I realize now just how deluded I was.
In those last sweaty months of my pregnancy, when I was wobbling into the office and enduring yet another meeting while my baby flutter-kicked my bladder, I would fantasize about my “year off” in the same way that I now fantasize about checking into a hotel alone: obsessively, longingly, wistfully.
Learning French, travelling, writing a memoir: On mat leave, I was going to do it all.
Oh, the things I would accomplish! I’d be so fit from my daily jogs with my baby. My house would be so organized from all the DIY projects I’d master while he peacefully napped. I’d return to the workforce more skilled and savvy from all the articles and books I’d immerse myself in after he fell asleep blissfully early each evening.
Even as the months of my maternity leave slipped by in a haze of spit-up and sleeplessness, I tenaciously clung to these dreams – that is, until two weeks before my son’s first birthday. I woke up and realized that I was still wearing maternity leggings (not necessarily by choice), I’d read nothing except mommy blogs in a year (occasionally, an actual news article would find its way into my newsfeed, but I assumed it was satire: “Look, baby, someone wrote another funny article about that angry orange man!”), and the most “memoir writing” I’d done was in my son’s one-line-a-day journal, which I’d quit abruptly when he was three weeks old. (“You sure cried a lot today, baby! I wonder if it’s colic.” Spoiler: It was colic.)
Mat leave: expectations vs. reality With 52 weeks off work – an eternity, really – it always felt like I had so much more time. As soon as my baby stopped screaming 20 hours a day and slept through the night or maybe once I ironed out his nap schedule, he stopped teething and got over his separation anxiety, I’d definitely start writing my novel.
While I was still pregnant, I devoured a parenting book that detailed how the French raise their babies to be self-soothing, independent, obedient children who sleep through the night, starting at three months old (by delaying gratification), while their parents enjoy vigorous sex lives and fulfilling careers and treat themselves to soft cheeses and bold wines.
“This,” I told my husband, while waving the book in his face. “We’re doing this.”
Then my son was born and, for six months, screamed as if he’d been shot every time he wasn’t held. Just like that, I became an accidental attachment parent, and all those fantasies of what I’d accomplish during his naps or after bedtime (exercise videos, his baby book, my taxes) were replaced with the reality of binge-eating muffins while watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls (plus the sequel) as my son snored into my nipple.
Slowly, the rest of my mat-leave fantasies gave way to my new-mom realities. I’d dreamed of travelling with my son (baby’s first plane ride, baby’s first dip in the ocean, baby’s first passport stamp), but we barely made it further afield than the neighbourhood park. I envisioned myself morphing into a domestic goddess, but instead I spent a year buying precooked rotisserie chickens and eating McCain Deep ’n Delicious Cake straight out of the freezer. At the very least, I planned to organize my baby photos into scrapbooks. Instead, my phone is so full of unprinted baby images that I recently had to delete my map and weather apps to take a photo of my son wearing a fedora (worth it!).
We just celebrated my son’s first birthday, which marked the end of my “year off” but also provided an opportunity for some much-needed reflection. As he grinned at me through cupcake-coated lips and fingerpainted icing on everything within reach, I felt my eyes well up. “I made him,” I thought to myself, wiping icing out of my nostril, “and that’s not nothing.”
As for my dream of learning French? Well, once I whipped a French parenting book at the wall during a 3 a.m. feeding. That has to count for something.