Baby doesn’t know it’s Mother’s Day. He is only 5 months old with no concept of calendars. He has started saying “mama”, but he seems to use it to mean “hungry”. He knows I am his primary food source. He has a lot to learn, but he has also done a surprising amount of teaching. In particular, he has given me a new understanding of the quality of time.
I have always been a big fan of to-do lists. I enjoy crossing off as many boxes as possible in the course of a day. This was especially essential during residency, when I had an overwhelming number of tasks to prioritize and accomplish. I have been busy since then too (though less frantically so). Each day has its set of check boxes related to following up on patient care, planning teaching sessions, analyzing data, writing papers. My sense of fulfillment has been tied to these lists. When I make progress through them, I feel efficient, well-organized, and productive.
During maternity leave, my entire pattern changed. There were no finite tasks. You can’t put “feed the baby” or “change the diaper” on a to-do list. You will just have to do it again in 2 hours. It is a constant cycle of repeating chores. I had very little evidence of what I was accomplishing and plenty of what I was not (failing to clean the house, for instance).
I had to change my perspective. It was not about what I was doing but how I was being. Baby was well taken care of, we were together, and that was enough.
Now that I am back at work, I have it both ways. During work time, I cross things off the to-do list. During family time, I do my best to put the list away and focus on the constants of feeding, playing, and cuddling. Instead of finite tasks, there is a long-term investment in Baby’s health, happiness, and well-being.
Baby may not understand exactly what “mama” means yet, but he is getting to know me. He turns toward my voice and tracks me as I walk around a room. Best of all, he grins ecstatically when he sees me again after any absence (even as short as waking up from a nap). This bond is more fulfilling than any check box on a list of accomplishments.