Because it is where most of the story I am currently working on takes place. And
where I had the idea for the story in the first place, in 2009. And where I
definitively began to cure my postpartum depression, in 2010. And where for the first time since
becoming a mother, I gave myself permission to feel like my old independent self again, in 2012.
I can explain.
In late June of 2009, on a solo trip to Manhattan, I
visited a place on East 4th Street called the Merchant’s House
Museum. On this trip, at age 33, I had an idea for a book, which I thought
was the thing that at long last gave me the motivation, and the
permission, to write like I had always dreamed. A couple of
weeks later, surprise! I found out I was pregnant. A couple of months after that, by the time I had
recovered from the shock of the news, I’d also become extremely busy with my teaching job, planning for baby, sorting out my maternity leave, etc.
I had never really envisioned what
kind of mother I would be; this wasn’t something to which I had
given much thought, until motherhood was upon me. I decided, a few months before my baby was born, that I
did not want to return to work. I loved my teaching job. But I also knew that I
wanted to be home with my baby. Before I knew it, I was the stay-at-home mother
of a wonderfully healthy and happy baby boy. And I was in the
throes postpartum depression. My book project was completely forgotten. I
decided I must have been wrong when I thought the timing had been right for me
to write like I’d always wanted. My who-do-you-think-you-are syndrome was in full
force, and it felt as though it had been decided for me that my one and only
identity was to be mother.
When my 35th birthday rolled
around that year, I told David–my husband–and my mother, both of whom knew I was struggling, the one thing I wanted as a birthday gift:
a weekend trip to New York. So David and I packed up our car and our six-month-old shortly after my birthday, and
took a roadtrip to New York City. What happened, no joke, was life-changing. I realized that the world I had left behind when the cloud of
postpartum hormones had descended and whacked me off
kilter months earlier was still there. All of it. The fast pace, the craziness, the possibility
and promise, it was all still there. And it was mine for the taking if I still
wanted it. It took being there, with my family, as a wife and mother, for this
to feel real to me again. The cloud began to lift, and after we were home, I was able
to enjoy my child with a simpler ease, and to truly cherish the incredible opportunity I’ve
been given to be more fully present during these indescribable early years.
A year later, I’d gone back to teaching
part time and found myself in a funk. I do love teaching; loved it then, love it
still. But going back to my old work, in this moment, simply wasn’t enough. I
had thought that having a paycheck to my name doing what I had done before was
enough to feel like “my old self” again. Nope. Because I wasn’t my old self
anymore. Never would be.
Teaching is something I can
happily return to one day. What I needed now was to write. And
bless my husband a thousand and one times: He agreed. So he and I
planned a trip to New York, this time just me, so that I could begin research
for my book project for real this time. This was in February 2012, one month
before our boy’s second birthday. It would be my first time away from home by myself
since becoming a mother. Two nights. I booked everything, all nonrefundable.
There was a woman I spoke with
two days before my trip, someone with grown children of her own, whose opinion I respected and valued greatly
… and … she meant well … This woman told me she thought it wasn’t time for me
to go, that my son wasn’t ready for me to leave him after I had been a
stay-at-home mother this whole time, that the damage could be terrible and irreparable. I see
this better now, in hindsight. It was nearly two years ago. When it happened? It
threw me into a tailspin of guilt and self-doubt. And anger. On the one hand, how dare she? On the other, what if she’s right? I got cold feet, didn’t want to go. Then my husband stepped in. “Go!” He said. “Our boy will be fine. We will be fine. You need to do this! Go. To. New York.” Getting choked up this minute recalling that moment.
So I went. Sure, I had a stomachache the first night and couldn’t finish my dinner. Sure I missed my boy terribly and wondered whether my “selfishness” would leave him scarred for life. And then something else happened. It was on this trip that I established for myself something no one and nothing could do until I was good and ready. I found the line that separates, for me, my profound love of stay-at-home motherhood, and clinging to motherhood because I need it as my only channel for significance and worth in the world. I’ve seen these types of moms. Being an at-home mom doesn’t have to equal this. Going back to my old paying job wasn’t necessarily the cure for it, either. I found this balance for myself when I got on that bus in February of 2012 and finally started this journey for myself. And it’s all because my husband made me do it!
Our boy was napping when I got home two days later. When it was finally time to wake him up, I ran up to his bedroom, aching to squeeze him and part of me still dreading how he would react. He opened his eyes, blinked up at me a few times, and asked, “Es hora de Plaza Sésamo? = Is it time for Sesame Street?” So far as I know, he continues to be a happy and well-adjusted kid, who knows himself to be very well loved, and who now also knows that his Mama goes to New York and writes books.
One final note about the woman who meant well and nearly kept me from getting on that bus. It was on the day of that conversation, in the midst of miserable turmoil and doubt, that I put down in a Word document the first words of my novel set in New York City. It only took three years after my original idea. Sometimes turmoil can be a good thing. I do owe her that.