In the days after bringing my newborn son home from the hospital our family began the delightful, disorienting process of adjusting to a new human in our home. I sat on my perch for hours on end feeding the little guy or holding him while he slept. Because this was my second child I was far less overwhelmed at the concept of taking care of a living being. The greatest challenge I found was learning how to give my daughter (who had just turned 2) the same attention I was used to providing her with.
Many questions are on my mind these days like how will I maintain quality time with my children when I return to work? How will I find a way to fit in exercise? How will I keep up a practise of writing my thoughts regularly? How will I ensure that the meals available to my family are healthy and wholesome? I don’t ask these questions as a way of wondering if I will manage these things. I am taking a great deal of time in the days leading up to my return to my job in the city answering these questions. How will I? Not whether and if, but how. Ideas are being thrown around like snowflakes in a storm.
I recall vividly the moment that my two year old stood at the edge of my lap as I held my sleeping son. “Is there space for me?” she asked. I glanced into my lap and noticed in the physical realm there was very little room for her on my lap. But when I looked into my heart the answer was clear, and without hesitation I said: “Of course there is! Come on up!”
The moments that followed would define the entire next few years of my life as I learned how to integrate all of the essentially important things together. I shifted my sleeping son so that he leaning out over the armrest of the chair and aided my daughter as she took up residence on a part of one knee. We sat there awkwardly together while I tried to keep everyone safe and happy. And with every bit of strength I had I tried to prove that there was no way she could be displaced.
The thing that stands out in my memory is that my daughter had understood at such a very young age that something could come along and take the place that she had once occupied. It breaks my heart to imagine that she thought for even a second that something could. She was so precious and small and needy and yet she realized that she had become the independent one.
I stand firm in my resolve that with a little patience, an enormous amount of organization and a lot of forgiveness, I will be able to hold on to all of the things that are important in my life when I return to work. I have made a list of the foods that we produce or process from our land that are non-negotiable: maple syrup, a case of canned apple sauce, 100L of tomato sauce, a winter store of frozen peas, green and yellow beans, rings of zucchini, dried tomatoes for pesto, frozen roasted squash, frozen trays of spinach pie, jars and bags of berries. These are all the tasks that involve my hands - many more come straight out of the fields and go directly into storage or the fridge or freezer (potatoes, onions, carrots, beef, eggs etc.). With a list like this, I am hoping to accomplish them as I have every year without the panic and urgency that comes from processing every single thing that is surplus from our garden. I will take what I need, and leave the rest to the neighbours, the chickens, the cows and the earth. This is about letting go.
Next year there will be no meat birds and no pigs. We will keep a handful of laying hens for ourselves. I have still not managed to let go of our Jersey cows. The meat and milk they bring us provides value that cannot be measured in my opinion. Who will do the fencing and the milking? Oh, that would be a post for another day. Luckily our Bonnie is not due to calf until July.
For exercise? I have developed a roster of possible scenarios that would constitute a workout and plan to make sure 3 of them fit in every week. The scenarios involve multiple settings, various times of day and lots of room for flexibility to allow room for success. For one, I will continue to use my 5:30am spot for yoga. As it stands, I am always too tired at that hour – surely returning to work won’t change that. But lying awake in bed that early brings a far less desirable result by 7am than forcing myself out of bed to make it happen. I intend to walk or run at lunch once every other week with a friend (or alone). I plan to keep up my regularly squash games but expect only one every other week to materialize. Lately I have found a 20 minute spot once dinner goes in the oven where I can jump on the treadmill before the food is ready. A quick run during this time might be possible. And one day a week – a weekend day or my one day off in the week (I will be commuting 4 days a week), there will be a long, slow walk, snowshoe, ski, or run. An hour or more where possible to wind down and revisit.
I know you’re probably shaking your head imagining that there is no way to keep any of this up. I think you’re right. But I also know that I had done it before in spades. I kept all of those balls in the air and the only one I dropped was my sanity. It seems to me that my task at the moment is to recognize the changes that have occurred since then.
Firstly, my children are no longer 2 and 4. They are now 4 and 6.
Secondly, from the moment my daughter expressed her need for me in the presence of my newborn baby, my nerves began the process of a long, slow unraveling that would take years to heal. In the same way that your nerve cells need multiple years to re-grow after they have been damaged by frostbite, I have learned that my emotional nerve endings needed multiple years to recover from the fray I had put them through.
Thirdly, what was once a construction zone is now called my mostly finished home. The bare drywall screws are now covered in plaster, paint and paintings. Structures that had never been built are now finished. Storage rooms have been recovered as living space. Electrical outlets are covered. Plumbing runs where it is needed. There are many more aesthetic tasks to complete, but for the most part we are no longer living in a major-work-in-progress. Only a normal level of upkeep is required (still huge I know!).
Fourthly (do people still count like this past three?), I have spent two incredible years seemingly glued to the hips of my children. We have worked, played, roamed, built, explored, laughed, cried, screamed, learned to sleep!, learned to use toilets!, learned to eat with utensils! The ways that we have come together have been the gift that a different work arrangement has given us. I am hoping my bank account of feeling close to my children will buy me a few months of guilt-free time away at my job. Secretly I’m looking forward to a change in this regard but no mother should say such things out loud right?
Fifthly (now that’s a cool one I’ve never seen), for the most part I manage to cobble together 7 hours of sleep every night (sometimes more, and sometimes broken but it is consistently there). The way that my brain functions is surely changing with age but my thought processes feel far less damaged now than they did in those multiple years without consistent sleep.
Sixthly (oh, even better than fifthly), we have finally learned that our situation requires external support. For some reason, we assumed our resourcefulness and excellent team-making partnership was enough for us to take on two off-farm jobs, live hours away from our relatives, run a farm business, grow most of our food, build a house, raise two small children and throw in some cats and dogs and elephants and unicorns to care for. We have recently acquired the great skill of asking for help.
What this looks like is a long list of phone numbers for people to call in case of emergencies or in case we can’t make it back to pick up our kids from school on time. It also may look like my husband changing his work configurations over time. It means getting full time help on the farm (which we could have used from day one but were too stubborn to admit). It means better communication between the two head partners at work in the business of home, farm and child management. Words like: 'I need a break, be back in an hour' are words we have recently learned to say out loud.
For now I must introduce my excellent life to a new sibling. My job. Job, meet my life. Life, meet my new job. I think you two should get along famously. If we listen lots, adapt as needed, forgive mistakes, let go often and be realistic about the demands we have on each other, seeking help where needed.
Job, do you have space for me?