A Working Mom’s Guilt Trip

Today was the last of the spring break. I mostly spent time with my son, looking after several outstanding issues, taking him for a dental and doctor checkups and putting our home in order. I have only ventured near the office on Sunday, the last day of the month, to put in a last translation to boost my average for the month of March.

That afternoon I had taken some good friends from the office out to lunch. We marked the 2nd anniversary of my arrival in New York, and my confirmed appointment as permanent staff. After lunch we walked to the office, and I took my son Robert along, thinking I will be out of there in an hour. I forgot that the office was like a black hole. It swallows all sunlight, brightness, joy and enthusiasm. So I made the mistake of reading my email, and was immediately consumed by fury at one of management ill-advised and badly thought out plans.

It seems that we in the lower ranks need a little more mental stimulation, never mind that we barely cope with the workload. Therefore we need to get excited about collectively reviewing the Arabic terminology database, by order of management. It should be noted that we the little people were singled out for the task, the seniors were excluded from it, although they are the ones who supposedly correct our work, and set us straight with terminology. There were many more problems with the division of labor, as the letters of the alphabet were considered all equal (or almost equal). This means that one colleague has to check the WHOLE section starting with Q, while letter sections like A and S were simply split down the middle between unhappy colleagues. One particularly unlucky (or unloved) person ended up with the chunk starting with P on his own, maybe seeing that p and q can simply be mirror images from each other. This review is done in addition to, and in parallel with, the work done by dedicated terminology staff, and I would not even try to explain the unwieldy process we are required to follow in order to mark the records needing reviews.

One of my good friends at the office has this brilliant strategy of just working through his task and not checking any emails until he has finished his allotted work for the day. This is something I should try, because normally if it is urgent someone would phone. Email is for less urgent stuff, or the downright annoying bickering. After reading this email, I was stuck in the warp of indignation, righteous anger and the need to vent. I started reviewing it with some of the colleagues who also showed up to work on Easter Sunday. I made tables and rebuttals, showing how badly planned this whole thing was, and soon it was night-time. My poor son was keeping busy on his tablet, making drawings, designing posters, playing the ukulele and generally being an angel. When I finally turned to the work I was supposed to do in the first place it was past his bedtime. I walked with him out of the office after ten. Throughout the hours we spent in that cave, he never complained, and although he asked to go home half a dozen times, he never raised a fuss when I told him I had to finish what I was doing.

Robert’s maturity on Sunday night broke my heart and made me regret that I made him suffer my office for so many hours, when we should be doing something more fun instead. We had walked three blocks away from the office when I realized that I left my USB key on my desk, and I said: “Oh I forgot my USB”. Robert said: “Mommy we can go back if you want”. I cried when I heard him say that. No matter how hard I try, I can never be free of working-mom guilt.  Sunday night as I registered the delivery of my document, I did not feel my usual sense of accomplishment at a job well-done, there was only the bitter taste of guilt. I felt a lot of resentment against a workplace that causes me to be unfair on my son. A lesson learned from my past, however, is that I can never influence the politics of the workplace, I can only change my reaction and attitude towards it, maybe I should ignore work emails and half-baked plans. Concentrate instead on my own plans, and on my growing son.

Final Days

Sadly, my days together with Ron are numbered. Throughout this I am still trying to keep an outward facade to my family overseas who know no better. I do not want to add on to their worry. In the midst of all this, Robert’s long awaited Christmas present from Auntie Celia arrives. Its belated arrival made a sad testament to the changed circumstances. I picked the parcel up at the post office, and the it lay unopened for days. So I finally decided to open it and divided the presents, which were supposed to be shared. Ron got the tea, and I kept the chocolates, while Robert got the whole lot of baby goodies and a book.

During the past week Ron and I steered away from each other. He kept his usual morning routine, and at night he went to sleep soundly while I stayed awake, reading news feeds and blogs and writing my own. Just messing around on the internet to shorten the hours of the night and to keep the fear and desperation at bay. Many of my problems do not have solutions yet. Who will look after Robert while I am away at work? How will I manage work in the long term? what will happen next? I try not to think of everything at once, and deal with one problem at a time.

I had to explain my situation at work, thus making myself a novelty and a freak. People who have been at my work long enough know that I have been close to divorce before, and I can imagine the gossip that is spreading on the floor. I endured the pitying looks and asked for some arrangement to my shifts. The first solution that came to my mind was to work 20 hours of night shift every week. I thought that Robert slept through the night, and Jackie is home almost every night so she can keep an ear if he wakes up at night for some reason. I am still waiting for a response for my request, but if it is not granted I really do not know what else to do. Jackie is careful and paranoid about people who enter her house. It will be difficult for me to employ domestic help if they do not meet with her approval.
All these problems I try to forget while Robert and I are together. We are spending many hours at the park, and enjoying our final days there. Once I move in with Jackie it will be a much longer walk here, and I am not sure whether I can come here every day.

Robert crawls now very easily on the grass, and he can sit in the swing for a very long time.

Blogged with the Flock Browser


Miriam did not make it this weekend. She did not answer her phone, return calls or text messages. I was getting a little worried, so I phoned her husband, who told me in a muffled voice that she was in hospital with the little girl. I couldn’t understand anything else, so my active imagination went into over-drive. On Friday, and after many further unanswered calls, I received a message saying that she was in hospital looking after her daughter who has frequent nosebleeds. Of course her absence gave us a lot of problems, but I had worked myself into a worried frenzy, so when I finally heard from her I was relieved more than anything else.

Ron had to look after Robert for two days in a row, when I worked the long weekend shifts 14:00 to 23:00. I really do not like the long shifts anymore. The pressures of work and many other problems are taking their toll. I am trying hard not to transfer my feelings of stress to little Robert. He is getting less of me these days, so I have to make our time together count. The least disruptive shifts so far are the 08:00-12:00 ones. On these days I just wake up early and give Robert his breakfast. He stays awake while we have breakfast, and goes for his first nap shortly after I leave for work. I come home in time for his lunch and later we can take a stroll towards the ocean or to the park. Ron has to fill in for the bath and bedtime on the days when I work 16:15-20:15, and he doesn’t particularly like it. According to him, however, Robert enjoys their time together immensely. He bought him some new toys and clothes this week, and I can see how much he likes the new rattle toys.

These days he is starting to have some mobility, and when his rattle ball rolls he tries to follow it. The other day I put him in the middle of his play gym and went to fetch something from the kitchen. When I came back the play gym was empty, and the little one was on all fours underneath the table where I couldn’t see him from the door. I have to keep a watchful eye on him from now on. Soon he will start pulling things down or pulling himself up against coffee tables.

My friend Kirsten arrived from Germany on Tuesday; she is staying with Jackie. Robert has accompanied me on many visits with her, and whenever the weather cooperated we went for a stroll on the promenade or to the park. Kirsten manged to catch Robert in few interesting poses. For example his South African chilling mode: relaxing with feet up, and only the Castle Lager missing.

Kirsten brought with her some new presents for Robert: T-shirts, socks and a pyjama, all will be useful as the weather cools. Not to be outdone, Jackie chipped in and bought him a teething ring. It is the type that goes in the freezer or fridge and helps cool aching gums; Robert likes it. Mom bought a couple of summer things that he will use next summer at the beach.

Today’s funny picture: Robert crawling in the park. When I took the picture I did not see the comment that is showing right above his head, nor the wheel that he is dragging behind (the rattle ball).


Times Together and Times Apart

Robert’s mom is back to work part time as of today. It is strange to show up at the office again and try to be part of the team. During the months that I was away a lot changed and I have to work for the first few weeks together with a coach. Dad has passed a milestone today as well, looking after Robert for almost five hours. He did not have a great success in putting him down for his morning nap, but I did not have any better luck either. By six thirty poor Robert was so whipped he went to sleep immediately after the feed.

I think we made some progress –hopefully- in finding someone to look after Robert for the weekends, when I work the longer shifts. Miriam is a wonderful lady, and I hope she will prove to be a keeper. The only problem is that she cannot arrive earlier than nine in the morning and has to leave by six thirty in the evening at the latest. This means that the pressure will be still on Ron to take over for roughly four hours per day. Unfortunately, I will face the same problem whenever I hire any African lady, because they rely on public transport, so this cannot be helped unless I quit. The other option is to hire an au-pair, who commands a higher salary than mine, and then it doesn’t make sense at all.

Robert and I still go often to the park to enjoy the warm autumn weather. These days, he is happy to spend longer times there and interact somewhat with other moms and children. Today I had a nice visit with a few moms, and Robert charmed everyone with his giggles and smiles. I managed to get home after a couple of loud squeals and we did not get a full performance of his crying orchestra. I think he is a very happy and content baby, especially considering the little sleep he got today. If he is just a little bit cranky then it is because of his aching gums.

Over the weekend Ron and I went and bought a new supply of clothing for the little guy. He has finally outgrown the outfits I received as a present for his birth. We also bought him a set of huge plastic keys, designed as teething aids, and a small tube of teething gel. I think his first tooth will be making an appearance before the end of the month.

Another milestone for today was Robert’s first tablespoon of butternut pumpkin. Last week I cooked the pumpkin, pureed and froze it in an ice cube tray. Then I emptied the frozen portions in freezer bags. This morning I put one frozen cube in the fridge to defrost, and I later gave it to Robert as a lunch snack. He enjoyed immensely, perhaps because it was still cold and soothing to his gums. Butternut is very popular with babies because of its smooth texture and sweetness. Tomorrow I will give him a larger portion.

Mommy’s Separation Anxieties

It has been a busy week, and I have many things on my mind. I am still trying to find a nanny to look after Robert on the weekends when I am supposed to work for full 8-hour shifts. Initially I shrugged this problem off, Scarlett O’Hara-style, and thought I would deal with it later. It proved to be more complicated than I expected.

Agencies that provide domestic help cater only for regular working hours, and want to place people on full-time schedule, not what I need. An Au Pair, on the other hand, will claim more than my salary’s worth. I am also extremely paranoid about handing Robert over to somebody who posted on the notice board, and would prefer somebody who has known references. I am still putting the word out there, and starting to look at possible candidates.

Robert has made so much progress in the last weeks, he is now completely at ease in an upright sitting posture, and I have taken so many pictures to prove it. He can also lift himself up, when there are things around to hold on to. This first happened at the worst possible location; the changing table. He holds on to the side of the changing mat and looks down at me while I fill his bathtub. I no longer trust to be more than a foot away from the changing table.

The weather is starting to change slowly. Last Sunday at the park, Robert and I spent some of our time sitting basking in the warmth of the sun, where previously we sheltered from its blistering heat under the shady trees. For Robert, the park is much more fun than the promenade, because we can sit on and play on the grass in the park. He also meets a lot of little friends. For me it is my main contact with prospective nannies.

Last week we started introducing formula bottles to Robert. It was a struggle initially. He kept playing with the silicon nipple and chewing it, until he figured out that there is actually something to drink in there, but even then it took him some time to get to the taste. Formula milk looks much thicker and more substantial than breast milk, but he is starting to get the taste. Last week I spent almost half an hour trying to talk him into drinking 25ml, now Ron gives him a 100ml bottle in the morning, without much difficulty.

I feel a mixture of pride and sadness at my baby’s growing independence. Soon he will not need me as a source of sustenance, and it makes me a little bit sad. But this is one many lessons that I will definitely need to learn, and the first of many occasions where I will have to let go of my son, and be proud and happy about it.

It is very humbling, to look at my child and know that this little person is somebody I will love for the rest of my life, no matter how or what he turns out to be. He is my heart and my very soul, but he is a person in his own right, and I still need to prepare him for his own life, where my role will gradually diminish while my love remains the same. Bless you my mother for giving me the gift of unconditional love. I only started appreciating it when I looked into the eyes of my newborn son.

Being a mother is a very emotional experience, but I am in good company. Don Mills Diva has a lot to say about the ultimate transformation in a mother’s life, becoming a mother-in-law. And I thought I was the only mother who fretted prematurely about the day my baby will bring along his girlfriend.

Making Plans

The countdown is on. I am going back to work in less than three weeks. Today I even received my shift plan, and it is time to make plans for the next phase. I will be working four-hour shifts during the week, and full eight-hour shifts on some weekends. Ron and I agreed that I should find a nanny to look after Robert when I work weekends, and he will try to manage for the rest of the time. It is all tentative at this point, and we will have to see how practical the arrangement is. Robert has progressed from half a teaspoon of rice cereal, and can now finish two tablespoons of it. The bottle is in the cupboard ready for a test drive, and all we need is some formula and water.

On Wednesday we took him for his second (and last) Rotavirus vaccination. It is an oral dose, and I have been dreading it, because he had such an adverse reaction to the first dose. This time he had almost no problems. Baby’s measurements this week: Weight 7460g; Height 68.5cm; Circumference of Head 42.4cm. His weight gain has slowed down as it should and he is now averaging 100g per week. The nurse also noted that he only grew 0.5cm in the last three weeks, but this is probably due to the inaccuracy of the process, but even with this Robert is still in the 90th percentile in height. His head though is getting bigger, he added one more centimeter on the measures since last week.

Thursday I took him to visit my friend Jackie, where we spent the morning. Robert felt very much at home, and even went to sleep in her room, hugging a little pink teddy bear. He was curious about everything especially Jackie’s gorgeous cat. Unlike our skittish Petey, Spliff came close and let him have a good look at her (under my watchful eye of course).

This week I also noticed that Robert is starting to put himself into crawling position. He sometimes lifts his butt up in the air and then pushes his chest off the floor. He also lifts his chest quite high off the floor and then propels himself forward with his legs. Most of the time though he inches himself backwards, and I keep putting him back in the centre of the playmate. He now turns over so quickly, it is no longer safe to leave him on the centre of the bed, not ever for a moment. I am dreading the day, when he will find a way to turn over on the concave changing mat.

Twelve Weeks: Quiet Times

I am still working to solve the riddle of a breastfeeding-working mother. Operating the manual breast pump turned out to be a no-brainer. I certainly don’t need to invest in an expensive electrical one. This, however, remains only one small part of the whole puzzle, as Ron correctly pointed out. I still haven’t figured out how to store breast milk and how to manage pumping at work. For once I tackled the problem by going directly to the source and asking for what I thought best, without second guessing what management might or might not approve. I wrote work and asked for two month of unpaid leave after the official end of my maternity leave.

The email went out to my supervisors last week, where I stated my request and suggested a meeting to discuss my situation. The week passed without any response and I had to call today for a fellow up, and my supervisor scheduled a meeting for Wednesday the 28th. I don’t have a feel for what their response might be.

Robert’s latest developments: Bringing his hands together, and folding his thumb between his fore- and middle fingers. In terms of appearance: More fuzz is sprouting on his head, and his eyebrows are starting to get some definition. They are still very fair, but I think they will be the thick variety inherited from mom.

We got into the habit of taking him into the kitchen during dinner preparation. He sits quietly and watches us, listens to the noises of pots, pans and clinking cutlery. We introduce him to the various smells of cooking and spices. He is unfazed by the strong smells of onion and garlic. In fact, I think he likes them. His responses to the different fragrances are interesting, and being our son, he must be used to the smells of curry and ginger, and the taste of them from breast milk. As he gets older and less fussy, I am less stringent now about my diet. I have stopped worrying about eating cauliflower, but I am still keeping away from cabbage. My mom warned me against green peppers, which I have avoided during the worst colic periods. Now I do eat it in salads, and it doesn’t cause problems to either me or Robert. In all it looks like things are settling down, and all three of us are starting to enjoy longer sleeps at night.