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Balancing Work and Motherhood


It was brought to my attention that mentioning the hard week Hugo and I had was a little alarming to some of you. I should have given more detail, perhaps, or not made it sound just so terribly awful. I'm sorry if what I wrote was upsetting to some - it never occurred to me that there might be people out there who were worried by what I wrote. To relieve the pressure I sometimes feel from parenting Hugo alone so much of the time, it helps to write about it here and there, mention it, get it off my chest, then move on.

But after I heard from many of you privately, I felt like I needed to explain a few things.

First of all, I realized that I rarely write about Hugo when things are good. And they are so often so very good. We have been blessed with an impossibly lovely child who has made the majority of his first year quite easy on his mother. When you consider that I am his sole caretaker five days a week, all day long, that's quite a feat. Not a day goes by when I don't feel lucky to have so much of Hugo to myself, to get to really see every tiny stage of development he goes through. Particularly because I know how acutely Max misses being around us every day, I feel a responsibility to witness everything Hugo does for both of us, to be present as much as I possibly can. It's a privilege that I've had as much time home with him as I have.

But of course things get tough sometimes. Of course they do! A few months ago, Hugo - in a very short window of time - simply stopped taking naps in his crib. He'll sleep in the stroller or car seat for 30 minutes, 40 if I'm lucky, but if I put him in his crib at naptime, he screams and screams (and pulls himself to standing and screams and screams). In addition, the poor thing has been cutting four teeth in at the same time. FOUR! He's been in pain for months.

Teething, over-tiredness, what we think is sadness at seeing Max so infrequently manifesting itself as massive clinginess with me - and all of this on my shoulders without a break, 12 hours every day. It's hard, no matter what kind of angel I birthed. But still, you need to know that most days Hugo is a peach. A beaming, chattering, toothy peach who strokes your face lovingly if you get close to him, who full-body-bops to music like an old pro, whether it's Haydn or blues, who charms the pants off every single woman (and many men!) who we pass on our daily outings, who purses up his lips and blows each time he sees a mobile or a hanging lamp or a tree branch silhouetted against the sky, who pages through books in silent concentration, who goes to bed without protest and sleeps so well that I'm too superstitious to say any more than that, and who always lowers his head on my shoulder just before bedtime so I can hear him breathing in my ear just as he did as a newborn and a four-month old and an eight-month old, giving me the opportunity to once again tell myself: don't ever forget this sound, this feeling; don't ever, ever forget it.


For many months, I didn't want to do anything but be Hugo's mother. I relished staying home and caring for him all day. I didn't care about work or cooking or anything but being there for him. It was a delicious immersion into another world - I felt deeply fulfilled and totally happy. But over the past few months, I've started feeling the urge to work again. Not just because we are most definitely a two-income household, but because I have that old creative itch again. It's wonderful! I'm so happy it's back! It's also...impossible without outside help.

How can I get any meaningful work done when 12 hours a day I can't do anything but take care of Hugo? We have organized a daycare spot for him, but it's not until next January. (In Germany, it's hard to find daycare for children under the age of 12 to 18 months.) And because Hugo only naps on the go, I can only work after he's gone to bed in the evening, at which point I'm tired myself, exhausted, really, and hungry and want nothing more than to crawl into bed and fall asleep while reading. (Related: If you sent me an email sometime between June 12, 2012 and now and are wondering why I haven't responded yet? This would be why. I am very sorry and also a little embarrassed.)

So, help.

Three things that helped me see the light on what a (or this) self-employed writer and mother needs to do in order to be able to work and continue to parent well were:

1. This gorgeous post, Help Is (Not) A Four-Letter Word by Rebecca Woolf.
2. A chapter called No Mystery About Sperm in Tiny Beautiful Things.
3. Talking to my village of girlfriends who are mothers and who all have slightly different situations in terms of childcare, but who all have childcare.
(4. And this post is good too.)

Lightbulb! All of a sudden, things seem possible again. Instead of trying to squeeze in a few emails and writing sessions before bed and feeling frustrated that I can't get work done while Hugo naps in his stroller and I'm stuck on the park bench, I have the prospect of real time for myself again. I can finally go ahead with that site redesign that is sucking up so much of my mental space. Take control of my blog advertising once and for all, so that this beloved blog of mine can start to be a source of meaningful income again. I can get started on that second book that my agent has so gently been prodding me about. And maybe even possibly ooh I don't know have a little time over for long-shot dreams like my novel. In the meantime, Hugo gets to be entertained and loved by a whole new energetic young person and I get to mother him feeling refreshed and ready for everything he wants to do. Maybe a little distance will even mean that naptime goes from being a big battlefield of anxiety for me to just a thing that my little peach does in his own quirky way, no big deal.

Uh, yes to all of that, please. As my mother likes to say sometimes, I can be a little slow, but I get there eventually.

So that's where we are these days, dear readers. Figuring out next steps, acknowledging that help is not a bad word, but a necessary part of this woman's daily life as a breadwinner and a loving mommy, and thinking that even though he does sometimes drive me to distraction (show me a kid who doesn't?), I feel like I won the lottery when it comes to Hugo, the bright shining light of my life.