On guilt and joy

Wednesday was my first full day at the new job, and it was Joseph’s first full day with his new caregiver Maryl.

I should preface by saying that Maryl watching Joseph is the best possible situation I can dream up for him. She is one of my dearest and most trusted friends. I have known her for nearly a decade and in those years she has been with me through my first heartbreak, my first police encounter, my first day playing hookey (her uncle caught us and made us clean the gutters), and just about every other life event I’ve been through so far. Hers was the first house I went to when I arrived back in Knoxville, freshly pregnant and alone and still coming to terms with exactly how terrified I was. She was the one I called at 4:00 in the morning to take me to the hospital, and she was right there clutching the side rail of the hospital bed screaming right along with everyone else the moment Joseph was born.

For someone to help me raise my child, I can’t think of a better candidate. That being said, the first day I left him there didn’t go very well. Read: it was awful.

Maryl is an in-home nanny to two sisters – a toddler E, and a baby F only three weeks younger than Joseph. Joseph is the most recent addition to the crew. Here’s what I wrote when I got home from that day, (mostly) unedited:

I stayed until naptime, got Joseph down for his nap, and then disappeared. Apparently he only slept for 30 minutes, then woke up screaming, which woke up baby F, and the two of them woke up E. When I came back at 3:45 Maryl was sitting on the back patio, cross-legged on the ground with a baby on each hip and E plunked in the middle wearing nothing but her “Thursday” underwear. She was rocking all three back and forth and singing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” with thinly veiled desperation. We both had a good laugh as soon as we saw each other. He had been inconsolable the whole time.

I am pursued by guilt everywhere I go. I feel guilt because Maryl has to deal with my screaming baby, because I raised him in such a way that at nine months he has only ever been away from me for a number of hours, a handful of times, and now it’s my fault that he’s going to scream at Maryl all day while I’m at work. I feel guilt because he has separation anxiety, because I took this job and left the one where he could spend all day every day within arms reach. I feel guilt because I’m not more career-focused and also because I’m not staying home with my child. I feel guilt because what kind of fucked up world is this where we have to leave our babies with someone else so we can go out and raise the money to feed them.

I feel guilt because I haven’t made art in I don’t know how long, because I’m not more focused on my writing, because I can’t figure out how to be a good mother and a motivated capable visionary church leader and a competent adult and a well respected community organizer and an established working artist and a sexy babe and still get the dishes done and diapers washed.

I feel guilt because there’s no way to be certain my choices are good. I chose to leave the doctor’s office and the list of reasons was more than sufficient, but even as I rejoice in moving upward and onward, I look back and wonder whether I might have borne it all for the sake of Joseph’s nearness. But I know that my choice to move toward meaningful work aligned with my life’s mission will benefit myself and also my family, even though it means some long hours of separation and a whole lot of tears in the transition.

I’ve chosen to leave this house and now the breeze through the open window smells so sweet. I watch Joseph almost say Ruby’s name with perfect joy all over his face and I think: Is this the right choice? But my heart knows that an intentionally communal home is what myself and my family needs.

A mentor told me once, while I was still pregnant with Joseph: Everything you do for you is for your baby, always and forever, Okay?

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, or what I’m doing, in the intellectual sense. This is the hardest week on record in quite a while, but I trust myself and my heart knows what it knows.

Yesterday I got my own office for the first time in my adult life. They even put a sign with my name on it outside the door. It’s very official.

“Lauren Hulse: Membership and Communications Coordinator”

In the moments between being racked by guilt, I am rejoicing in the simple joy of having useful work to do. Work that uses the best parts of myself, that I am appreciated for, that is challenging and engaging. Work that asks for my whole self and does not require a temporary dissociation during office hours.

I wish I could end this with an A-ha moment. I wish I could tell you all how I’ve absolved myself of all this guilt that follows me around like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe. But at the end of the day its still there: guilt and joy running right along side by side and all mixed up together.

I don’t think I’ll ever know what I’m doing. I’m just muddling along as best I can and trying to make the next good choice. And I suppose that’s about the best I can hope to do.

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