I'm now experiencing the novelty of typing with both hands. My son, Anthony, was born in late October, and for the past two months (or 10 weeks, in the calendar of babyhood), I've held my newborn in one arm while furtively checking e-mail with the other. Now I'm back at work full-time, faced with the daunting task of thinking about something other than the baby.
I had expected the endless cycle of diaper changes and feedings would become tedious; it's not. Each day is different from the others and full of change. His body is growing rapidly, his attention expanding, his babbling sounds increasing in variety and volume. And when he looks and me and smiles his gummy smile and throws his body backward with delight, the feeling is indescribable.
So what the hell am I doing back at work? My arms feel empty. The air rushing through the office HVAC system tricks me into thinking I hear him stirring from a nap. That my mother is taking care of Tony is the only thing that makes this bearable.
In my time at home, I tuned out the world and ignored the day's news. It was remarkably easy to do. One of the more surprising things about motherhood is how I have almost ceased to care about anything else. As the radio told of the presidential horse race, I swear I could hear Tony yawning from the next room, and for me, there was no question which sound mattered more. "Wake me up when something important happens," I said to myself, "the baby and I are going to take a nap."
Still, I do find myself caring about the bigger concerns that will affect his life: What will we do when the Southeast runs out of water? Or when the world runs out of oil? My first couple of weeks postpartum, Tony's crying made my bones rattle. His vulnerability triggered thoughts of other little babies' suffering, and I imagined the agony of parents struggling to care for them. If taking care of a baby is this intense under the best circumstances, what must it be like when you don't have the luxury of parental leave or health insurance? President Bush's veto of the SCHIP program expansion enraged me. That rage stirred my impulse not to acquiesce to the feeling of powerlessness, but to believe that I can make an impact on what's happening around me. I have the opportunity to do that by writing stories—by going back to work.
We cannot separate ourselves from the world, not for long. I tell myself that while my world now revolves around Tony, it must also share an orbit with the day's news. I hope the time-management skills parenthood has foisted upon me (I have five whole minutes free? Wow, I can get six things done) will translate to my work life as well. I resolve to keep thinking only about what really matters and to present those stories with the compassion and conscience worthy of the world I want my son to live in.