Thursday, November 3, 2011

Don't Be a Fool, Stay in School

So, here goes.

I'm glad Jackson is in daycare. Er, school.

Side note (aka, just the facts, ma'am): His daycare is actually accredited as a school, since it is a certified Montessori program. They have an infant classroom that takes babies from 3 months to around 18 months, after which they transition to a toddler classroom that holds kids up to 3 years, and then there is a pre-K and a Kindergarten program. Parents who have put their older kids through public school Kindergarten have all told me they intend to put their younger kids in the Montessori Kindergarten because they believe it is better. And since Jackson has a fall birthday that would make him one of the youngest kids in a public school Kindergarten class, this might be a good option for us in a zillion years when the time is right because my baby will never be that big (denial, it's not just a river in Egypt!). The teachers have childhood education degrees, the kids all know each other, and the parents are really involved. It's everything I could hope for as a learning and social environment for Jackson and a place to meet other parents for KB and me.

So, anyway, when I returned to my full-time job back in January, when Jackson was 14 weeks old, I was worked to the bone right away and I got sick with repeated mastitis and sinus infections and crippling anxiety and I quit THE END. KB and I were in a financial situation where we could live without my salary and that suited me just fine. I had a vague notion I might return to work, but I desperately wanted to find a way to make it more flexible, part-time, and overall less stressful. I didn't object to sending Jackson to school full-time in general, but it added to my then-horrific level of post-partum anxiety about Making It All Work and Being Everything to Everybody. That shit will kill you. I actually kept him in school while I stayed home, starting seeing my therapist again, and just relaxed my schedule with him so that I dropped him off whenever I felt like it, after we'd spent time together in the morning playing and having breakfast and maybe going for a walk, and then I picked him up as soon as I felt like I had gotten some chores done around the quiet house and felt ready to give him my undivided attention for the afternoon before KB came home. Lucky for me, he warmed up to the teachers and his classmates/friends right away, and they are as thick as thieves to this day. They've learned to crawl together, walk together, and play hide-and-seek together every weekday. He gets visibly excited when we pull into the parking lot. It's about 6 hours a day of pure playtime joy. And they have a Spanish and a music teacher. Jackson plays a mean tambourine. Educational. And Jackson has never suffered a single serious episode of separation anxiety (he whines for me sometimes, but never throws a fit). He's learned to play with other children, to respect other adults, and is by everyone-who-meets-him's account an extremely happy and easy-going kid. Huzza. Oh, and to squash one favorite counterpoint, he's had just one ear infection (which occurred while I was home with him), only a couple of minor colds, and one bout of pinkeye. Kid is healthy as a horse.

When I decided I was ready to begin picking up freelance work, and the contracts came in, and then more contracts came in, I was careful not to overdo it. I had some wicked anxiety and do not desire to fight that demon again. I successfully avoided Better Living Through Chemistry (and no judgement passed on anyone who is on that path), and have had a successful transition back into working on a part-time, flexible basis. It doesn't hurt that I make as much doing this part-time as I did on full-time salary (no corporate overhead, higher consulting rates). This sounds like a humblebrag, and I guess it totally is, but I am now in a position to make more doing less and I have never been happier about it. I get to interpret cool clinical data, write cool regulatory documents outlining the key results, and help send it off to the FDA. I get to run meetings with other scientists and statisticians who listen to what I have to say and then do what I say. I get to learn new things and use what I've learned and it pays bills. To me, that rules. And I need this to be the best "me" I can be. Otherwise I just see myself sitting alone in a room peeling yellow wallpaper until I die. (Where are my literary nerds?) And our family is better off financially for it. We live more comfortably; we know Jackson will be able to go to college. And it's the only way we afforded IVF (times three) in the first place, and are able to consider it again, to even HAVE children to think about putting in school or not. It makes our life as we know it possible.

But none of that is really the point. The whole situation boils down to this: I like having time to myself. I like being able to engage in something I find intellectually challenging (work) and also having time to finish the laundry or prepare Jackson's meals in advance or sip a cup of coffee in silence. I like the break. And it has taken me a while to accept that this does not make me a bad, or in any way worse, mama. It makes me human. It's just how my brain is hardwired and my chemistry balances. And I can tell you, when I send Jackson off to school, and then pick him up, it ensures my time with him feels special and that I'm not too worn down from a long day of chasing him around and the random toddler-ish standoffs and struggles (see also: tantrums) to enjoy playing with him or to do the necessary wrangling to get him into a highchair or in his sleepsack for bedtime.

And there's no way this doesn't sound judgy to the stay-at-home mamas, but I like to think that I am sending an important message to Jackson as he grows and learns that both mama and daddy earn a living for our family. My job clearly is different from KB's, and is sort of a hybrid of stay-at-home and work, but I like that Jackson will know that ladies bring home the bacon, too. I will be proud to tell my son that his mama is a doctor. A lady doctor, y'all.

Second side note: I detest getting mail addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. B___" almost as much as I loathe seeing something addressed to "Mrs. K. B_____." ZOMG I did not surrender my identity for realz use my goddamned name and by the way I am a doctor. Full stop.

So, to my bloggy friends who stay home with your bebes, I salute you. You do what I cannot, and I am okay with that. And to my bloggy friends who work and send your bebes to school, I salute you, too. We all do what we must to make ends meet for our families, and to enrich ourselves. And THAT makes us the best mamas we can be.


Trinity said...

You know, it truly is unique to each family's needs, to each mama's needs. And that is precisely what pisses me off about the whole Staying Home Is Best line of shit. This obviously works out exceptionally well for you, KB, and Jackson, and that is the only thing that matters. THIS is what is best.

I hate identifying myself as a SAHM. When I've met some of my new neighbors, and they ask what I "do", I tell them that I'm taking some time off to be home with Arlo, and they get all righteous about it, like I am superwoman for making that choice. It makes me enormously uncomfortable and creeps me out, if I'm being honest. They don't know me. They don't know what my career or education is/was.

Staying home was such an unexpected thing for me. For a long time we talked about N staying home. It made much more financial sense, and I will say that I loved the idea of this kind of non-traditional set-up. I loved saying,"Oh, we're thinking that my husband might stay home." And then we kind of tabled that idea, which, in hindsight, was a very good thing. 'Cause if this mama had been forced to stay at my job? I WOULD have needed my own rest cure, I WOULD have needed to be locked away in a room by my husband, and I WOULD have been trying to free the ladies behind the wallpaper.

jenicini said...

So true DR. Jen! :D Um, and yeah, it's pretty awesome to make more money for doing less! Brag away. Jackson's school sounds absolutely fabulous as well. I've thought about finding a preschool for E next year just so I can have a little down time during the week to be myself and get crap done! Teaching online classes has definitely kept my toe in the education world and given me an outlet from toddler world. I wouldn't change it for a minute. :) Love this post!

Jen said...

I work 85%, so I have Tuesdays off. Our daycare makes us pay for full time regardless of how much Liam actually goes, so I do take him on Tuesdays. I really relish that time for me to get stuff done for ME. (and laundry, Target, etc). A lot of people have said "Good for you!" about the decision to take him on Tuesdays, but it always makes me feel like I need to say "well, we have to pay for Tuesdays anyway....and he really likes it there!". *SIGH* And *I* really like my time for me.

Rebecca said...

Personally I think its a wonderful environment that you have your son in. The very fact that he'll go to kindergarten knowing his classmates before hand is a boon.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you have found the best solution for your family, and it does not matter what anyone or everyone says. If all of you are happy, then this is the most important thing. There are good and bad sides to everything, sahm or working mum included, I am happy you got most of the good sides.

You should brag about getting more moulah for working less and being in a grown up relationship with your work peers. I hated how I was looked down upon at one of my jobs by my colleagues, who were dumber and frankly had studied less than me, but they were consultants paid more than the employed me. I was doing two jobs actually, one that had nothing whatsoever to do with my education, and they were patronising. I so loved it when I told them "ta-ta, dahlings, I quit and move to France". They had no one to replace me with on the spot and they begged me to stay some more. Double pleasure to say no thanks again. So kuddos to you. I salute you! :-)

Anonymous said...

Hello. I'm here from the fight, erm discussion, over at bunny's. I lost my marbles after my son's birth and I absolutely needed to be home with him (plus, he was, sadly, not an easy baby). I feel like I made the right choice for us at that time and I feel kind of privileged that I was able to make that choice. That said, I DREAM of a situation like yours. I agree that Jackson's school sounds wonderful and he will be benefit from it. We also NEED time to ourselves to recharge both intellectually, physically and emotionally. I don't regret staying home for these past few years but I seriously aspire to get to a point where my life looks more like yours. I think you are doing amazing!

bunny said...

How funny, I was just writing about daycare...

I am very much hoping that I will find myself in this place (or a similar one) after our Adjustment. To me, it sounds like you did amazingly hard work and a lot of soul searching to create this situation (I mean, even aside from the qualifications and general awesomeness that allow you to have a successful freelance career), and it's very impressive and I think quite admirable, and part of your general abide no bullshit attitude.

I do think if Bun Bun ends up in daycare it will not be school. It will be daycare. For whatever reason I'm gravitating away from places that have a curriculum. Maybe I'll seek input on that at some point. Just wanted to make the point that daycare is not always school, though obviously it is in your case.

JB said...

Bunny -- I should be clearer. I call it school because Roccie told me to. :) And it's truly a school for the older kids, but the infant room is just run like a daycare. No curriculum, no schedule, just on-demand childcare tailored to each kid. We do have parent-teacher "conferences" to talk about how Jackson is doing, if KB and I have any concerns or suggestions (how to deal with emerging tantrums or his refusal to sit still for diaper changes....). And there are planned field trips and Halloween parades and the like. We chose Montessori because they have a unique philosophy that children should learn to be independent on their own time and by interacting with each other, not on some curriculum schedule or school board-selected time frame. I like that they are teaching kids to share, how to sit at a table and eat together, etc. and not just changing diapers and putting them down for naps.

Roccie said...

I am so busy picking up what you are laying down. Plus no one ever listened to my ideas before, so I love you more for accepting our lingo: School.

My school is the same way. Yeah it is a school to the big kids, but daycare for Toddlerina. But wait. Toddlerina adores being big. Why wouldn't I call it school? Plus it helps me to remember just how very much she gets out of the place.

Do you know a couple of times she actually looked at Rocco and me and told us she wanted to go to school on a wkend? I said, get the fuck up Rocco. We need to ramp up our Fun Factor immediately! She loves the joint and I do too. I swear by the Montessori and what they have taught us over the years. I am certainly a better parent for it.

I celebrate your professional awesomeness. I love reading about your success. Keep it coming.

kdactyl said...

Soooo love this post. I wish I could find more balance like you have...but I knew very early on with my first child that I was not meant to be home full time after being in the professional world for 15+ years prior to that. And this is coming from a former Nanny who basically LOVED being home with other people's kids in her 20's! But I didn't have babies until my 40's and by then...I was kind of a different person. Ideally I would like to work 3-4 days a week vs 5, but for now...that is what I need to do for our family. But my kids are happy at a great "school" and we are doing our best to offer them, emotional, intellectual and financial security. So happy you have found a way to balance out all the needs (yours being just as important as Jackson's and the Mister's).