Her tiny hands cling to my leg and she leans into me with all of her twenty pounds. She wants to simply melt into me. Perhaps fold herself up so I can carry her in my pocket always. I am cooking lunch, which she wants, but I am not holding her, which she wants more. It is noon on a Tuesday.
Since she was born she has been my sidekick, my partner in crime, my ever-present bundle of joy and need. Just when I think she has consumed every last bit of my energy she scrapes up some more, like dragging a spoon across the bottom of a bowl to lick clean the last bit of cookie dough. And I have loved all 17 months of it.
I never thought I would be a mom who didn’t work outside the home. Even when I went on maternity leave, I always planned on returning. But it never happened. As the date to go back to work approached, I looked up at my husband with tears in my eyes as I held my teeny tiny baby’s teeny tiny hands. Almost without any real discussion—and I am thankful for this—we began planning how I could stay at home just a little bit longer. It was a miracle, but somehow it worked.
No; miracle is the wrong word. That makes it sound like some magical fairy came down and blessed us with the resources to survive on almost half of what we had been. It was chicken and rice for dinner again. It was second-hand clothes. It was selling a car. It was writing for freelance gigs at three a.m. while breastfeeding. It was sacrifice and work and compromise.
And yet. Here I am poised to return to work. I am checking daycare websites to compare fees and naptime schedules. I am letting deep breaths roll in and out of my chest, praying that they sweep away my anxiety and doubt.
Will I be as good of a mother? I am ashamed of even asking myself that question, but I do. One single sentence that sums up Mom Guilt. One heart wrenching question that we all silently ask ourselves in one way or another about every move we make. And do you know why we ask ourselves this question? Because we are already good mothers and, just by asking that question, will probably continue to be.
So here I am: toes lined up to the very edge of the platform, ready to dive. I will never know if I made the right decision, life just isn’t set up like that. We don’t have the luxury of a tidy conclusion, a still picture of a smiling family set to a laugh track and rolling credits signaling a happy ending. Life is much messier than that. It’s the smell of her hair after a bath. It’s missing her weight against my leg. It’s making the hard decisions about what is best for our family—whatever that might be.