Separation Anxiety: My First Day Back to Work

JT1Day 1: An Hourly Log of My First Day Back to Work

7AM: My alarm clock blares, a sound I have not heard in six weeks.  I have been asleep for only twenty minutes since John woke me up because he lost his pacifier- for the fourth time in an hour.  I peak my head out from under the covers to realize that JT’s pacifier is tucked under his chin and he doesn’t care.  Groaning at the irony, I reset my alarm for 7:15 and go back to sleep.

8AM: I have showered, dressed, fixed my hair, eaten breakfast, and packed my lunch and dinner for the day.  And John has been sleeping peacefully the entire time.  So has my husband.  The irony is almost painful: JT has not slept past 7AM in weeks.  With nothing left to do, I stand by the door, postponing my inevitable departure.  But then John begins fussing, and I slowly back out of our bedroom, moving towards the front door before I can be drawn into a diaper change that could make me late for work.

JT29AM: After talking to a fellow mother during my 45-minute commute to work, I am standing in my office, overwhelmed temporarily by the eerie silence.  The resonance of cries, baby talk, and little snores hangs in the air around me, but I know that it’s only my imagination.  John is not here; I will not see him for more than twelve hours.  I begin folding chairs before that fact can reach my still-hormonal brain.

10AM: Everyone keeps asking me if John’s here.  They see his Pack-N-Play tucked in the corner of my office, his vibrating chair sitting at my feet beneath my desk, and they assume that he is.  I can barely form sentences as I tell them, no, he’s at home with my husband.  Andrew texts me to tell me that John is wide-awake, and he’s unsure how he’s going to shower before Mass.  I give him some advice, but I don’t hear back from him.  I have to assume that all is well.

IMG_098511AM: I miss my baby like crazy.  I want nothing more than to hop in my car and drive home so that I can wrap him in my arms and never let him go.  Is this what my life will always be like- wanting to hold him, and not being able to?  As much as I love my job, there’s a strong urge to just get up and go home to be with my son.   I resist the urge and begin sorting through all the files on my desk.  I remind myself that I love what I do, that we need my income, that I will see him when I get home, that I get to spend the entire day with him tomorrow.  But it’s only the realization that Andrew and JT will be leaving for Mass any minute now (hopefully) that sets me straight.  Even if I did go home, no one would be there.

12NN: I am sitting at my desk, leisurely scrolling through my emails and eating my lunch in peace.  I wonder if John is crying at this very moment, knowing that I’m fifty miles away and eating.  I have gotten so used to wolfing down meals because he inevitably cries as soon as I sit down to eat that I don’t know how to slow down anymore.  I consciously work to pause between bites, taking the time to savor the taste of my ravioli.  I’m actually enjoying this.

IMG_10391PM: I make a list of all of my tasks for the afternoon.  I assume that I am being over-zealous, but there’s just so much that needs to be done.  I get to work on task #1, Pandora playing music quietly in the background.  About fifteen minutes later, I learn that the crazy cardinal has returned for the spring/summer.  I had assumed he had finally managed to kill himself last year after slamming into my window for the thousandth time.  Apparently he has survived the winter.  I make a mental note to mention it to my boss; I don’t want the crazy cardinal around when John comes to work for the first time on Thursday.  Andrew texts me an update: John has eaten twice now and is currently sleeping.  Andrew did manage to shower before Mass, and JT mercifully slept through the entire liturgy.

2PM: I work.  Two items have been crossed off in the last hour.

3PM: I am still working.  Three more tasks have been accomplished.  I take a short break at 3:30 to eat a bag of popcorn and an apple.  Then I get back to work.

4PM: I have just crossed off the final task on my list of things to do.  I stare at the list in awe.  I have been productive.  I have not been this productive in weeks.  I don’t know if I have ever been this productive.  In the past four weeks of working from home, I have become quite adept at working diligently while I bounce a fussy newborn in my left arm while I type with my right.  Now that I have access to both hands, the possibilities seem endless.

IMG_12005PM: As I eat my cinnamon raisin bagel, I find myself thinking about John again- for about the hundredth time today.   My first day back to work has been bittersweet so far.  I miss him like crazy, and I still occasionally find myself listening for phantom cries from the Pack-N-Play.  But then I remind myself that he’s not here.  This is the longest that I have been away from my son.  I am alone.  The thought is both heart-breaking and exhilarating.  I want to be with my little buddy, but I am also enjoying this new-found freedom.  I can eat when I want, go to the restroom when I want, use both my hands to get work done.  I have never gone more than a few hours without my baby.  I assumed that I would have melted into a puddle of tears by now, but I am still going strong.  I have successfully held it all together for nine hours now.  I feel like I deserve a prize.  I know that I’ll receive the best prize in just five more hours, when I can hold my son again.  Or at least look at him, since I know better than to wake a sleeping baby.

6PM: I’m sitting in my usual pew at Mass, thinking about John and Andrew attending Mass earlier today.  I wonder what people thought when they saw my husband alone with my baby.  Do they think I’ve abandoned them?  Do they think that I’m a deadbeat mom?  Do they even know I exist?  The realization that we will rarely attend Mass together tears me up more than I imagined that it would.  I give thanks to God that summer is right around the corner.  We will finally be able to go to Mass as a family again, at least until the fall.

IMG_12427PM: My eighth grade students are taking their Confirmation test right now.  As I walk around the parish hall, I have ample time to think about the two amazing men in my life.  Andrew has been alone with the baby for nearly twelve hours now.  I wonder if John even knows that I’m gone.  Does he miss me?

8PM: Just forty-five minutes until I can leave.  I watch the clock anxiously.  So do my students, especially those who are still working on their tests.  I hope everyone finishes on time.  I hope everyone’s parents are on time.  I hope no one has questions after class.  I hope that I can pack up and leave by 8:35.  It seems unlikely, but a girl can hope, right?

IMG_12469PM: As I drive home, fighting the urge to press down on the accelerator, I find myself thinking about my decision to return to work.  As difficult as this day has been, I am also glad to be back in the office two days a week without my little buddy.  It’s been incredibly difficult to divide my time at home between John and work.  The knowledge that I cannot be completely present to my son has tormented me.  I nearly missed his first time rolling over because I was working.  And I was sitting right next to him.  But I was paying attention to the email I was writing, and so I nearly missed it.  It would have been one thing if I had missed his first time doing anything because I was at work; it was devastating to realize that I had nearly missed a first while I was right there with him.  But not with him at the same time.  Because I was working.  At least now most of my work hours will be spent in my office, rather than on the living room floor or the couch.  At least now I know that my time at home can be spent with my son (and maybe cleaning our bathroom from time to time).  At least now I know that my time will be divided more concretely so that I can be more fully present to my students while I’m at work and to my husband and son when I am home.  As I pull into our apartment complex, I am thinking about tomorrow morning, when I’ll be able to sit on the floor beside John as he plays and just be with him.

10PM: John is sleeping.  I temporarily placate my need to hold him by peaking into his room to see him.  I’m looking forward to his first nighttime feeding like I never have before.  Just a few hours before I can wrap my little guy in my arms and pretend that I never have to let him go.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!


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