When I was pregnant with Bean, a man I worked with asked me if I was looking forward to my year-long vacation. (I love Canada and its one-year maternity leave.) Now, this man was not exactly an expert on child-bearing, child-rearing, or anything to do with women or babies. He legitimately thought that part of the office baby pool would include guessing the mother’s weight. (Not happening.)
I laughed off the comment, knowing that my year of maternity leave would be anything but a vacation. But despite my somewhat smug protests that it was going to be a crazy year full of sleep deprivation and crying and stress and laundry and diapers, a deep-down part of me was pretty sure that it would be easy. Relaxing. Idyllic. And it was, all of it, from sleep deprivation down to idyllic.
The first few months were hard. It felt like for every minute that Bean slept, I spent ten more on the internet trying to figure out how to make him sleep longer. We had rough patches. There were dark moments in the middle of the night. My notions of how to be a parent were constantly shattered by this changeable, demanding, adorable creature. But we got into a routine. We read books, went to baby groups, went for walks and hikes. I made art to hang on Bean’s bedroom walls. We used cloth diapers. I found a great baby bootcamp and lost nearly all of the baby weight. And I found, to my surprise, that in the quiet moments with nothing planned, I was perfectly content to just watch him and marvel at the miracle that was Bean. When the year was over, I was sad to leave my perfect boy, but excited to get back to the working world where my mind was challenged and the discussion didn’t always revolve around poop.
When I was pregnant with Monkey, the joke around my busy, stressful office was that this was my nine-month exit strategy; I was on the year-on, year-off plan, and after this second year-long vacation there would be a third, and a fourth, etc. (Not happening.) I’m now six months into maternity leave and it is nothing like the first one.
The first few months were a blur. Somehow the dreaded affliction of mommy-brain had taken a chunk out of my brain and I couldn’t remember any of the specifics from when Bean was a baby. How long did he sleep at night? How old was he when he started to take consistent naps? How often did he nurse? Did he cry this much? The road map that I assumed I would have with my second child was blank, and I was muddling through again (with the help of my trusty friend Google. What did people do before the internet? Seriously!). Only this time, it wasn’t just me and the tiny puke-and-poop-factory, I also had a two year-old. A loving, running, tantrum-ing, laughing, yelling, throwing, hugging, did-I-mention-yelling, two year-old.
“Can I hold the baby?”
“The baby is touching me! Make him stop!”
“Look Mummy, I ride baby like a horse!”
“Sshhhh! Baby is sleeping! SSHHHH!!! BABY IS SLEEEEEPING!!!!”
“I love him.”
“Don’t hold the baby, pick me up! Pick me up!”
“Mummy, play with me! Play with me!”
No more hours of lying on the floor, gazing into the baby’s eyes. Yes, we lie on the floor, but I’m on guard to protect Monkey’s head from the odd flying dumptruck. No more leisurely walks with other mamas as our babies snooze in strollers. Instead I’m packing Monkey in the Ergo and Bean in the stroller, desperately trying to make it out of the house, to a park, and back in the narrow window between Monkey’s first two naps and before Bean’s nap. Cloth diapering, ha! I’m barely coping with our regular laundry, thank you very much. We went to a baby group once. It was in a park, and I was the only mama with a toddler also in tow. Monkey slept in his stroller with the cover over him. While the other mamas laid their babes out on blankets and chatted in the peaceful shade of an oak tree, I was hopelessly distracted as Bean tore from one end of the field to the other, hiding behind trees and shouting “find me, Mummy!” Eventually he spotted the playground at the far end of the park and our time at baby group was over. Monkey hadn’t woken up – for all the other mamas knew, I was an insane woman with an empty stroller and a maniac toddler son who had just come to eavesdrop on their conversation.
Yes, this year-long vacation has been different. It’s harder to get out of the house, and it’s lonelier. But now that the fog of the first few months is over, I’m realizing that this time around is sweeter somehow. Monkey is my last baby, and I’m determined to soak up all of his baby goodness. I’m acutely aware of the depth of his knee dimples, and the perfectly circular whorl of hair on the crown of his head. As cliched as it is, I know how quickly this baby stage goes. And I get to be home for this year of Bean’s toddlerhood. The messes, the games, the drama, the development. The divine mispronunciations. The spontaneous hugs, the uncontrollable laughter, the “you’re my best, Mummy.”
Here at the mid-point of my year-long vacation, I can truly and honestly say, from the bottom of my heart, this has been nothing like a vacation. Well, unless you don’t typically shower a lot on vacation. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.