Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

March 05, 2001

Why I quit my job

It’s Thursday and I am supposed to be at work. But something happened as the date for my return to the office drew nearer: I realized there was no way I could be apart from Lucy all day long.

Perhaps I should have seen this coming. Growing up, I used to sleep in bed with all of my stuffed animals, because I was afraid some would get hurt feelings if they were banished to the floor. And once I got my dog, Misty, we went nearly everywhere together.

The first year I had her, I was a high school teacher, and I brought her to class. She would occasionally help herself to the delicious sandwiches in brown bags that sprouted like mushrooms in the hallways, which meant I was always shelling out lunch money to the students she robbed. But it was a good life, even if we were poor and Misty was fat.

Once I started working in less dog-friendly offices, I started dropping her off at my parents’ house every morning so that she would have quality day care. And of course, she joined Adam and me on our honeymoon. (Sorry, Adam.)

But by the time Lucy was born, I finally had a job I loved, and I was working with a group of people I respected. And Misty was a happy, well-adjusted dog who would only occasionally binge in the cat box. So, I figured this day-care thing could work. I would find an excellent caregiver for my human child, and instead of just dropping off Misty for day care, I’d deliver Lucy, too.

What I really wanted to do was find a nanny. That way, Lucy would have someone devoted to her needs all day long. It’s not that I think day cares are bad because children generally only get divided attention there. Any stay-at-home mom with more than one child faces that problem. And there are some really great day cares out there. But Lucy couldn’t even sit up on her own, and I didn’t want to imagine her stuck on the floor, in need of some attention, and having to wait even a second for it.

It’s one thing for her to have to wait for me, as she sometimes does when I’m putting clothes in the dryer or dishes in the dishwasher. (I can’t believe how many times a day I find myself standing in front of some appliance. I now count them among my closest confidantes.) Anyhow, it always feels worse to have someone else treat your child as you might. And not just because you have to pay them to do it. It’s like when you were a kid and you heard another kid say something mean about your brother: It’s one thing for you to say it, but a punch in the nose for someone else who does.

I started my nanny search on the Internet so that I wouldn’t have to have any scary human contact in the first stages of the hunt. That way, I could learn all I needed, without having to let anyone know I was a total naïve. Also, I didn’t want Lucy to hear. She doesn’t talk yet, but you never know what she understands and doesn’t. For all we know, babies play dumb because it takes time to form a perfect parental manipulation strategy. Once their plan is formed, they’re free to start talking. I’m pretty sure that’s what Lucy is doing all day. She’s already quite good at manipulating me, and that’s even without saying “Mama,” “need” or “sparkly tube top.”

Anyway, the nanny-search sites proved to be a fine place to start. While I am sure there are many excellent caregivers there, I managed to find all the flakes immediately. My favorite was the one who said she “didn’t believe in discipline, only positive redirection of negative inclinations.” The sentiment is nice, of course, and something I’m mostly on board with, but I still didn’t like the sound of someone clapping her incense-scented hands together and saying, “Lucy, I applaud your interest in that hot stove. But might I interest you in something a little cooler? The refrigerator, perhaps?”

Also, it’s shocking how many of these nannies are only 18 or 19 years old. I am far enough from that age to think it’s very young, and near enough to remember the things I did at that age. And that’s what has me fully freaked out by the prospect of letting someone like I was near my child. When I was 19, it was pretty much all the effort I could muster to wash my jeans once every five wearings, and my sheets once a quarter. Making my bed was something I did to find the nickels to trade for the quarters that would help me afford the Laundromat. For food, I ate curly fries, coffee and the occasional bagel. I know. It’s gross. I’m disgusting. But I was known as the clean freak in my dorm because I showered daily. So you see the influence I was under.

It is obviously unfair to judge all 19-year-olds by my own past — many women that age are excellent mothers themselves — but I just couldn’t see myself handing Lucy over to someone with fry breath and foul jeans, even if those things are only in my imagination. So I called my mom, who works four days a week as an elementary school nurse. What better person, I thought, to beg for support than someone who was not only sanitary, but would know what to do for a scraped knee or case of cooties? And what’s more, she loves Lucy.

Mom was willing to take care of Lucy on her day off. I couldn’t think of anything better than this, except for staying home myself to take care of baby. But I put that thought out of my head, because I felt a duty to return to work — my team was counting on me, I liked my job, and we needed the money to straighten Lucy’s teeth, and maybe send her to college. (If you knew about the sad but exciting history of Adam’s teeth, you would know why we’re already thinking about dental work, before she even has any chompers of her own.)

My boss was willing to let me work part time — say, three days a week, and one of those from home. This meant I had to find someone to care for Lucy only one day per week. For that one day, I thought, I could trust her to another pair of hands.

And so every morning when I woke up, I told myself, “Today will be the day you find a nanny.” But I kept finding reasons that made this task impossible. Lucy’s feet needed kissing. She was hungry, and needed to nurse. Her cheeks needed a little baby lotion, because they kept getting chapped on our walks. Or, I had something I needed to write, either a column for Encarta, or another entry for this journal of Lucy’s first year.

Days, then weeks, went by, and Lucy had no nanny. And, as I usually do when there is a task I keep putting off, I stopped to think for a minute about what was really going on. That minute turned into hours, and then days, while I thought about what I had been doing with my life, and how it compared to the life I thought I would have when I was small.

Back then, I had big dreams. I would be a writer, I thought. And write I did — little-girl short stories that were long on humor but short on form. As I grew up, I dreamed of chuffing down America’s highways in a pickup, with my dog by my side. We’d devour the red painted skies, beaten copper lakes and bristling evergreens framed by the mouth of our windshield. The sights would sustain us, because there was no way we’d make any money doing this.

My wise and well-meaning parents advised me to have something to fall back on, just in case. And, because I am more or less a good daughter who didn’t think she deserved any special luck anyway, I did just that. From the Monday after I got my college diploma to just a few weeks ago, I had been a devoted working woman. I taught, I worked at a newspaper, I built Web sites, then managed teams that did this, and then I became the editor of Considering that I was falling back, I was doing a pretty good job of landing in higher and softer places each time.

And I loved the journey. No, I was not doing what I always set out to do. But life isn’t about doing what you thought you’d be doing, and getting what you thought you’d get.

Or is it?

To be honest, I never saw myself wearing elbow-length poop gloves while hunched over a grinning, gummy baby who is thrilled with the trumpeting flurry that has come out of her peach-shaped bottom. And I never thought I would find that sort of thing to be hilarious. Or that I would love that little lump of wiggly, messy flesh so much.

Sometimes, though, life hands you just the lesson you needed. If I really wanted to be a writer, then that’s what I should have spent my time doing — not worrying about failure, and ensuring it completely by building a career doing other things.

That’s one of the funny things about having a child. Suddenly, and for the rest of your life, you’re out of the kind of time it takes to follow a dream with your body and your soul. There is no packing up the pickup truck and hitting the highways with a Snapple and a peanut butter sandwich.

That’s because there is a baby who needs you. A baby who will become a child who will become a teen-ager who will become an adult and fly off on her own. But by then, many years will have separated you from the dream you started out with — so many that it’s possible there are not enough years left to get back to that sacred, trembling place where it started. And even if you could try, the walls of habit may have grown too high. You might not survive an attempt on them. You might never find solid ground again.

When you see that kind of a future, you ask yourself what you would tell your child if she was pondering what to do in this situation, whether to go back to work and be safe — or to follow her heart, and try to find a way to blend the old dream of being a writer with the new one of raising a happy child.

And then the answer gets so easy. Your heart, silly. You follow your heart.

So that is what I have done. I will not have as much money as I would have had I continued to work at a regular job, though I am extremely lucky to have the work that I have, and a husband who believes in me enough to let me take a chance.

And I do not have as much time to write as I would have had before Lucy came along, although I do manage to find the time. Lucy owns the better part of my days and my nights and she deserves every minute.

Often, the best I can do is peck one-handed while I hold her in the crook of my other arm. While the quiet click of hobbled typing delights her, I find myself thrilled by the beating of her heart, which I can feel with my free hand.

It’s a tiny knock-knock, like an acorn bouncing across a stone courtyard, counting out seconds, symbolizing life, and reminding me that whatever comes, I’m finally traveling the right path.


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