Pricey Mother and father Returning to the Workplace, Put together for Meltdowns
“Dad, where are you?”
“Papa, please come back!”
“Daddy, I promise I won’t hide your phone again.”
“Mom, where is dad?”
“I WANT DADDY !!!”
Last week, my husband decided to venture back into his Manhattan office for the first time since March 2020 to tidy up his office, pick up a few things, and meet up with coworkers he hadn’t seen in person in over 14 months . We told our children the evening before and prepared them: Dad would be gone for a few hours in the afternoon and evening.
That afternoon my husband finally managed to get out of the house – by closing the front door and running away. My daughter’s reaction when her father left for a few hours was downright dramatic, theatrical, and loud; Tears, tears and more tears. Then moments of silence to catch your breath. Have some water and grab a Kleenex. Then more howling, whining and sobbing. She wanted dad. She needed papa. She didn’t stop screaming for Daddy. She had dissolved in a puddle of tears until I couldn’t stand the crying anymore and had to intervene. I offered the only bribe I knew would work: Netflix. I was quickly back to sending Slack messages while she was eating cream cheese and Sofia was watching the first.
In the meantime, Daddy had fled the house hooded and taken the little yellow ferry to Manhattan. He re-entered the world and rediscovered parts of his previous working life when my daughter began to mourn our pandemic life and the parts we have to give up. Later this year my husband and I will both be returning to the office. We will no longer be at home with our kids from morning to night, spending almost every single minute together (even the bathroom was no escape, thanks to the loud knock on the door asking us when we were done) home, that seemed to have become cozier and smaller with each passing day. A home that had never expected it or had committed itself to accepting, accommodating and caring for four people at the same time every day.
Our children are now used to having us with them. We may be in virtual meetings with the door closed, pecking angrily at the keyboard, and yet we’re still inside. They know we’re still there. We’re still here to be interrupted to ask for more goldfish crackers. We’re still here to lead referee matches and put them on time out. We’re still here to quickly fix a ponytail, refill a glass of milk, and find those pink socks with the blue stripes.
We have become a safety blanket for our children – the favorite stuffed animal they take on every road trip, the warm glass of milk they swallow before bed. The four of us have been each other’s best friends, playmates, roommates, and classmates for 14 months. We have become our own little community, all together protecting, fighting, loving, screaming and laughing.
I’m thrilled to get out of the house and return to an office that isn’t the corner of our bedroom where my husband’s college beer pong table served as a desk. I’m excited and nervous about meeting colleagues for the first time and privately obsessed with what to wear to work (back to clothes and no more t-shirts and ripped jeans ?! yes !!).
I am also sad and afraid of being separated from my children and our mighty group of four, and wonder if I will be able to prevent part of our old lives from taking control again. Because, to be honest, I don’t want to travel internationally several times per quarter. I don’t want to spend a full day at work and then attend evening events until 10 p.m. I don’t want to just travel for the day, get up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight, and be exhausted when I land at home at midnight.
However, I know what I want. And that’s to make a difference at work and to be fulfilled through my career. And I don’t want to sacrifice my time with my family and friends for that.
As parents, we’ll still be here, but in a different way. I remember that it is healthy and important for each of us to expand our foursome again, to rebuild old friendships and to maintain new relationships. Finding our own routines, finding our own way to be in the world so we can have new adventures that we can share with each other when we meet again at the kitchen table. And being able to create adventures together as we touch, adapt, and embrace this new normal.
When Daddy came back later that evening, both children were put in bed with mom after a wrestling match and told silly jokes until the yawns got the better of them. “Papa is back, papa is here,” our daughter whispered softly and hugged him as he told a story about the big city as she fell asleep.
We will slowly enter the world again, one week at a time. We will give our children the time and space to adjust when mom and dad leave the house. We are prepared for these meltdowns, the moments of separation anxiety and the sad feeling that we are apart. We remind each other that we will soon be sitting at the kitchen table together again. We’ll also remember when we hear those whines and sobs, Netflix and cheese spread are waiting as a magical antidote to this great meltdown.
Mita Mallick is Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young children.