I recently passed an interesting milestone. I realized that I’ve been working from home due to Covid-19 for longer than I was home on my maternity leave. Due to a high intensity job as a lawyer, I cut my maternity leave down to the bare 12 weeks and hustled back to my NYC office before my daughter figured out how to roll onto her belly. In full disclosure, I was not born to be the mom of an infant. Those first months were a blur of crying and screaming. Mostly by me, but also by my little one.
Actually, mostly by me.
As someone who wasn’t sure they were born with a maternal instinct, I muddled through my daughter’s early infancy wondering if this seemingly insane and awful routine was all this mom thing was about. When I went back to work quickly I felt slightly guilty, but also elated at the simple joy of putting on nice clothes and having a real lunch. Sure, I missed my baby and the first few weeks were hard, but I had barely spent enough time with her to know much more about her than that she spit up if you didn’t keep her upright after a feeding.
Now, I have been work from home for almost five months. Two months longer (and counting) than my three-month maternity leave. There are some days when I want to run back to my office. I want to shut the office door and stay inside for as long as physically possible and enjoy the quiet. The sound of no sound, except for the “noisy” HVAC vent above my desk that now seems like a gentle caressing breeze when compared to the constant barrage of plastic xylophones, toys that whirl, and loud demands for more cheese. It’s always more cheese.
The past few months I have solo-parented and worked from home full-time while my husband works outside of the house seven days a week, even weekends. It involves getting up at 4 AM to do work before my toddler demands my attention and makes reviewing contracts (a critical part of my job) nearly impossible unless it's dark outside and everyone is asleep. Juggling being both a full-time attorney and a full-time stay at home mom has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. And that includes law school and two bar exams. So, imagine my surprise when on a work call recently to discuss going back to the office, I felt something inside of me drop. Drop hard, like when my daughter picked up her ride-on bus and threw it off the couch onto the floor in protest while I was on conference call #104 of the day. Ugly, smashing, and inflicting pain (to the wood floor and luckily, not to her).
I, the mom who never knew she wanted to be a mom and who ran back to work because she thought she didn’t like being a mom, felt this sadness sweep through me.
Deep, cutting sadness.
The past few months have been hard. Really, really hard. But, the past few months I’ve seen all my daughter’s firsts with my own eyes. The first time. The very first time. Not when it was the first time I saw it. My nanny so graciously assuring me it was the first time my daughter ever did something when I excitedly pointed out a new skill to the woman who spent 14 hours a day with her, every day. Back then it wasn’t the first time. I know that now. For sure, no way around it.
There are many things that working parents tell ourselves to get through the separation of being away from our children for so long. Most of them work because once we go back to work, we never know what it’s like to be home with them day in and day out, every day. We settle into a rhythm that works or sometimes barely works, but gets us through. Now that rhythm has changed for a lot of us and while this new rhythm is often incredibly loud and noisy, I worry that a piece of me won’t recover when this new rhythm finally ends.
There are many things I look forward to when we finally go back to “normal”. One of them will be going back to work in NYC and the great experience of working in an office with wonderful, creative people. But, I’ve been thinking a lot lately, that while I may be ready at some point to physically go back to the office, a piece of me (much bigger than I thought) is going to really miss this new rhythm that I’ve found.
Elyssa Cohen Muldoon is a New York native who has lived in Hoboken since 2011. She lives uptown with her husband and her daughter, age 2. She currently works as a lawyer for an architecture firm in NYC. When she isn’t working you will find her outside playing and chasing birds with her toddler.