This week, I returned to my job – one year after I packed the contents of my desk into a cardboard box and left to start maternity leave. For weeks, I’d been putting the dreaded return date out of my mind, pretending that it didn’t exist and I could forever be a stay-at-home parent. I did pretty well at fooling myself; in the week before I was due to start I woke up one morning at 2am in a cold sweat, having suddenly realised it was my last week of ‘freedom’.
As it turned out, rejoining the workforce wasn’t as bad as I expected – and, compared to childrearing, there is actually a fair amount of ‘freedom’ in spending a day in the office.
On my first day back, I enjoyed my newfound mobility. Without a pram, the dash for the train was quick and successful, I could squeeze myself inconspicuously into a 30-centimetre square space in the packed carriage, and didn’t need to hunt for the elevators at Flagstaff Station, instead (indulgently) joining the line on the ‘lazy’ side of the escalator. On my way to the office, I stopped for a leisurely takeaway coffee, slipping through the café’s narrow doorway like a pro. Yep, being sans pram was quite a treat.
When I arrived at the office, I was greeted with hugs, squeals of delight (slight exaggeration), chit chat, and much laughter. Nobody pulled my hair, screamed in my ear, or demanded that I make them something different for breakfast… immediately. My employers and coworkers allowed me a gentle reintroduction: only a little bit of work, and no pressure. Imagine my delight when, having resisted the urge to use the bathroom for 15 minutes (force of habit), I realised that I could go whenever I wanted to, without explaining where I was going!Yes, the freedom of work became quite apparent. But there was also guilt. I knew my daughter would be missing me (I missed her, too), and a phone call to her dad confirmed it: I couldn’t hear him over her inconsolable screams. It is a terrible feeling: knowing your baby needs you when you can’t be there for them. My response was physical. My heart raced, I felt sick, and had to quell the adrenaline building up with some jokes and a tea break.
After work, I literally ran from the train station to my house, I was that eager to see my kid! Within ten minutes of returning home, and after a few emotional tears (from both of us), things were totally back to normal: she pulled my hair and screamed for a new, more delicious meal, and I dutifully busied myself in the kitchen.
That first day back was nowhere near as bad as I’d expected. The second day was even better: I knew my baby would be grumpy without me, but that I’d be forgiven at the end of the day. I even did pretty well at the guilt thing; if you’d been passing my street at 6pm last night you’d have seen a tired mum of one lingering on the corner, using those last moments of ‘freedom’ to text friends and catch up on Facebook. I love my girl to bits, but it seems two days a week back in the world of adults won’t be so bad after all.