When I was in the first grade, my classmate April's father was killed in a car accident.
A year or so later, I went to her house after school and met her nanny and her two-year-old brother. Their mother came home after a few hours, and I listened to her brother scream and cry as the nanny put her coat on. And he wailed. And he howled.
April shrugged. "He hates it when she leaves."
Finally, the nanny snapped: "I'm not your mother. She is!"
And in that moment, my heart broke. And that scene burned itself into my memory like it happened yesterday.
My eight-year-old self knew nothing about having a working mother. My mom stayed home and made both my chocolate-chip cookies and my Halloween costumes from scratch. We were poor and I wore homemade clothes and one year my mom made me a Care Bear for Christmas, but I couldn't imagine how you could be confused about which lady was your mommy.
I'm not your mother. She is.
What hurts most about this memory these days is the realization that I had the gall to judge April's mother. She'd lost her husband and her child's loyalty and yet I sat there among her daughter's Barbies and thought that if she really loved her little boy she'd get remarried and stay home.
This is my last week of maternity leave. I go back to work next Tuesday.
I've dreaded typing those words. Not only because the thought of leaving Noah makes me physically ill, but because I'm just not ready to handle any feedback about the whole thing. The endless recommendations of different books about staying home, the stupidly obvious questions about working part-time or from home, and of course, the blatant judgment about how much we spend.
I know a lot of readers think I am spoiled and extravagant, and they're probably right. But if they think that the key to my staying home is an unwillingness to cut back on my Sephora visits, they're wrong.
I've dreaded typing those words because I'm afraid someone will lash out and hurt me, not understanding that I'm already hurting. I have to go back to work. I sort of want to go back to work. I'm not sure which circumstance makes me feel worse.
Listen: I'm not really that shallow. Amalah? Kind of a sarcastic little persona-alter-ego-thing. My friends and I all laugh at the idea that I'm some kind of Internet fashion and beauty "expert," because my favorite store in the world is Filene's Basement and I look like crap a lot of the time.
I shop the sale rack and am notorious for wearing clothes until they disintegrate instead of buying new ones. I work in finance and know how to stick to a goddamned budget. Most of Noah's clothes are gifts or hand-me-downs from my hairdresser. And I am ready to sacrifice anything for him, much to the dismay of certain hatemailers who seemed to revel in the idea of how miserable I was going to be after having a baby and realizing that I wouldn't be getting a Tiffany's necklace again anytime soon.
(Yes, my husband got a little sports car this summer and I got diamond earrings. They're called stock options, and we've been very fortunate, and the biggest chunk of money still went to Noah's college fund.)
We live in a very expensive area, with a very expensive mortgage. We're currently looking for something cheaper and even spent a weekend in a different city looking at houses there. (Fuck you, Philly, with your stupid high property taxes and stupid no jobs for Jason.) But at this point in time, there's nothing else to do but hand over half my salary to daycare and go back to work.
A 50% pay cut means no more Coach bags, HBO or satellite radio. A 100% pay cut means no retirement account, groceries or knee surgery for the dog.
I've dreaded typing those words because I shouldn't have to tell you all this.
The life we've imagined for Noah is (I hope) a happy one. We want to raise him in a city we love -- where there's more to do than hang out at the mall or play XBox. We want to raise him in our safe, leafy and park-filled neighborhood with the playgrounds and the pool. We want him to eat ethnic foods and understand that the homeless man on the corner is not necessarily bad or lazy and not everyone is as lucky as he is. We want Disneyworld and the seashore. We want him to save up his allowance and understand what things cost, but we still want to be able to meet him halfway or surprise him with that one special toy and create another in a long line of Best Christmases Ever.
If he wants cargo pants from the Gap, I want to be able to buy him a damn pair of cargo pants from the Gap.
And this is just me. If you gave up absolutely everything to stay home with your children, I admire you completely. If you gave up nothing and went back to work simply because you wanted to, I think that's fantastic too.
I dreaded typing those words because no matter what decision you make, there's somebody out there thinking that you are selfish or lazy or useless or heartless.
And I am looking forward to, you know, getting dressed every day and talking to adults again. And I know there are upsides to daycare. Like socialization, a better immune system and a child who understands from a young age that they are not the center of the universe.
But he's the center of my universe, and I'm so afraid he won't know that.
I'm your mother, baby, and don't you ever forget that.