I've been back at work for three weeks. I can't believe it's only been that long. Not in a bad way- the weeks go by very quickly, I just sometimes have a hard time believing I was ever gone. 22 days ago I simply walked into my office, flipped on the light, powered up my computer, and I was back. In those first few days every time I turned to look at the pictures I have plastered all over my bulletin board a tiny part of me was shocked to see that I had a three month old daughter. I hadn't forgotten- I think about Clairebear all the time, it just seemed (and continues to seem) so surreal. Everything in my work life is like it always was- the office is the same, my schedule is the same, my co-workers are the same, but somehow, I had a baby and exited the whole work scene for three months and now I'm back like nothing ever happened. Nothing except the fact that I went from being a working mom of one to a working mom of two. I have kids plural. A co-worker commented the other day that I get a little smile on my face every time I say "my kids" or "the kids." I didn't realize it but it doesn't surprise me. There's just a warm thrill of happiness that runs through my body every time I remember that I have two of them now. It's a little like how I felt when I referred to JP as "my husband" the first few (dozen) times. It's not like I forgot we were married, it was just so pleasant to be verbally reminded of the change.
Day-to-day everything is going great. I've had no trouble getting added to cases and I've assimilated quickly. I think it helped tremendously that I already had one child. I'm used to this working mom thing and I know that I prefer it. I'm also comfortable with the role that daycare plays in our lives and have the benefit of three years experience with Landon loving it (and definitely not considering himself "stuck" in it as some like to say) and seeming very secure and happy in his little world. Going from one to two hasn't been nearly as hard as I feared (and nowhere near as hard as going from zero to one generally). Once you have the infrastructure in your day to allow for getting one other person dressed, making their lunch, and carting them to and from an out-of-home location, it's really not much added to throw in a second. JP and my lives changed completely after we had Landon; adding Claire has only made our days expand a little and so far it's been a comfortable stretch.
Daycare is going great. We're so blessed to have our amazing neighborhood center down the street. Claire started two weeks before I went back to work and that helped in knowing she was all set before our mornings had to involve me getting out the door as well. I adore Claire's teachers (and if her smiles are indication, Claire does too). I actually compete with JP to get there first for pick-up just so I can spend a few minutes talking to them. As soon as I open the door they always hand over my spastically smiling baby while asking how my day went and complimenting my clothes (the shoes stay outside, they can't mar the perfection that is the infant room). Then they spend a few minutes exclaiming over Claire's wonderfulness and telling me stories of cute things she did that day. I'm sure they tell every parent how incredible their kid is, but I still love hearing it and I'm always so happy when I leave the room with Clairebear in tow. They keep me from begrudging the additional $1000/month we spend for Claire's care and the fact that it has eaten literally ALL of our discretionary income. It's worth it, even if I do miss eating in restaurants. Landon is also thriving in his new preschool class and gets to visit with Claire when she's out on buggy rides on the playground.
But even with our total satisfaction with daycare, and my overall satisfaction with my job, I would still have liked another month or two off if we could have swung it financially. It's a special time and I loved it. But I'm thankful that since it wasn't a possibility, we do have such a great daycare and I have such great co-workers (and our baby girl SLEEPS!), so that coming back full-time at three months hasn't been a struggle. I think phasing-in would also been nice if we could have handled it, but I haven't found it to be necessary. There's a natural phase-in process when you return (unless your section is just out of control busy, which doesn't seem to be the case for many firms right now). I think it would have been most helpful in calming those late-night fears before your return about the huge drop in control over your life that you're about to experience just by walking in your office door. Luckily, that drop-off hasn't been as extreme as it seemed from a distance.
Coming back full-time has its advantages. It's not spoken, but I think you're respected a little more and taken more seriously as an attorney climbing up the ladder. That only matters if you want to stay on the regular partnership track, but I do want that, at least for now. I had more than a few panic spirals while on leave just thinking about how dependent my little family is on my salary and how uncertain it seems like every job is in this market. That made me much more anxious to return and I do feel better now that I'm back. Three months is a blip on a partner's radar screen; six months away and then turning down work because you're only part-time when you get back is noticeable. It may not matter, but I don't think it's honest to pretend like there isn't any chance of a negative effect. To be fair, the women I know who have gone that route didn't care about the effects it might have- they wanted to work part-time for as long as it worked for their families and if it didn't, they'd go somewhere else (I should probably also note that not one of them was the primary or sole breadwinner for their family). So different choices, different paths, etc.
But back to me- I think everything is going as well as it could be. I'm finally getting fully integrated into cases instead of doing research issues on the periphery and that feels good. I miss my Claire-biscuit during the day, but I guess I'm just okay with that. I don't know how else to explain it. I know she is happy and being loved on by her teachers (they have a password-protected website where we can see the hundreds of photos they take; it is adorable to see my giant baby among the regular sized babies) and I'm doing what I need to do in the office. There's no way around my working status, at least not right now, and there is some pride in knowing I'm supporting my family. I'm sure that part of my peace with the situation is that I just don't spend much time thinking about it at all. It is what it is, and we just try to make it the very best reality it can be. And truthfully, most of the time, it's pretty great.