On Balance

Published on September 25th, 2013 | by Nicole Rudick


Pregnant Pause: NICOLE RUDICK On Waiting for Her Second Child

I’ve been on maternity leave for three weeks. My second child, due two days ago, has yet to arrive. I was certain she’d be early, as it seems most second babies arrive a week or two or three before their due dates. But not this little girl; she’s staging a sit-in inside my womb. So for weeks, I’ve been working from home, running errands, and finishing house projects. And in that time, I’ve been taking my six-year-old son to the bus stop each morning and picking him up there in the afternoon. After school, we read together, go to the library or to the store, or spend a little time at the park. He is a sensitive, goofy, loving boy who consumes books and shares the same sense of humor as my husband and me. His current favorite animal is the armadillo. He is the joy of my life. I think I’ve never been happier, and, frankly, it’s depressing me.


On a typical morning, I see him off on the bus, then race to the train station to commute to New York (we moved to New Jersey when he was two and a half). My husband arrives home from work mid-afternoon, but I don’t there until about seven in the evening. My son greets me at the door with “Mmmmomma!”—the highlight of my day. My husband and I eat dinner, then it’s nearly time to get the little guy ready for bed. There are few moments during the week for the lazy afternoon fun I get to have with him now, and I never quite realized the extent of it until these three weeks. I know, too, that not only does he love having me home but that I’m less stressed and therefore more patient with him. I feel like a better parent, which horrifies me.

My mother worked. She commuted roughly an hour each way to get to her a part-time university teaching job, yet she also managed to pick me up from school most days and to ferry my sister and I around to various after-school activities. She cooked dinner every night and helped us with our homework. As an adult, I learned that she felt guilty for having worked and wondered whether we wished she hadn’t. It surprised me to hear her admit this: she was always there for my sister and me; we never felt the lack of her presence. To a certain extent, her admission has helped me come to terms with being a working mother, with navigating those two lives: me at home and me at work. I’m lucky, too—vastly lucky—to have a husband who sees no distinction between a man’s roles and a woman’s. We both work, and we share household responsibilities equally: he cooks, I do the laundry; he mows the lawn, I fix the toilet; no one irons the clothes.

Even still, I can’t help but feel a painful split between career and kids. I am the managing editor for a literary magazine, so my work is not as demanding as, say, that of a lawyer or financial analyst. But I also write, and there’s precious little time for that. And what happens when I’m ready to advance to another position, one that requires far more of my time? My mother also told me that she and my father sacrificed in their careers because they wanted to have children. They could have worked at more prestigious institutions and concentrated more on their research (both, now retired, were cell biologists), but in choosing family, they settled on lesser universities and forewent hours in the lab for trips to swim lessons and horse shows. My sister and I didn’t have nannies; our grandparents didn’t live close by. We had parents who worked hard and then came home and worked just as hard, giving us all they could of themselves—which, it turns out, was a lot.


My husband and I both experience the dismay of having to cut back on doing one thing we love—for me, writing; for him, music—in order to give attention to another thing we love, our son, and soon, any day now (she has to come out sometime, right?), our daughter. And there will be a time—too soon, I fear—that I go back to work and again become the parent who drops her child off at school but isn’t there for the joy of picking him up at the end of the day, having him take her hand and recount his first-grade trials and triumphs. I’ll also be the one saying good-bye in the mornings to the new baby, who, luckily, will be cared for by her father, who is able to take an extended leave from work, and rushing off to my own selfish life.

I know that last part isn’t true; it’s not selfish to work—and I do like working—but I remember how much, as a child, I loved having my mother around. And as I said, I felt like she was always there when I needed her. Yet, truly, she couldn’t have been there every moment, and she certainly felt that she wasn’t. She did the best she could in shuttling back and forth between two worlds. What I seem to overlook in my own self-doubt is that my mother was present when we were together, present in the moment. And if I can do the same—if I can remember to be with my children when I am home, to really focus on my family during those all-too-brief evenings—then perhaps that time will feel more abundant, for me and for them. Which means letting go of my anxiety (for me, a herculean task) and, as corny as it sounds, living each day rather than wringing my hands about the great span of days to come.

There is, as the brilliant Lauren Weinstein points out, no great realization here. There is working and there is being a mother, and fitting the two together will always be a bit of a puzzle—certainly more complicated that simply “leaning in” or whatever the theory du jour proposes. The further I go in my career, the more personal fulfillment and professional achievement feel like warring tribes rather than companions. But the path to peace is mine to make. I don’t want to be a high-powered exec and I don’t need to have a book written about me. I want to feel satisfied in my working life and to have happy, loved children—this, for me, is having it all. Certain aspects will be more difficult with two children—two little bodies and two developing psyches to manage—but, then, the rewards are that much greater, too. I should heed the example of my own parents: work hard at what you love and then come home to give the people you love everything you can.


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About the Author

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review. She lives in New Jersey, where she is helping to raise a voracious reader and comics nerd. Her writing on art, books, and comics has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New Yorker, Bookforum, and elsewhere. Her essay on the Los Angeles artist collective Destroy All Monsters was published in Return of the Repressed: Destroy All Monsters 1973–1977 (PictureBox, 2011), and she has recently written introductions to the work of artists Ben Jones and C.F.

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