Thursday, July 25, 2013

Object Permanence & All That Jazz

There is a theory in early cognitive development called object permanence. The term is used to describe an child's ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard or touched.  I used to think Will had a magical 6th sense that triggered him to cry as soon as I turned the coffee maker on.  In his mind, I had vanished and he would cry out to me.  So the coffee would wait until I could reassure him that I had not disappeared.  At some point in our development we realize that things that can no longer be seen or felt or heard haven't disappeared, they're still there.  She's just traveled into the kitchen for some caffeine or as is the case this week, she has gone back to work.

I've had a lot of friends ask me how to make the transition from maternity leave back to full time employment outside of the home.  For starters, I have come to believe that lack of object permanence is the greatest gift our babies can give us.  If we linger just a little longer by their side until they drift to sleep and we can quietly sneak away, it anchors us in the bittersweet reality that this soft and sleepy, peaches and cream time with them is not permanent.  It does disappear far too quickly, so breathe that new baby smell in until it fills up your heart and brain and you can take it with you back to your little desk where you will be thrust back into projects and problems that for a few weeks will feel surreal and maybe even meaningless when compared to the life changing experiences you've just gone through.  Don't ever compare them, there is no comparison, but enjoy the time you spend tackling problems, helping colleagues, expanding your mind, perfecting your craft and yes, enjoying an uninterrupted hot cup of coffee.  Your life has so many facets and if you can see life as a wonderful un-choreographed jazz number, you won't strive for balance, you'll strive for rhythm and an ability to improvise.

After some time, the new normal life begins when you embrace, or at least accept that life demands that you work outside of the home to support your family.  Or, maybe you work by choice and God love those pioneering women who helped us have these choices.  I remember nights when I'd look at the clock and see it was 9:30 and immediately collapse onto the couch.  I'd feel something funny and wonder what I was sitting on and there was my work badge still hanging from my belt loop.  Work and home all tangled up together because it is more important for me to catch up on work when my babies are asleep so I can leave earlier during the day to see them when they're awake.  No balancing act, just the busy rhythm of this jazz number called my life.

I write this now so I can take my own advice.  In many ways, returning to work was harder this time because I knew the emotions that lie ahead, but I learned to not treat my last day of leave like the end of the world, just the end of this happy, blissful season.  In some ways it was much easier, mostly because of the warm welcome I received from my loving coworkers.  I'm lucky to work in a department that gives me the ability to find my own rhythm and make work and home life happy and whole.  But it was also easier because I have Jack to look to.  He is growing up into a curious, wonderful, bright, funny little boy and he's had two parents who have worked outside of the home.  I have loved, treasured and drunk in every single second of my time at home with Will.  I was so happy to have a spring baby.  Oh the places we'd go!  And you know what?  There were many days we stayed in bed, just holding space together.  And that was always enough.

When it comes to this time with Will, I had no object permanence.  I've known from the very beginning that this time would pass all too briefly and I know I made the best of it.  The constant feedings would slow down, his arms and legs would begin to pop out of his newborn clothes and larger sizes would be brought down where they had lovingly been stored when his brother outgrew them.  My body healed and his body grew and we went through it all together.  But now, object permanence is my best friend.  I am still his mom, all the time.  He's no more than a quick drive away if he needs me (or I need him).  And if I can't always be there to touch, smell or see him, he's carried right there in my heart, along with his "brudder" Jack.

The weekend before I returned to work, a massive storm blew through our neighborhood.  Trees fell, houses were damaged, sidewalks crumbled when massive roots came out of the ground.  Things that were there for years were just gone in a gust of nature's mighty fury.  I would love to hold on to this time a little while longer.  In some ways, returning to work feels like those trees who get uprooted.  But over time, after a few weeks of rehearsal, the jazz ensemble finds its rhythm.  I wonder if my transition back to work will be reflected in the clean up of my neighborhood.  It all feels so messy and disorienting now, but little by little the clean up has begun and as the weeks go by, the neighborhood will be itself again and I will have remembered what it's like to work through lunch to pick them up a little early.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 Nothing gold can stay, but if you look for it, the gold seeps in through the cracks of your life in new ways.  Days spent napping together in bed are replaced by joyful reunions at the end of the day and after all, weekends were invented for naps and you still have those. Maternity leave is borrowed time, a stolen season.  I enjoyed every second of that season.  Now I'm back to my little cubicle surrounded by picture frames of my life's greatest treasures.  On my first day back, Trevor texted me a photo of Will smiling brightly after his first bottle of the day with the following message. 

"Mama! Have a good day! We are proud of you!"

 Oh my heart.  And just like that I remembered that this little family is doing so well.  This little family has managed to cling to each other despite all the business life tries to throw our way.  We have sweet moments every day.  

My little spring baby has grown so much over these past 12 weeks and for that matter, so has Jack and so have I and so has Trevor.  The sun rises and sets on these two boys and their dad and I am a better person for loving them and having them love me.  I hope that the next time someone asks me what I do I can have the presence and clarity to tell them that I'm a full time mom who gets to have this fun gig at this cool company that allows me to help support this crazy awesome family of mine.

So the next time you hear Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington or the great Billie Holiday and their music sounds messy and alive, you'll think of this little family and maybe your own too.  And maybe you'll throw out your notion of balance and just dance to the rhythm of your life.

The last day of maternity leave, July 23, 2013

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