I went back to fulltime engineering work when my first child was about two and a half months old. I remember speeding off in the still-dark in our “family car” – the little Civic hatchback – with my heart thumping and my stomach feeling dreadfully wrong. I put a Prince CD in the car’s goofy stereo Ralph had found for so cheap and installed himself (‘BLAUPUNKT’) and blasted “Little Red Corvette”. It helped. At work I think I made it a couple hours before I found a reason to phone my two at home. Again, my heart racing: I wanted to be with them so very much. I remember Roger – what was his last name? I can’t seem to remember! – the pulp mill assistant super stopping me by the tool room and asking with a big wide smile: how many times had I called home already?
For the record, as far as I know, my husband never once didn’t have a lovely, lovely and safe, safe day with our infant daughter. I remember he’d take a picture of her and I’d put it in a tiny waterproof sleeve on my hardhat. She was a badge of pride for me.
I remember walking past that same tool room a year later again with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach: I knew I was going upstairs to tell my boss I was leaving. It was a different “horrible”. It was the feeling of not knowing what was to come and knowing I was doing something so many were telling me NOT to, something the women in my family didn’t do. Still, it didn’t feel “wrong”. It felt like something to get over and move on from, if I could let myself.
If I could I’d take up all those months I was away from my baby. If I could I’d give those months with our second child to my husband, who had to go back to work after two weeks off.
See, I’ve never been able to escape that feeling of dread, of “wrong”ness when I leave my family. Yes, this includes Ralph, not just the kids. I suppose that’s OK; it means I love them deeply, inexorably, completely. What’s important is the feeling of “wrong” wears off and I find I can be myself again.* – and of course, catch up on that time of privacy and self-soothing. It turns out they may so deep down in my bones feel like a part of me, but in another way they’re not.
Their removal does not diminish me; it just hurts a little bit, every time.
* Flash forward six hours from now when I’m wearing a beer garland on my head, shaking my ass on a stained table at the 101 and the other patrons are staring in belligerent disbelief.