Having been career driven before my daughter, Madeleine, I welcomed returning to work just to be doing something familiar – even with my gimpy wrist issues. But as Christophe and I dropped Madeleine off with her first daycare provider, Nensa Eramil, a wonderful French woman from Guadeloupe with an Early Childhood Education degree AND a child Madeleine’s age, I felt pins and needles run up the back of my neck. The headache I had been feeling that morning pushed deeper into my brain.
It wasn’t a question of who I was leaving Madeleine with. We were lucky to find someone like Nensa and sad when her husband’s work relocated them to California a few months later. The issue was that while I wanted to work, I also wanted to stay home with Madeleine. It was the beginning of a larger issue: Can you give the proper attention to your baby, job, partner, household, friends, and, for many of the sandwich generation, your parents? Do you have any sort of support to help you tackle any (or all) of these things? Before Madeleine, I think I did a fair job maintaining the balance. Then again, I had 40 odd years to perfect that groove. Babies are like the bowling balls of life: they’re gonna hit every pin and topple them over every time you manage to get them back up. No need for bumpers – those babies will hit their mark.
For me, work and daycare are the two pins that I’ve needed to pick up the most. With work, I’ve had to restructure my schedule again and again. Sometimes it was about saving us from paying for more daycare. Sometimes it was about saving us from falling apart as a family. Then there was the question of who takes care of Madeleine when daycare is closed or when she’s sick or when there’s a snow day. As a massage therapist, my schedule has a certain liquidity that allows me to respond quickly to unexpected days home. But, as it is with any business, if you cancel appointments too often, it’s going to take its toll eventually. As Madeleine started preschool, the question widened into week-long breaks in February and April along with the entire summer. Solutions established became past solutions very quickly. But I’m going to take a moment to put a gold star on both my forehead and my husband’s forehead: we’ve both been doing our share of flexing to fill in the holes.
Around the time Madeleine turned a year old, my mother took a digger at the post office on some ice and fractured one of the vertebrae in her back. She’s a pretty healthy and independent lady but she needed help. Fortunately, I live close to her and have several siblings within a 15-mile radius of her house. As a group, we coordinated her care and rehabilitation, but as individuals, it meant shifting priorities when we least expected it. My husband, Christophe, also encountered his first health scare during the summer in the form of an irregular heartbeat (otherwise known as atrial fibrillation). Another shift had to occur.
It can be a real juggling act getting all the pieces of our lives to work together when wee people are involved and it doesn’t take much to send you back to the drawing board. The one consolation is that there’s always others cutting their teeth on the same issues, figuring out how to get their groove together. If you’re lucky, a few of these people are just a phone call away (am I dating myself?) You do your best and watch how agile you become with each decision you make, even when that decision isn’t the right one. So, go out there and flex your muscles, parentals, it’s time to ride the new frontier.
[to be continued – Next Stop: The You Frontier]