Poems & Essays

13 Feb

Bring Your Baby to Work

Babyhood No Response

I hold these memories in trust for you. Memories you helped create, before there was film in your mental camera—before your self-awareness could hit ‘record’ and hope to capture them as anything but the foggiest of daydreams. I remember for us both. I treasure that essence of you: the molten core of you that predates your disillusionments, your tough life lessons, your bitter regrets and disappointments, your coat of armor that you will eventually don, as we all must, to survive. I touched the truest elements of you first, and you changed me.

For your first year of life, I brought you with me to my office. It was a mixed blessing. I was so grateful to be spared the expense of daycare, and to get to spend every minute of your life with you. Sometimes it was the best of both worlds.

It was also almost impossibly hard. Breast-feeding you under your nursing cover while struggling to type; trying to keep you from fussing or crying when someone was on the phone… By the end of my 6 hour work day, my nerves were frayed with a new kind of exhaustion I’d never experienced before in my adult life. I walked a tightrope: mother and dutiful employee trying to cross a chasm of expectations.

At first, you mostly slept. And nursed. As long as I could maintain that delicate balancing act, I could still convince myself I was in control. Professional.

But you grew. You grew strong, and curious. You tossed aside the nursing cover. You wanted to crawl. What does the dirt in the potted plant taste like, that it drew you so inexplicably—ambrosia? The magazine rack in the lobby was endlessly exciting to the little hands that grasped and waved and threw with reckless disregard for onlookers. The heat press…well, that was at least one stern warning you listened to.

We only had one car. Times were hard. We were poor. Since I worked within walking distance and your father did not, the obvious solution was for me to walk home—with you. I would put your tiny coat on (the one that made you look like a wooly little lamb) and your soft-soled boots; I would tuck you into your stroller with your blanket and a stuffed animal. I would pack my laptop and all the many supplies a mother requires, like some urban camel. Or a bipedal minivan.

Lumbering, frayed, we would strike out from my office—so often in the rain. The road was narrow, one side a seamless blending of corporate parks, the other a dense stand of trees and blackberry bushes. The drivers passed too fast, too close. No sidewalk. We would cling to the rough edge of the ditch, me placing my body between the stroller and the road when aggressive trucks passed. Sometimes they honked in outrage at my offensive presence. I still wonder why.

I sang to you. I sang because I was scared and tired, and I didn’t want you to know it. In between flagging breaths, I chanted every verse of every song I could remember. If you ever favored one over another, you gave no sign.

And when we came to the end of that terrifying road, we stood at the foot of an oppressively tall hill. We hit it with long strides, relieved by the safety of the sidewalk. We took in the sights as the forest dropped away to our right. Wet, shiny leaves and the smell of rich soil and moldy, growing things. Tendrils of blackberry bush greedily slithered into cracks in the cement, tripping feet that dragged with weariness. My strides shrank. My lungs burned.

The top of the hill was blessed reprieve. We would stand at the intersection waiting for our light, and I would catch my breath. On clear days, we could see mountains to our left. White-capped even in the heat of summer.

And then our light would change, and I would remind you—if you were still awake—that it was all downhill from here. Time to hold on tight.

I would take firm grip on the handlebar of your stroller. Tie the safety strap around my wrist. Tighten the pack across my shoulders. And we’d run. The hill stretched out below us now, a wide sidewalk descending in the dappled sunlight between overhanging tree branches, begging for the crescendo of pounding feet and giddy squeals. You leaned forward in your stroller, throwing your arms out wide in flight, and laughed.

If there were no other pedestrians, we would zig-zag in wide arcs back and forth across the sidewalk. You screamed with glee as we careened on the edge of my control to the intersection at the bottom of the hill. We’d wait there for our turn to cross—as if none of it had happened.

Sight of home was a beacon: tiny, shabby second floor apartment that it was—even though it meant a lead-legged climb up an unforgiving flight of stairs with you and your stroller…and the pack and all our supplies. Most days it seemed almost insurmountable. I still remember the way my arms trembled. But you never worried that I might drop you. I was all-powerful in your eyes; your faith was unshakeable. And so I never did drop you. Your faith was stronger than my fatigue.

Then you started walking. So fast. Too fast. I had scant moments at my desk between near-disasters. Don’t touch that. Put that down. Here, watch Elmo on Mommy’s computer. Sit still long enough for me to finish this email, I beg you.

The office began to mutter. Isn’t it time that girl starts daycare? She needs to be socialized more. How much longer can this continue, anyway?

And for the love of God, child, stop playing with the paper-shredder.

So we found you a daycare. A kind, sweet, happy place filled with new friends. New lessons. Your life is beginning, and it’s very different from mine. The eddies of time will carry you further and further from my grasp. A grasp that held on so tightly to the handle of your stroller is slowly learning to let you go.

When I told you this story, you were four years old. I don’t always realize how much you understand now. I didn’t know my throat would close up so tightly when I felt that moment of piercing clarity—those days are behind us. I didn’t realize you would share it, or that you would cry in my arms and say, “Mommy, I want to go to work with you again.”

As hard as those days were, I didn’t think I’d ever wish them back. But I do.

 

Melissa Hudson is a mom to a 4 year old, a runner, and a professional artist.

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