I was thinking today about how important it can be to draw a firm line between work and home. It can be so easy to let the stresses of our jobs bleed over into our personal lives. I often find myself staring into space while playing with Dora, thinking about tomorrow's meeting or all of the email I need to read or my messy desk. One year I made a New Year's resolution to try to avoid thinking about work when I'm at home. I wrote it down with all of my other resolutions, kept on a card by my bedside table for a while. I may have held to it for a while, but it didn't last - I check my work email from home and compose emails in my mind while cooking dinner or getting ready for bed.
My job is especially stressful right now - meetings, deadlines, multiple reports to write, presentations to prepare, work-related travel coming up next week, and more. Even if I worked 80 hours a week I don't see how I'd get it all done. I left work today, shocked by the warm, summer-like sun, and wondered how I would find a way to focus on Dora tonight instead of thinking about my office.
I got to Dora's school earlier than usual so we could go to a doctor's appointment. Dora was out on the playground with her friends, throwing a ball around. I picked her up and told her that we had a doctor's appointment, and then we'd be going over to our friend Mandy's house. She smiled wide, naming off all the members of Mandy's family (including the dog) over and over again. I love hearing her say the names of our friends - how she mispronounces some of them, and says them like questions, raising the pitch of her voice at the end.
On the way to the doctor's office, she pointed out all kinds of things to me. My friend Maria just gave her Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go", so she is now officially obsessed with trucks. "Trucks, mommy!" she called from the backseat. "Water, mommy!" as we drove past the French Broad River. "Birds, mommy!" to the flock of birds flying overhead. I absolutely love seeing her recognize things, hearing her try out new words and show me words she has learned. As we walked into the doctor's office, she said, "doctor". I didn't even know she could say that. She's saying "lalybugs" now and I just adore the way she mispronounces it.
Later, at dinner, I asked Dora about Kindermusik today. Brian takes her every Wednesday and she loves it. She launched into some story, most of which I could not understand, about her and Daddy singing songs. She went on and on, here and there a word I could understand, but most of it her own little sweet language. She even said, "guess what, mommy?", as if she was about to reveal some big secret. Right then, I felt like I was experiencing the present and the future at the same time, instantly transported to a dinner table conversation in 3 years, or 5 years, or 10 years, talking about the day. I don't want the days to go by any faster than they already do, even though sometimes at work I think "I can't wait for this to be over", but I think about knowing Dora at 5 and 7 and 12, and my heart just feels like its going to burst with love. Even though she was talking her own little baby language tonight, it was like seeing her at all those future ages, too.
We had a sweet snuggle before bed - a long nursing session, books, and just some sitting in the chair with the night-night, Dora leaning back against me while I rested my chin on her head, breathing in her sweet after-bath smell. I closed my eyes and thought - this is it. This is how you keep work out for a few hours. This is how you wash that away. This is how you refuel to get up tomorrow and face it all again.
Someone asked me recently if parenting is stressful. I suppose at times it is. There are no simple or easy decisions any more. You learn what it means to love a child and there is some fear in that, too. You worry about money and college and illness and vaccines and peanuts-up-the-nose. But my immediate answer was to chuckle and say no, that parenting was wonderful, it was work that was stressing me out. What I neglected to mention is that, in spite of all of its challenges and heartache and uncertainty, being a parent can even take away your stress. It can turn the spotlight back to what's important, to what makes the world a beautiful place, to wonder and curiosity. There is no sound sweeter than the sound of your child's voice, and one word from those sweet lips drowns out all the echoes of self-doubt, anxiety, or confusion that come as a penance for every paycheck received. Being a parent has changed my life, not always in ways that are good, but it has also opened up inside of me a new ability to let go - at least for a while - and let the love inside of me override everything else. The line between work and home becomes irrelevant, the focus shifts, and instead of a stressful day my attention turns to my girl, my family, our sweet little space. It makes for a beautiful image, and one I look forward to looking at over and over again.