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Turning loose, holding tighter as Mom returns to work

POSTED: January 23, 2011 12:30 a.m.

His milestones multiplied before my job started. Or maybe it just seemed that way to me, the woman who is supposed to know him best.

So on the night before my first work day here, and our 18-month-old son's initial day care visit, I wrote "instructions" for his new daytime mommies.

I led with danger. After all, my boy is a bit of a contortionist, knows just how to wedge his body into tight spaces and has a natural way with head wounds. He climbs chairs, tests stairs and marvels at how he cannot move up a slide, I warned.

At play, he stacks blocks and banana slices with equal precision. Talking ... well, that's a work in progress, too.

"He jabbers, squawks, raises his hands for attention, glares for milk, and makes a whole bunch of noises, but he does not communicate in plain terms," I typed.

He does, however, understand what you say and do, I wrote. Then I pictured him watching me leave the first time, closed my eyes and kept typing.

"Lastly, he has been hugging us more lately, a lovely development," I said. "We hope the ‘love' in your mission statement will extend to J.R., who may wonder why we're not around as much as we used to be."

That's when I took a break. Tears kill laptops as fast as overturned drink glasses.

See, I quit my newspaper job in Athens to care for my firstborn, the baby I called Boy Wonder in the few columns penned about him there.

During that time, I studied one beautiful end of the parenting spectrum. Staying at home, whether you're a mom or dad, is glorious, yes. But it's also rock-climbing physical, folks.

Babies change constantly and grow fast. Chores multiply like Little People and Legos. The pressure at home is intense. One feels urgency to clean, launder and teach every second of every day.

Self worth is measured in small increments - a smile, the child's return to mom's lap, and the aforementioned milestones you feel certain God created for you alone.

Working a job as a parent is also an uphill challenge, I've learned. Focusing is difficult. Devotion to the job alone is a nonstarter. The clock ticks louder. And the paycheck feels emptier.

Managing multiple schedules and meeting deadlines is darn near impossible. Planning is essential; worries, constant.

All the while, the ultimate question exists like an arrow forever aimed at your heart. Will he view my leaving him as a sacrifice made to secure his future?

My read on parents in Gainesville is that many of us share this struggle. Families here work hard to make it work at all.

I've discussed schools with passionate parents, viewed countless family photos on cubicle shelves and bulletin boards. Likewise, mothers I spotted recently with their offspring at Interactive Neighborhood for Kids proved my thesis: There's nothing about staying put for moms who "stay at home."

This kindred current of experience is what I rely on every morning when my stomach knots the second I arrive to my son's day care.

While I swallow back tears, his have stopped welling altogether.

His teachers greet him with great enthusiasm, and I can see a faint smile register on his face.

Boy Wonder and his daytime mommies are learning their own way together. And I let them.

Daily notes are written to us now. Often they mention those beautiful milestone moments I still cherish. He points now, chats more, pats his legs at story time and dances, they say.

There's something else he is continuing to do, too. I take it as a sure sign the women who one day might know him as well as I do are caring for him deeply in our absence.
His precious arms still wrap around my neck, a lovely development indeed.

Erin Rossiter is a reporter for The Times whose columns appear on Sunday's Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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