While my daughter is still an infant, I am trying to adhere to a schedule of spending at least two solid weekdays alone with her, despite the fact that I own and run a business. “Alone,” in our household, means that my husband (who also works for himself) might tag along and spend some portion of the day with us, as well. This is quite obviously living the dream and I mean that in all sincerity. Like so many people, all I ever wanted in life was to create a family and to have one in which the adults prefer palling around together to any other activity. The addition of the portly, charming baby (who, I might add, has been impressing even total strangers of late with her glittering, two tooth-bud smile, full-body laugh and enthusiastic hand-clapping) is just the definitive bonus. We have these epic moments, often only the two of us, where we find ourselves sitting on a blanket in the park in the middle of the day, staring up at the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. We are saturated in, practically oozing happiness. But lest you think we are busy having it all (wait for it, Schadenfreudes) you should know that organizationally, domestically, we exist in a state of utter chaos---a ceaseless game of whack-a-mole. There are, as they say, absolutely not enough hours in the day and it is my perpetual struggle to prioritize appropriately. On the days when I am solely focused on the baby, I make an effort to really and truly be present during her waking hours. I have the great privilege of a somewhat flexible schedule and the even greater privilege of being her mother. It is in this spirit that I strive to keep work emails and tasks tucked away in my pocket or purse. I look at the mounting pile of laundry or the creeping clutter in the apartment and decide that it can wait. I shrug off the light sense of despair over the two primed walls that we were supposed to paint last winter. I tell myself that she will never be exactly this age again and that I will look back on this first year and know I didn’t miss a thing.
I am acutely aware that most women (or men, for that matter) do not even have the option to do this and I feel almost a sense of responsibility to parents everywhere to take full advantage. Of course, this means I have to work harder and smarter when I am on the clock. It also means that I am on the clock longer and at odd hours. Ultimately, it means that we sort of live in a college dorm and have to run to the bodega at 7:30 PM to buy an $8 roll of toilet paper because we ran out and nobody had the chance to get more.
Meanwhile, as is my wont, I am plagued by the notion that everyone else must be doing it better---they have to be, right? During a recent trip to the playground this was confirmed, as I zeroed in on a few other mothers and observed their whole set-up. Each one seemed to have the diaper bag completely dialed in, down to the perfectly portioned organic snack foods in an eco-friendly/non-petroleum/possibly Swedish baggie. Their strollers were tidy and their children even had on accessories. They had brought galvanized tins of French sidewalk chalk and appeared to have organized play-dates. When I arrived on the scene, my daughter was assiduously chewing on the rubber case from my iPhone (almost certainly made in China). My stroller was pandemonium---it included incongruous items like dog poop bags, my diluted vitamin water bottle and a calcified, half-gummed whole wheat dinner roll from a restaurant adventure the day before. I plunked my daughter on the padded playground surface and watched as she crunched fall leaves between her fingers and attempted to stuff them in her mouth. She was not wearing shoes or a bow in her hair but she seemed pretty thrilled. We did not have an adorable German tube of bubbles (why is everything good European?) and I hadn’t even remembered my nursing cover. We embarrassed the family with an awkward lean-to situation using a cotton drape, which she repeatedly tore away with a whipping motion, exposing my breasts to the most populous borough in the city.
So, I am coming around to the idea that I actually only have so much bandwidth. The letting go of certain practical elements of daily life in favor of more time for human relating seems a fairly obvious choice to me. While I aspire to be a person who deftly balances her infant on one hip while folding fitted sheets or doing the taxes, it turns out that I only can/am willing to (?) do one thing at a time. Most tasks, therefore, are sort of shined on or phoned in until they have the good fortune to be in the pole position. I keep the goals small, so then when we have a fully stocked fridge or I send out a birthday gift, I feel like I have summitted Everest or passed the California bar.
Although I mostly feel good about the way I am partitioning my time for now, like every working mother I grapple with needing and/or wanting to be in two places at once. Who knows how this will all change as she gets older and as my business evolves? It is a little disheartening to realize that I did seem to need the “excuse” of a baby to finally feel justified in prioritizing enjoyment. Why didn’t I do this before? And why do I still feel like I’m “admitting to something” when I tell you I spend entire days, in the middle of the week, not just being with my baby, but actively trying to do little else?
Needless to say, I want my daughter to be proud of her mother as a role model and an entrepreneur. But I am hoping she doesn’t have to feel this from a remote place. I want her to experience that I am as available to her as I am to my work. She will doubtless have a wide array of things to discuss with her therapist about her home and family. I figure I won’t just hand her the line that her mother always had too many things on her plate. I want her to work a little harder for her gripes.