When I first got home after having Nora, I had a minor nervous breakdown, as I've mentioned before, when I realized how much time I'd be spending at home. Alone. Tied down. Not that I didn't like the baby. The baby was great. Just that I wasn't sure I could survive on so little contact with other adults. I've always been like this. I like spending a day at home only in theory. Halfway through, I'm staring longingly at the front door. It took me a few weeks to truly get over that feeling. Taking care of a new baby at the same time didn't help matters. Do I put her down and listen to her cry while I make lunch? Can I manage holding her while I pour myself a glass of water? It was a great big learning experience, really, and I can honestly say that I learned quickly. Because I wasn't going to sit around unshowered and hungry all day long, I just couldn't take that. Yeah, there were a couple times I emailed or texted J something like "I'm having a hard time today," code for "Come home RIGHT NOW," but thankfully those days were the exceptions.
I started to appreciate my time off. I relaxed on the couch and read as much of The New Yorker as I wanted while the baby slept. I put her in her stroller and we went for long walks. I started attending a mothers' support group, as well as began venturing out on my own whenever I wanted. Coffee shops, errands, whatever - taking the baby out became not only easy but fun. There were roadtrips and family visits and events to break up the monotony.
Now, at about two and a half months, Nora is changing in new ways every day and has become this completely engaging little person. We sit around and make funny faces at each other. I point to her eyes, nose and mouth, listing off those body parts aloud and then do the same with my face. She finds this hilarious, who knows why, and throws her head back and smiles with her mouth wide open.
When things are less than perfect, and of course they often are - a day when I'm feeling exhausted because of a bad night of sleep, or a bout of fussiness right when we sit down to dinner - we deal with the situation more easily than we did in those early weeks. We laugh at our baby (it's ok, she doesn't know), gently making fun of her for being so ridiculously dramatic. We take turns holding her while the other eats. It's no big deal anymore. And perhaps more importantly, we know that it's only temporary. That soon we will all be snuggled in bed (or in a bassinet, as the case may be), our little family.
I look forward to things that unscheduled days allow, like lingering over my coffee in the morning and watching Oprah in the afternoon, something I've never done before in my life and, now, can't imagine living without. When I'm playing with the baby I don't kid myself into thinking I can get anything else done at the same time. I don't want to, either.
I'm not sure I could do this forever. I still miss the chatter of the office and, I admit, I'd love an afternoon all to myself every now and then, free from worrying when the next feeding or nap will fall. But now, as I'm entering the last month of my maternity leave, I feel kind of sad. Beyond figuring out the specifics, such as what days I'll commute into New York, how that will work with the baby's schedule and which daycare we'll choose, I'm sure there will be an overall sense of loss, as well. I can't imagine I'll be totally unhappy, but I do feel a sudden urge to make the most of this time.
Unlike making the most of the last semester of your senior year, however, or a weekend in Paris, making the most of the end of my maternity leave seems to mean doing more of the same; a gentle pattern of eating, playing and sleeping and - though I never thought I'd get used to it - quiet solitude, that has not become so familiar. While I'm optimistic about a new year and all the changes it will bring, I will miss these cold days spent biding our time on the couch, reading a book called "Hello Baby," perhaps, or talking about our feet, never concerned about what we'll do next.