“Do you recognize me from Zoom?” Trish asked Bailey when we walked up to the farm this afternoon and played on the swings while we waited for Faye. The only thing stranger than the fact that we’re living in times when that is a relevant question to ask a toddler is the fact that Bailey does seem to recognize her.
Bailey loves a good video chat. It’s never clear to me whether she’s smiling at herself or at my coworkers, but she claps and waves and generally puts on a fabulous show.
For the first two minutes or so.
Then it is out of mama’s lap and on to whatever outlet or water glass is within reach of her tiny arms.
I knew I was pregnant already when Trish started to work at our organization, but it was a few months before I would tell people.
The first person I told was Em, my partner that worked at the same school as me and had two children under the age of four.
“I’m pregnant,” I said, and in true Han Solo fashion she replied, “I know.”
“I had a feeling,” I said, “What gave me away?”
“Oh, I don’t even know. The weird snack schedules, the constant peeing, the uniquely tired look on your face. Once you’ve been through it, you just know.”
So when Trish began coming in to work late sucking on jolly ranchers and forgoing her usual five cups of coffee, I knew.
We were so excited to be having babies together.
I imagined carting our little ones along with us to our trivia nights, and having play dates in each other’s backyards.
These plans were for fun, but also for my mental health.
I had been warned about how isolating it could feel to be a new mom.
I had also been told that April was a great month to have a baby because it was the end of cold and flu season.
And, most importantly, I had been warned by my other coworker, Faye, not to listen to anyone else’s advice.
Her son was a year and a half when she started working with us.
As Faye and I planned for her to provide coverage for me during my maternity leave, I asked her about what advice she had for me regarding pregnancy and motherhood.
“People talk just to talk,” she said, and I busted out laughing.
“You smile and you nod and you just take the pieces of advice you want and leave the rest.”
It was the best advice I received in my entire pregnancy.
My favorite part about it was that she still went on to give me plenty of advice about nap schedules and toddler foods and signs of impending labor, but with the self-aware knowledge that, for all intents and purposes, she was talking just to talk.
Once someone’s been through something like pregnancy, they want to impart every piece of wisdom, foresee every possible outcome, so that you don’t have to be surprised in the same painful ways that they were.
It’s an understandable urge. It is, in many ways, why I started this blog.
It was how I felt when I created my maternity leave schedule for Faye.
Having established all of my systems and routines for my work, having built relationships and structures at my schools, I felt confident in my ability to make life easy for Faye as she stepped in to fill my shoes.
I created a giant document that outlined the events that were scheduled for each week, with links to the spreadsheets she’d need to support them and advice about how to course correct if any problems came up.
As it turned out, I was talking just to talk.
COVID hit the same week that Faye was scheduled to start taking over for me. None of the events on my beautiful calendar took place as scheduled.
While Faye worked to make on-the-fly decisions to carry her workload and mine in the midst of total chaos, my own maternity leave plans similarly fell apart.
I had always planned on taking three and a half months of maternity leave.
What I didn’t know was that of those 14 weeks, two would be spent at home riding out a manic/psychotic episode.
One would be spent in an in-patient psychiatric ward.
Six would be spent in an intensive outpatient program (conducted entirely over the internet).
And the remaining five would be spent in a deep depression as my brain chemistry snapped back like an overextended rubber band.
Still, I count myself lucky to have had the time off at all- an amount of time that seemed luxurious when I was planning it, and turned out to be just the bare minimum I needed to be able to return as a functional and productive employee.
It was a surreal feeling to have my first day back from leave start unceremoniously by simply logging on to my computer and jumping back into old documents.
I watched Trish during our virtual staff meeting, shifting her feet back and forth, hands on her lower back, trying to find a comfortable position for her body in its ninth month of pregnancy.
I couldn’t believe how much she’d grown, and as she gave up and switched her camera off, the realization hit me that I would never get the chance to see a fully pregnant Trish in person. She’d barely been showing by the time we first started working from home, and Charlie would be born in just a month or so.
The world stood still for a year, but time marched on.
Today was only the second time I’ve seen Trish since last year, and the first time I’d seen Faye.
I never expected that the second time Trish met Bailey, Bailey would be able to walk over to Trish herself to say hello.
I never expected that the first time I met Faye’s son, Kent, he would be wearing a tiny little face mask.
None of this was part of any of our plans, and my heart aches for the version of the past that we all imagined a year and a half ago.
Still, as we walked together today, Faye and Trish and I couldn’t help but talk about the future.
Kent is starting preschool in the fall.
Faye enrolled him in the local public school, where Bailey will probably go.
Then her neighbor spoke highly of a charter school nearby, so she managed to get a spot there.
“I’ll probably try to find one more place,” she said, “Just to be safe.”
We are planning.
We are grieving.
We are talking just to talk.
Thanks for reading,