Today was my first day back at work after my mat leave with Hil. Maybe it hasn’t quite hit me yet, but I am not anywhere near as devastated as people seem to expect me to be? It’s all – “How do you feel about going back?” How do I feel? Well…I’m a bit terrified about getting put on some crazytown trial or certification motion or something, but I’ve always felt that way. Way before kids and mat leaves were on the horizon! In fact, back then having to unexpected work late into the night or on a weekend or vacation felt more like a personal affront or irritation. Like, ugh! I was going to have FUN and now work is bullshit! Now, I’m more like, ugh, now who is going to do the laundry/make the dinner/fix the lunches/get the kids!? My job prevents me from doing other work, is all.

But really, how do I feel? Well, right now it’s kind of the best gig in the world, because it’s not in my house, I have an excuse to do my hair and make up, I drink hot coffee in silence, and I read articles written by smart people and actually can comprehend a sentence or two out of them. It’s basically all a novelty now, and it’s great. It’s definitely not a thing of dread or horror. Mat leave is great in its own way, but it also has many moments of being dull and depressing in all its sameness and rote work. Just like any work, I suppose. That’s why it’s called “work” and not “an 8+ hour extravaganza of happiness and fulfillment served up five times a week for the rest of your life.”

I know I’m not alone in feeling like I need something other than just being around my kids all day and keeping house to feel occupied and fulfilled, but it still feels kind of strange to be open about it. Like showing your actual enthusiasm for work is outing yourself as a freak who wouldn’t rather be caring for her children…and yes, obviously, we should all be serene and confident in our choices and let all the commentary roll off our backs and whatever, but truthfully, no one is impervious to feeling sensitive about their parenting choices from time to time. Of course I’ll miss my kids. Of course I’ll wonder if they are being well cared for (they are) and whether they miss me (they do, within reason) and whether it wouldn’t be better if they had me or J at home all the time, every day, forever and ever (I am pretty certain that the answer is a firm no to that one).

But all these things – the doubts, the questions, the stress, the craziness of trying to make it work every day, even when your heart isn’t really in it and you’re wondering, always wondering, is this what we should be doing? – are still not a reason to stop working altogether, and I can’t help but feel like that’s kind of the implicit message we women keep getting. Like even in well-meaning debates about retaining women in the workforce and flex time and part time and off ramps and all the rest. It almost plants the seed of stepping back when really, should that be a women’s issue or even a discussion for ambitious women? Do men really contend with the same? I’d argue no. Sheryl Sandberg discusses this in her book – those of you who have read it will remember the analogy to a man and woman running the same race. When the race gets tough, the man hears messages of encouragement – “You can do this!” “Almost there!” “So close!” – whereas the woman is essentially given permission to stop. “You don’t really have to do this!” “You can stop!” “This isn’t that important, it’s just a race!”

Have you ever heard of a man being counseled to just give up when things at work get tough? Do they get the condescending lectures about how the kids are just soooo important and little right now? A Facebook friend today put up a joke in her status about how she was going to quit her job to be a stay at home mom. Most of us “got” that it was a joke right off the bat, but there were a number of “That’s so wonderful! Good for you! The kids are only ever little once!” type of responses as well. On another Facebook post from a few weeks ago, a different friend mentioned it was her first day back from maternity leave. She wasn’t mopey or depressed-sounding or anything, just sharing her news of the day. Most people treated it as such and wished her a great day and transition, that kind of thing. And then someone came along with their big sad face emoticon and their comment that “Sorry to hear that! I think we had it right back when the mom stayed home with the kids! May be old fashioned but that’s what I believe.” I had some itchy fingers there, let me tell you, but obviously sat on them. Like, eff you. First of all, asshat, plenty of women do still stay home, as do men, so it’s not like it’s some relic of the past or entirely impossible for the people who want to do it. Why even go there, you know? 

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