The day we’ve all been dreading arrived at our house on Monday morning, and like all unwelcomed guests, it had its bags packed in preparation for a long stay. Before it even had a chance to darken our door, tears had been shed in anticipation; for we all knew it was coming.
At the dawn of a new week, before the sun had a chance to warm the freezing winter morning, my wife and I packed our little Dominic into his car seat, tucking his green rubber pacifier underneath his shoulder in case it was needed and laying his fuzzy blanket over his little lap. We loaded him into the backseat of my car, and off we drove, the two of us, into the still-dark morning.
I was headed to work, and, for the first time since the birth of our perfect 3-month-old son, so was my beautiful, devout wife, Erin. And so Dominic was being carried away to his babysitter, also for the first time.
I cried a little, as the heartbreak I saw on Erin’s face as she said goodbye was frozen in my mind. And as she drove to work through the cold, I suspect buckets couldn’t have held all of her tears.
Despite the dead of winter, these last three months have been the warmest our family has seen. Apart from his ridiculous good looks, our baby has been mostly healthy and definitely happy. The joy he has brought to our family is immense. Like his father, he doesn’t fuss unless he’s hungry or tired. His smile comes easily and is wide and warm, like his mother’s.
And why wouldn’t it be? For the last three months (actually, for the last year), he and his mother have been inseparable, and she has tended to his every tiny whim. She has always taken amazing care of the rest of us, but these last three months, while she’s been on maternity leave, she has truly gone above and beyond. Normally, like most families with young kids, our house is fairly chaotic as we juggle both of our work schedules, the crammed calendar of our 12-year-old, Olivia, as well as the nightly homework, cooking and cleaning and bathing and bedtime. But while Erin was off, things had never run more smoothly. And it wasn’t just that the house was clean and dinner was ready (and delicious, and not burgers or pizza on-the-go); it was that she was truly happy, and her joy covered our house like a warm blanket. Whoever came up with the saying “happy life, happy wife” was dead right.
She is an ESL (English Second Language) teacher for grades kindergarten through second, working with mostly children who have come into the country from Myanmar. It is a tremendously rewarding job. It is also tremendously stressful. But while she was at home, that stress melted away, and instead of caring for 100 children, she was able to focus solely on her own four. Because of them, she was not eager to return to work — again.
This wasn’t the first time Erin has had her heart broken by having to leave her baby. But this time, with Dominic, was different. With Olivia, Grant (the 9-year-old) and Jacob (the 6-year-old), I worked evenings and was able to stay home with the kids when she went back to work. And while we have the most amazing people watching our son, it isn’t the same as having them home with dad. I miss it tremendously, and not just because of the naps.
My wife is an amazing and caring mother, but unfortunately, that doesn’t pay well. And so our reality isn’t unlike that of millions of families where both parents have to work. And while leaving her own child to care for others makes my wife feel deep sadness and guilt, I feel similarly. I would love nothing more than to be able to fully provide for my family so that she could stay home with Dominic and focus on doing what she does best: loving her family through her selfless acts of service. But right now, because it’s what her family needs, her selfless act is packing up Dominic in the morning and entrusting his care to somebody else. And I couldn’t be more grateful for her sacrifice.
While the yearning to stay home will remain, eventually the tears shed on these freezing mornings will dry up. For now, through prayer and perseverance, we can only deal with the cold and the heartbreak and the stress.
In less than a month, though, my wife will get to be home with her babies during spring break. And soon after, summer vacation.
Warmer days are ahead.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.