I have a bad habit of romanticizing working parenthood, even though I live it every day and really should know better by now.
All week, I look forward to Friday, and not just because it promises the coming of the weekend. I still have eight hours of work to put in, but I get to do those hours from home instead of at my office.
The romantic side of me dreams that this Friday will be different: my 15-month-old daughter will play independently and quietly all morning, allowing me space to focus on my perfectly achievable to-do list and to relish the work I love. My coffee will stay hot. I’ll take a break for lunch and play time, and we’ll run around the house and dissolve into giggle fits. She’ll go down for a long nap, and I’ll have three hours of uninterrupted work time, allowing me to plow through my remaining tasks.
There will be room on my plate for everything. There will be room on my lap for everyone.
On my real Friday morning, my phone’s alarm begins to chime, starting low and increasing its volume as I claw my way out of the deep circles of sleepiness at 5:30 a.m. I stumble to the bathroom and scroll through Instagram while brushing my teeth, a habit I know I need to kick (the scrolling, not the brushing).
Assessing my reflection and weighing the cost of the time it would take to shower, I decide to pull my dirty hair back into a messy bun, but not the glamorous kind. I tiptoe down my creaky stairs to start the coffee while I cringe and pray with every step that my daughter doesn’t hear me. If I’m lucky, I’ll have about an hour of uninterrupted work time before she wakes up.
Selah wakes at 7 a.m. on the dot, and after a breakfast filled with demands and shrieks for more, I open my laptop and get back to work on the manuscript I’m editing. My daughter, who was playing happily on the floor 15 seconds ago, breaks down crying when she sees I have something in my lap that is not her. I turn on the TV, I turn off the TV; I bring out toys I hid last week and the puffs she’s not even hungry for, hoping to distract her and buy myself work time in five-minute increments.
An hour later I’ve used up all my downstairs tricks, so we climb up the stairs to her bedroom and I close the door behind us. At least here in her nursery she’s contained and can’t wander to places where I can’t see her. I settle into the glider, my laptop back in its regular place on my lap, and she begins to pull the books off the shelf one at a time, tossing them behind her without so much as looking at their covers. It’s not reading she’s interested in, but destruction.
She pads over to the storage drawers and discovers a box of baby Q-tips. Her mischievous fingers pull them out in handfuls, depositing them in piles all over the floor. She picks them up one by one and walks them to another spot and creates new piles. I hate this game to my order-loving core, but I know it will allow me 20 minutes of work—maybe it will even carry us all the way to naptime, and if it does, I vow to buy myself a lottery ticket.
For a few beautiful minutes, I’m deep in thought and absorbed in the manuscript before me. My eyes scan the document, words dancing and sentences singing as I polish the writer’s voice. My work is more than a job to me: it’s a career, craft, a calling. It’s a piece of my life that tethers me to my womanhood. Whether I’m sharpening ideas or tweaking punctuation, I feel capable and confident, connected to who God made me to be.
Selah’s hands reach up and strike my computer keys, snapping me out of my reverie. I frantically lift the computer out of reach and scan my work for errors her fingers may have introduced.
Selah has a book in her hand, which she’s now shoving into my face as she scrambles up my legs and into the lap that just a minute ago held the work I’m responsible for. I feel a sharp pang of guilt because I know she is also the work—the life—I am responsible for. I breathe in the smell of her cheeks and give myself permission to read her a book and actually enjoy it, but that joy is crowded out by the thought that maybe this moment of connection will be enough to buy me more time, more time, more time.
We finish the story and she pushes me away, trying to get down from her throne as I pull the computer back onto my knees. She glances back for just a moment and sees that she’s been replaced, her gray-blue eyes registering betrayal, and I know she’s not going to let this go without a fight. Mommy’s lap is sacred, and it is mine.
I watch her face crumple before she lets out a wail, her little cheeks growing red with outrage at my slight as the tears fall hot and fat. I know I’ve broken the tender heart of my little girl, and worse, I know I will do it again.
I pull her back onto my legs and comfort her, and then I attempt to keep working while also keeping the computer out of her reach. I find myself wanting to set them both aside so I can catch my breath and catch a break.
We say things like “I have too much on my plate,” and “I have full hands and a full heart,” and all I can think in this moment is I have too much in my lap.
My lap is holy ground, built to cradle and protect the things I care most about: my child, my work, my writing. But my lap has space for only one of these things at a time, and I fear what my daughter will ask when she has the words, “Mommy, why is your computer always in your lap? When will it be my turn?”
But now it’s naptime and I choke down my fears and snuggle my daughter with abandon, not willing to move her out of the sacred space and into her crib. I do it anyway because this nap will equals two hours of work time, two hours without a fight over my lap.
On my bad days, I worry that the picture I’m painting for my daughter is one of a too full lap that doesn’t have enough room for her.
On my good days, I feel satisfied and empowered by the picture of womanhood and motherhood and workinghood that I am painting for her: Mommies can work and be good at their jobs and find meaning in their careers just like daddies do. Mommies can be faithful workers and loving wives and joyful parents.
And on Fridays, I’m reminded that I can cradle my child, my career, my craft, my calling. I can take pride that they all grow in the security of my lap.
Guest post written by Brittany L. Bergman. Brittany is a writer and editor living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and her daughter. She is passionate about living a simple life marked by authenticity and gratitude. She is unashamedly incapable of pacing herself when it comes to reading mysteries or eating French toast. Brittany writes about living simply, savoring motherhood, and finding the sacred in the everyday at BrittanyLBergman.com. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.