The call was only supposed to take 15 minutes.
A 15 minute conference call is doable in Life with an Infant (adios, Life with a Newborn, I’m in new territory now!). Worst case scenario, Lil Mil cries for 15 minutes. And that’s if she’s crying the moment the call starts, which she rarely is.
Most of the time, she doesn’t cry at all. She’s either napping or eating (the sucking and slurping sounds are another issue all together – with less than a foot between my boob and my ear, every eating noise Lil Mil emits makes it to the airwaves. And don’t get me started on the other bodily sounds she likes to let loose while eating). Or playing happily in her ExerSaucer.
Which is how yesterday’s call started.
But wait. Before I tell you about yesterday, a word about the conference call conundrum for those of you who haven’t experienced it. True conference calls involve multiple parties and a myriad of scheduling issues. Rarely is everyone available at the same time. Inevitably, someone will have to “jump off early” or “hop on late.” (Apparently, multi-party phone calls are fast moving trains.)
The conundrum is this: infants are not silent beings. They are loud, distracting, impossible to ignore creatures who demand your attention and will not rest until they receive it. Conference calls require relative quiet. There are enough distractions with all the adults on the line (crappy cell service, interrupting assistants, the persistent beeps and dings of other electronic devices). Adding a crying baby to the mix? Call chaos.
The mute button works, but only if your role on the call is to listen (not that you can listen when your child is shrieking like a banshee, but the mute button at least allows you to convey the illusion of listening). Unfortunately, when you’re either the lawyer or the writer on every call you’re on, you don’t get to be silent. You have to talk, AND you have to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Credibility is key. Baby noises? Not your friend.
So, just schedule calls during naptime, right?
If you are a WAHM, you are laughing.
Life with an Infant is more routinized than Life with a Newborn, but only in the most relative sense. The term “nap schedule” is used by inhabitants, but loosely. Thus, while you can attempt to schedule the call during naptime, there is a strong possibility that (a) your child will refuse to nap at her regular time or (b) the call will get bumped up or pushed back at the last minute, throwing everything off.
Both happened yesterday.
Both also happened a month ago, giving me the (false) impression that I could predict what would happen in this scenario.
A month ago, I had a call with my manager to discuss a new TV idea I’m planning to pitch this development season. At Husband’s urging (yes, this is me blaming him), I put Lil Mil in her crib and shut the door. It wasn’t naptime. In fact, she had just woken up from a nap 2 minutes earlier, right on schedule. If my call had started when it was supposed to – 30 minutes before it actually did – I would’ve had 25 minutes of uninterrupted talk time. Perfect. I only needed 15.
But, of course, the call was pushed back indefinitely. And just as I was changing a fussy Lil Mil’s post-nap diaper, my phone rang. No time to get situated to feed her. No time to get her set up in her bouncy chair. So I took Husband’s advice. I put her in the crib and left the room. I would let her cry it out.
And cry it out she did. And by cry, I mean scream and shriek and wail like she was being boiled in hot water. It was awful.
Yes, I could’ve rescheduled the call. But it had been rescheduled so many times already. And Husband had been so certain that the let-her-cry-it-out approach was an acceptable parenting strategy… So I went with it. I took the call and she cried. And then, 10 minutes into it, she stopped.
And I freaked.
Phone still glued to my ear, I darted upstairs and threw open her bedroom door.
And there she was, smiling and cooing and playing with her feet. Happy as a clam.
It was a breakthrough moment, really. She’d soothed herself. She could soothe herself. I was proud and elated. And completely assuaged of my guilt.
Fast forward to yesterday. My call was supposed to start at 2:30. At 2:15 – naptime! - Lil Mil was wide awake. Which made sense, because her late morning nap had run longer than usual. Since she’d just been fed and seemed happy, I decided not to put her down. I figured she could play in her ExerSaucer for the duration of the call, which I didn’t expect to last longer than 15 minutes. It’ll be fine, I told myself. Worst case scenario, she’d start crying as soon as I put her in and would cry for the duration of the call. But that wouldn’t happen because (a) she never cries right when I put her in her ExerSaucer and (b) duh, she knows how to soothe herself! Odds were, she’d play the whole time, and if she happened to cry, she’d be able to calm herself down.
But then 2:30 rolled around and the eye rubbing and yawning began. I thought about putting her down, but the call was supposed to start RIGHT THEN, so I opted for the ExerSaucer instead. If I’d known the call would start 7 minutes late, I would’ve put her in her crib. But I didn’t. So I put her in playland, dialed into the call, and left the room.
Ten minutes into the call, she started wailing. Which would have been fine had the call been 15 minutes long like I thought it’d be. But it wasn’t. It was an hour. The first thirty minutes of which were devoted to me pitching an idea and feilding questions about it, which meant I couldn’t put the call on mute and go soothe her.
So she wailed and wailed and wailed and I told myself she was fine and that eventually she’d soothe herself and that this was a skill she needed to learn.
And then she got quiet.
And I freaked. Not as much as last time, but enough to sprint up the stairs to her room. I was hoping to find her playing happily.
Instead, I found her slumped over, head resting on her arm, looking pathetic and impossibly cute, her little eyes all puffy and red from crying. Fast asleep. She had literally cried herself to sleep. In the upright position.
This is the struggle, I thought to myself, no longer listening to the voices on the call. This is exactly it. I want to be a WAHM. I want to pursue my dreams and advance my career and climb that ladder of success. But there is this person on this journey with me. A person who can’t help it that she makes baby noises and doesn’t nap on schedule every day. A person who wants my undivided attention. Who deserves it, even if she doesn’t need it.
Problem is, my attention is divided. That’s the W part of WAHM. That’s what makes this a juggling act. That’s what makes it so hard. It every moment, at every turn, it’s a give and take. It every moment, at every turn, something’s gotta give. I wish it were as easy as a priority list, but it isn’t, because it’s not a question of priorities. I know what my priorities are. I know who comes first. That’s not the struggle. The struggle is how to put that priority list into practice. How to live it.
She was fine, of course. She napped like a champ, then woke up smiley and happy and ready to play.
And play she did. With her mama, who, for the rest of the afternoon, shelved the laptop and the telephone.
Something had to give.