Who’s Taking Care of Your Baby?
On the way to the coffee shop this morning an old man on our block waved hi to me. In the three years I’ve lived here, we’ve never exchanged much beyond a nod or a smile. “Going to work?” he asked. I considered this for a minute. “Yep!” I told him, my computer in my bag.
As I passed by him he shouted something else that I didn’t quite hear. I turned around, said, “What?” “Who’s watching your BABY?!” he repeated, laughing a little.
I spun around to make eye contact with him. “My HUSBAND!” I said and spun back around and crossed the street.
Dustin’s isn’t my husband and when I got to the coffee shop this morning I wasn’t sure what I’d work on, just that I had pumped 3 ounces of milk this morning, sitting at the kitchen table, and that this meant I could be gone for 3.5 hours.
This guy is one thing, but other people ask me, too. People at the pie shop who saw me grow more and more pregnant and then disappear for a month or two are excited to see me, but confused. “Aren’t you missing something?” the woman who shares a table with me laughed. “I think you forgot somebody!”
It did feel that way at first, crossing the street against the light again because I had no reason not to. I thought I might just keep walking forever, music blaring in my headphones, weaving my way through traffic, a lone entity at long last.
I laughed with my friend in the pie shop and the next time I saw her she said something like, “You know, I’m glad you’re still able to come here. It’s good to see.”
“Me too!” I said, and we both exclaimed something about my SANITY at the same time, and I loved her. She lives with her girlfriend, though she was very hesitant about the move, which I overheard her explain to somebody some other afternoon. Her friend that time had a new baby, and I was hugely pregnant. After the friend left she looked at me and apologized for talking so loudly. “Oh my god, no,” I said. We were in a damned pie shop, people are supposed to meet friends and chat. “Sorry I couldn’t stop staring at the baby!” I said. “That’s gonna be you!” she said. “It’s coming for you!”
Our ‘situation’ right now is one of those things where I explain what we are doing and people squint a little and tell me how nice it must be while wondering how the hell we are doing it. If I know the person a little bit, or like them a little bit, I explain.
“Yes, I am a blogger and freelance writer and my fiance left his job to go freelance. He does book marketing and writing, too.”
They nod, still confused.
“It is not very lucrative!” I say, hoping they won’t resent me too much. “We are blowing through savings.”
If I really like them or really know them, I tell them I worked at a tech company that was acquired recently and that is how we are able to do it. I don’t like perpetuating the myth that we just SAVED UP a bunch of money as much as I don’t like perpetuating the myth that a family of three can survive on two freelance writers working half-time.
“It’s working for now,” I usually say. “We decided to try it out for awhile, for these first few months anyway.”
I don’t say I’m hoping for some sort of miracle, or that I hope we can stretch this out somehow until he goes to school.
If there is a big group of moms I say, “You know, never enough time for work and never enough time for…,” and I gesture toward the baby in my lap. This type of self-deprecation makes everyone feel better.
There is always enough time for the baby, though. The baby demands it. The baby is a human we love, and he comes first whether we want him to or not.
Prioritizing work, for me, feels like a feminist act. Everything is conspiring against it, so I am the only defender of my work’s importance. I am responsible for justifying it to myself. I read Twitter on my phone while I feed him, trying to feel like I’m still in the world, and of it. I think of emails I want to send when I am playing with him. I write essays in my head when I walk around with him in the carrier. He is amazing, here is where I have to interject and say that. We dance around and sing and yell nonsense over and over and over and over. I carry him all around the house, never knowing quite where to put him so that he’s comfortable. You sit him down and dives forward. I lie him down and he spazzes out, wanting to sit up. I wave my head around, swinging my ponytail, and make him laugh. We look in the mirror and laugh. I sneak glances at the clock. It’s exhausting, this beautiful, enriching time with him. Like performing for hours on end. I take photos of him. I try to post them to Instagram and he stares at the phone and gets really excited and I worry I am scrambling his brain so I slide it under my thigh and shake a different toy in front of him.
Around 5:30 p.m. I think about dinner but have no energy to come to conclusions or do anything about it. This is around when I start to consider whether I will have enough energy after he goes to bed to do more work. I won’t, nothing beyond admin or email, but I will sit with my beer at my computer for a few hours and feel like myself again.
Living our life like this, exactly as we want to, makes me greedy for more, for less and less reality. If I could do absolutely whatever I wanted, what would I do? I would walk around in the cool air of the morning. I would write in a journal on a bench with a coffee. Would I write all day and every 90 minutes, hang out with him for 20? Two hours of work, one hour of him? I would go for runs, see friends, cook elaborate meals. Some trusted family member would watch the baby while I was off writing about him.
I am trying, we are trying, to strike some sort of balance between doing exactly what we want and being responsible. Living our lives so that we can do almost-what-we-want for longer.
I think a lot about rich novelists with their sheds in their backyards and their beautiful craftsman houses. This is not within our reach, and I wonder if it ever will be. Odds are no, and I will be happy if we are never those people, but I also try not to completely lose sight of it. “If they can do it, why not us?” There are a million reasons why not, and why it is so arrogant of me to even have that thought.
But maybe it’s self-defeating to not even consider the possibility that I could have the life I dream about.
For now we take four hour shifts and send emails during nap time, plotting out our next steps. Where we’ll move, how we’ll make money.
I have decided that four hours is about what I need for work and about as long as I can take with the baby, by myself, without going a little insane. If I know it will be longer I’ll pace myself and eat well and drink enough water and bring him to ‘activities’ and visit with friends. At three hours I start to get antsy and exhausted; impatient. I am biding time. After four I start to think, I am not meant to be a mother. I have to get out of the house.
We are both making some money, to be sure. We are lucky. People come to us with work. It’s thrown at us. We had great work opportunities before the baby, and we did our jobs well and people know and like us, generally. But that does not pay the bills. We don’t have much time and we aren’t making enough money. It’s precarious. Some people, I’m sure, think we’re being irresponsible. We could go on like this for a few years, I remind myself. The bank balance slowly diminishing. The baby will only be a baby once. We are out of the work force but still in it just enough.
When people see me they are afraid to ask what I am doing. They ask Dustin what he’s doing for work, where he’s working now, and they look at me and say, “How is…life?” Life is good. It is ridiculous.
When I got pregnant I did not understand why everyone asked only me what I was going to do with the baby.
“Oh, and since you are freelancing, you can write during his naps and take him with you to meetings.”
“I don’t know,” I’d say. “I think it will be too distracting.”
“Newborns sleep all the time,” my friends without babies would say. Their friend has a baby, and he sleeps all the time.
I would look away and try not to cry. I was so afraid to lose this thing I had always known I wanted to do. Losing a known entity to an unknown one.
Yesterday I went to a story time at the library. I was bouncing the baby on my lap and debating whether I’d write about this. I tried to be a good sport but also tried not to laugh. One woman there is a midwife. She works three days a week and has her baby for two. We talked about how we feel so much more confident and capable at work now, compared to how we feel taking care of our babies. We’d done work for years; the baby thing was new. I told her I worked in the mornings. Someone listening to us talk about how much we savored working now piped up. “What do you do that you can manage that?”
“Oh, I write,” I said. I decided not to self-deprecate and see how it felt.
“Who takes care of your baby in the mornings???” someone asked.
“My fiance,” I said. “We are both freelance.”
“That must be nice.”
“It is!” I say. I decided not to explain any further. It is nice. We are lucky. It is ridiculous. We are living our lives in the most ideal way we could imagine right now, and it is still really hard sometimes and we worry about it and we’re still figuring it out. It feels unsustainable, and it probably is, but for now I am trying not to let that feeling take away from my enjoyment of it.