When I left my 6-month-old daughter, Frances, alone with my husband so I could get a pedicure, I sent him 14 texts, “just checking in.”
If someone asks me, “How are you?”, I respond with something with like, “Frances is sitting up!”
Four months in, when she started sleeping through the night, I was melancholy. I missed our nighttime nursing sessions, and I’m not bummed if she wakes up from time to time. “Oh good,” I think, “I’ve missed you.”
When people ask if my husband and I have “date nights,” I always smile. “Every night after Frances goes to bed at 7pm,” I say. “We watch Netflix, drink wine, and have adult conversations.”
But truthfully, I spend most of that time watching Frances through the monitor, adjusting the thermostat in her room like Goldilocks – “71! It’s too warm. 70! It’s too cold!” – and filling my husband in on how she napped and ate that day while he tries to watch Narcos.
I am obsessed with my baby.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The more love and attention she gets, the better. But, there are other people – like her dad, for example – who are also capable of giving her these things. It’s important I don’t lose sight of who I was – mentally and physically – for those 42 years before Frances came into my life. This requires some time away, or so I’ve heard.
I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been out of the house without Frances, though I’ve done well taking care of myself with her in tow.
She has accompanied me to massage appointments (not super relaxing), yoga classes (sometimes zen, sometimes less than), a girlfriend’s house to get my hair cut (highly recommend!) and the dentist where my husband waited outside with her while I zipped in to get my teeth cleaned (“No x-rays today, I have a baby in the car who is probably starving.”).
But there are some places – like a fume ridden nail salon, or a future job – that I just don’t feel comfortable taking my little one, and my husband can’t always be my chauffeur.
One afternoon, when Frances was 7 weeks old, I left to attend a friend’s business launch party just a few minutes away. I fed her right before and told my husband to text me the minute she gave off any hunger cues. While I was gone, he texted me pictures of her happy in her swing (his go-to apparatus). After 90 minutes, I could feel my breasts swell – like a superhero power or a telepathic message – and I left. Frances would be hungry soon.
I returned home to a wailing baby wearing mismatched clothes on backwards and my husband trying – unsuccessfully – to shove a bottle in her mouth while John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders” blasted in the background – an attempt to soothe her and drown out her cries.
I tried not to scream. “Why didn’t you text me?!”
“I wanted you to have a good time.”
It took an hour for me to get her to settle enough to eat. My heart was broken. I let her down by not being here, I thought. I vowed never to do that again.
But now, at 6 months, Frances is a different baby. he’s a thumb sucking self-soother who doesn’t need to eat as often. Her meltdowns are few and far between. My husband is coming into his own as a dad (though I will always be confused by his outfit choices for her). She smiles and giggles with him like no one else.
It’s time to come into my own as a mom, too, which means having the courage to step away for awhile – for my sake and for hers. When Frances is older and her friends ask what her mom does, I don’t want her answer to be, “Uh, she stares at me.”
If I want her to be independent, I need to lead by example. But, it’s still really hard. I feel light years away from feeling comfortable leaving her with a sitter.
Slowly I’m finding moments to return to myself – short morning walks with our dog, an evening yoga class after my husband gets home from work – each time gaining confidence to be out a little longer and venture a little farther. I’m reminded, every time, that I do have non-baby related thoughts.
Well, maybe just one or two.
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