertainment, food and unconditional nurturing at his disposal. I can take him to the library or the park (during lunch hours) I get to witness daily milestones and I literally watch him grow.

But then I am also there during all his needy and clingy demands. Before, he was just bored so I had to constantly transfer him to different 'stations' I have set-up for him (set-up as in I have to set it up and dismantle over and over again all day because of space-issues) from his swing, jumper, the play gym, the laptop (Naruto) and then feeding him, putting him to sleep, etc. That's not including the additional work of homemaker duties like laundry (which, thanks to Malik and his throw-up carnage, endless), cooking, keeping things looking semi-decent. Now, before you say, "Umm, aren't you a feminist? Why is this YOUR job?" Well, it so happens that if you are the spouse/parent that is home all day, the lion's share just falls on you. And believe me, even with help - it's still a LOT of work.

This is all in addition to my full-time desk-job. Yes, 8 hours a day!

Unread Reading Material Stacking Up. 
If that sounded exhausting. It was. But then the 8-month hell broke loose. I am anchored down by his demands. I literally had a meltdown last weekend. I cried. From anger. From exhaustion. A 'round the clock workload padded with an unsatisfied colicky baby crying can do that to you.

And then new thoughts swirl in your head. "Should I just have another one to get it over with?" and "Why is daycare so freaking expensive!!" and the worst, "Why is it always on the women to have to worry about these things!" Then I remember scenes from shows like HBO's "Big Little Lies" where the high-powered executive mom (Renata) is demonized as angry, condescending and a bitch because she seems to only be screaming at her poor husband. And then I get more mad. Like why does society portray these women so monstrously? Does anyone realize how much work she is doing to be where she is? I mean I'm not even close to my career end-goal and can barely find the time to read!

I  feel heavy-hearted sometimes, especially when I see former colleagues who are getting published and moving up in a career-trajectory I once aspired to follow (and temporarily gave up) or friends who continue to chronically travel on a whim. (No, I will not be able to trek with this baby. That's like asking me to take baby to the movie theater. It is technically possible, but it would drive everyone insane).

By 8 months, baby can feed himself
That being said, I don't want to gnaw at the blessings because I am aware of how very, very lucky I am. Truth be told, minus the moments I feel like I am turning into a knucklehead for allowing my unread New Yorker stack up, I am overall managing just fine. More than fine. My work productivity has increased, my confidence as a mother is solid, I am more active in my professional organizations and have yet to flake out of any social obligations. And all my friends know, I am still conquering the kitchen whipping out dinner (almost) everyday.

And everyday, throughout the day, I enjoy my son. He is adorable and fun, sweet and my heart still drops when he laughs. He also picked up some karate moves, which he sports only when I change his diaper (too much Naruto influence?)

 I love how he can feed himself and I love watching him pick up morsels of food and put it in his mouth. It's a really 'grown up' moment for me, especially since it looks like he's skipping crawling all together. (Thankfully, for me). But oh.my.god can he scrape away the sanity from me. Like yesterday, he just angry cried for 30 minutes straight for no reason. I am standing right in front of him, folding laundry, glaring at him with all my attention. Still, it was not enough. I have to pick him up and walk around, otherwise, RAWR.

Some might say, "Hey, if it's so hard...why don't you just quit?" or "Why don't you put him in daycare?"

Those are valid questions. But you know, I have this natural aptitude for efficiency. The work is still being done. If not better than before. And while I admit that I am worn out from doing it all, everyday, the only take-away every night is, "I need to do better tomorrow."

That is my solace. I still have hope. Not just of my son phasing out of this very mind-numbing stage, but of my ability to conquer. Keeping up with the stamina and the neurotic need to do it all and do it right. That's why any attempt of downplaying my day-to-day struggles, with comments like, "Wait until he starts walking" or "Wait until you have two kids.." really doesn't work. Because when you are enamored with the drive, it cannot be easily knocked down. And that is how many of us working moms keep going. And kicking ass.

I hope BBC takes notice.

1 comment:

  1. First of all your baby is such a sweet heart. Secondly I love how you manage your baby,home and work altogether. You are an inspiration for a mother like me.