I went back to work the first time when my daughter was 10 months old. I went back to a lovely little team in an organization where my superiors were, by and large, also women with children. In short, everyone got it, and I had about as much flexibility and understanding as I could hope for. But I still remember spending the first six months or so feeling like I was crawling around with the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Oh, I thought. So this is what everyone was talking about. Shit.
In the five years since, I've observed that I can balance any two things more or less successfully: work and my own projects; family and my own projects; work and family.
All three? Still working on that. Feeling a little crushed by it just lately, to tell you the truth. Sometimes the juggling act gets to feeling like throwing a dozen eggs in the air and failing to catch any of them. My god, I used to swim in an ocean of time. Acres of time. I can't believe how much time I used to have, that I feel so starved for it now.
It was comforting to hear in a recent BBC interview that Ursula LeGuin, when her kids were little, wrote only after 9 p.m. That's pretty much been my schedule, with the occasional evening or weekend escape to Pour Boy, although it tends to be off and on in bursts of a few weeks at a time. There's only so long you can zombie around work with dark circles under your eyes and flounder through a sea of takeout and unfolded laundry at home before you have to stop and recuperate and beat back the chaos.
My best advice for those just wading into the hurricane is not to panic if it takes a few years to figure out how to navigate through it to productivity. That sounds damn hell depressing when you're staring down the barrell of it, I know, but seriously: you will get your groove back. When you have your sea legs, arm yourself with some labyrinth-busting strategies and go looking for it. It will be there. Meanwhile, batten down the hatches and focus on keeping your head above water.
I wish I had more wisdom to share on the subject. I can say, though, that I'm awfully glad I'm not alone in insisting on beating my head against this particular brick wall. Someday we will all be looking back and marvelling at our own tenacity.