My maternity leave is due to expire in July. I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone by. I remember my last day of work vividly- filled with anticipation about the baby coming, happy to have some alone time with Charlotte before her sibling would arrive, as well as some sadness to leave my jobs behind for a whole year. I knew I would miss the work and miss my colleagues, but I also sensed how quickly the time would go and knew that I would be facing my return in what would feel like a heartbeat.
To say that my maternity leave has not gone as planned would be an understatement. It was a little over a year ago when I was putting plans in place for my leave. I decided to stop working when I would be about 35 weeks along- Charlotte came along unexpectedly at 36 weeks, and I wanted to be prepared in case this baby decided to make a similar entrance. I was hoping to go longer than 36 weeks, as it would give me a much-needed break before the baby came. We had planned to keep Charlotte in daycare for 4 mornings per week- Kathy, her daycare provider, was a wonderful caregiver, and Charlotte had friends there and had really flourished under her care. This would give me time alone with the baby, time with both kids, and time alone to rest and prepare before the baby came. Tragically, only days before I was due to go on leave, Kathy had to close her daycare due to a cancer diagnosis, and she passed away only a few months later. This was a terrible loss. Kathy often reminded me of my mom, and we really miss her. Obviously, though of a great deal less importance than this tragedy, this required a last-minute change of plans for our daycare arrangements.
Fortunately, my in-laws have always been very helpful in supplementing our childcare needs. They offered to take Charlotte off my hands whenever I needed them, and I happily took them up on their offer. We also decided to enroll Charlotte in nursery school in September, which certainly proved to be a good decision.
In July, however, I had finished work, was heavily pregnant, and still needed to entertain and care for an active three year old. The very first day of my maternity leave was a hot and sunny one. I decided to take Charlotte out to the park. I envisioned a happy morning, watching her play on the slide and run around the playground, followed perhaps by going out for lunch. I started getting Charlotte ready, the first step being the application of sunscreen, what with it being such a scorching day. She of course wanted to do it herself, and I complied- big mistake. Almost immediately, she rubbed her sunscreen covered hands over her eyes, and soon was howling in pain. I did everything I could to make it better- splashed water into her eyes, washed her face and hands to prevent any further damage, but she was just too far gone. I convinced her (and myself) that we should still go to the park, and off we went, Charlotte with her red, swollen eyes, crying the whole way in the stroller, refusing to get out and play at the park, and eventually crying herself to sleep on our way home, and me, fighting back my own tears of frustration and feeling entirely inadequate.
On day two, we got a little further into the day before disaster struck. We actually made it to the park, where she happily ran around and played, and then I brought out the bubbles. Charlotte was ecstatic- she loves bubbles, and so we played with the bubbles for awhile before she went back to running around the playground. Now, there were a lot of kids around, and I’m still fuzzy on the details, but somehow, unbeknownst to me, the bubbles spilled on my phone. I didn’t realize this had happened until we got home and I tried to use my phone and it wouldn’t work. The screen simply glowed blankly, and I could see the unmistakable sheen of bubble solution trapped underneath. I’m guessing that some bubbles must have spilled or dripped onto the phone at the park, seeped into the phone and under the screen, and, since it was such a hot day, dried on the outside so that I didn’t notice anything was amiss when I packed it away with the rest of our things upon our departure.
So, two days into my maternity leave, and I had traumatized Charlotte with sunscreen and needed a new phone. Not exactly a rousing success. In fact, I was wishing I was still at work, and dealing with simple problems like infiltrating IVs or having to redo blood work because the sample clotted. Those problems have solutions, whereas I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed and apprehensive about how I would handle caring for a newborn and Charlotte.
Things did get better, at least for awhile. My in-laws would take Charlotte for the day at least a couple times a week, and the baby waited until Mark was finished teaching summer school to arrive. That was pretty much the best timing possible- it meant that Mark could do all of Charlotte’s care for the month of August and I could focus on the baby. And then Charlotte started nursery school in September, which provided me with some relief from the chaos of caring for an infant and a three year old on about three hours of broken sleep. And then, of course, things got a bit crazy around the end of September, which you can read about here.
And so here I am- not where I thought I would be a year ago. Given everything that has happened, and what Penelope’s current needs are, Mark and I have decided that I will take an extended leave to stay home with her for now. This was not an easy decision to come to- I truly love being a nurse, and I worked hard to get to where I am. And to be honest, I haven’t exactly felt like a smashing success as a stay-at-home mom. But Penelope’s needs, our family’s needs, have to come first right now. And really, even if the laundry isn’t done and dinner is a frozen pizza (again), as long as Penelope continues to thrive and improve and Charlotte continues to be the sweet, smart, thoughtful girl she is- there is no other accomplishment that could mean so much.