Today is my last day of maternity leave

Tomorrow I go back to work. Looking back over the past three months, some of it is a blur. 

  • You came earlier than we had planned and you came by surgery, which I had not wanted. You spent 36 hours in the NICU, which was difficult in a way I could not have imagined. I have so much new empathy for NICU parents now. You are warriors.
  • My head hurt, and my stomach hurt, and my stitches hurt, and my breasts hurt, for days.
  • I started to heal, but didn’t sleep for more than a few hours most nights, for days. Then weeks. Then months. 
  • I fed my baby from my own body, checking latches and swallows and diapers to make sure he was getting enough, and that I was doing enough. 
  • My husband went back to work and I faced long days alone with this new baby, a stranger, and my toddler. We figured out where he fit into our routine and where we had to change our plans to suit him. We brought to our favorite places in the park and our neighborhood, and he slept his way through it all only to tell us all about it later, usually at about 3:00 a.m.
  • We had few visitors these first months, because of the pandemic and because of winter. But spring started to show its beautiful face, with walks among flowering parks and dinners on the front porch on warm afternoons. 

Suddenly here we are, three months later, and tomorrow I go back to work. Looking back over the past twelve weeks, some of it stands out sharply in my memory. 

  • You looked like your big sister from the start. The same dark hair, furrowed brow, big round eyes and quickly growing cheeks. 

I’l never forget the moment your sister met you.
She ran to you and wrapped your tiny body in her arms and grinned.
You are hers, just like you are ours.

  • The first morning we were home, my husband brought home coffee and donuts and we all ate them together in our bed. 
  • One evening I was in too much pain to come downstairs, and my toddler said, “I feel sad.” She’d never voiced that feeling before, and I cried, too. 
  • The first day I had both kids to myself, their naps overlapped by eight minutes. I felt like a champion. 
  • We had video calls with family and friends daily, sharing glimpses of this new person we’d created. I was often shocked at the state of my hair or the bags under my eyes seen in the tiny video of myself, but I was too happy and proud to care. 
  • My son gained five pounds between his first two doctors’ appointments and we celebrated with drive through french fries. I’m just saying, that may be the key to producing good milk — kidding! 
  • While I beg him to sleep, I rock him in my arms and sing every line of every song from every Broadway show I can remember, of course including my starring role in Anything Goes in high school.
  • When he’s hungry and crying, I feel his little body melt into mine as I pick him up. He knows it’s me and he feels at home in my arms. 
  • When he looks into my eyes and smiles for the first time, it’s the absolute best feeling in the world.

Maternity leave is no vacation. It’s a time to heal, recover, learn, adjust, and grow. There are parts you’ll barely remember once they are over, and there are moments you will cherish forever. 

So tomorrow when I go back to work, I’m bringing all these moments within me. I’m returning a new person, inside and out. 

I’ll be there in the morning. But for now, I have a baby to rock and some show tunes to sing.

This one’s for you, forgotten coffee cup

Coffee mug left on the counter

Every morning I make a cup of coffee. Rain or shine, work day or weekend, I look forward to that morning boost every day. I drink it with a splash of cream so it ends up a wet sand color, and from that first toasty sip, I’m in love. But since becoming a mom, and especially since working from home during a pandemic, I’ve begun to neglect my daily mug of joe. 

Instead of reveling in the warm deliciousness, I reheat it over and over again. I find it in the microwave, cold and alone, hours after I meant to drink it. My reflexes have improved as I snatch my coffee a split second before my daughter crashes it off the counter, coffee table, or fireplace mantle. Even these near-death experiences for my dear java have done nothing to rekindle the connection we once shared. 

But today, as I finished the chilly sips of my morning cup at around noon, I realized something: the things that steal me away from my warm coffee are some of the things I love most:

  • A voice begins singing at 7:15am — straight from asleep to the middle of a melody, my little songbird is awake. I put down my freshly-brewed cup and head upstairs. 
  • Back downstairs, I’m almost late for a Zoom meeting for work, so I quickly get out the Play-Doh in hopes of maximizing self-guided entertainment during the meeting. I log on and realize my coffee mug is still on the kitchen counter, and I’ve already turned my camera on. Sigh.
  • Time for a quick reading break. I reheat my cup, place it on the aptly named coffee table and we dive into some Richard Scarry. Between animated voices and “me do it!” page turns, the drink sits untouched, but thankfully un-knocked over, on the table.
  • During lunch we often take a walk to the park down the street. I think about transferring my now twice-reheated coffee to a traveler mug, but I know I’ll need my hands free for grasping tiny fingers as we cross the street, pushing swings and holding the pine cone treasures we accumulate along the way.
  • Hours later, I go to microwave something for dinner and find my coffee cup, with just a few gulps left, still bidding me “Rise & Shine” at 5:45pm. I laugh and chug the final sips over the sink while my daughter twirls and jumps around the kitchen for her personal dance party. Honestly, it tastes pretty gross at this point, but I feel like the poor cup has earned it — and so have I. 

And so every day contains at least some of these dilemmas, and my coffee and I don’t share the special moments we once did. But as I look back on what keeps me from my coffee, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

So raise your forgotten mug with me, if you can find it, and let’s appreciate the relentless, exhausting, adorable, amazing distractions in our lives. These are the things that I want to remember, after all, long after my coffee has gone cold.