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Return to the Land of Grown-Ups

November 01, 1998|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are a lot of things no one tells you about having a baby. That it takes 10 months, not nine (40 weeks, math majors); that during the last month you will not be able to draw a breath deeper than a pant and this will make it difficult for you to live with those who can (and even more difficult for them to live with you). That once you see your brand-new baby, covered in slime and howling, you will never have to stand in line at the Uffizi again because you've already seen the most beautiful thing in the world.

But the biggest secret is that having a baby makes you stupid. OK, OK, it made me stupid. Perhaps I'm the only woman on the planet who spent the first three months of her child's life unable to discuss, even as the very nature of democracy was called into public debate, anything loftier than the appropriate time to move said baby from bassinet to crib. Perhaps I was alone in my inability to utter sentences more complex in content or construct than "You are the best baby ever, my favorite little man." And perhaps I'm the only one whose normally regimented, productive days melted into a creamy soup of baby time, marked only by the whims of appetite and the movement of the sun.

But I don't think so. Because now that it is all over, now that I am back at work, there are far too many knowing smiles. Clearly I am not the first to have a hard time adjusting to the naked atmosphere of Real Life after sipping the rarefied air of planet New Mommy. But despite the voluminous material available to me, new Working Mom, I found key advisory elements missing. So for those in the waning weeks of maternity leave, here are a few lessons from my reentry:

1. You should reacquaint yourself with the single declarative sentence. When I talk to Danny Mac I often repeat myself, and while he accepts this as his personal cross to bear, co-workers tend to look quizzical.

2. You no longer need to narrate your every move. While your baby may have received the news that you were going to the bathroom "just for a minute, sweetheart" with wide-eyed fascination, the guy in the next cubicle absolutely will not.

3. You do need to answer your phone. And return messages. When you were at home, you had every excuse to let the machine not only get it but keep it--amazingly enough most people really understood if you neglected their messages. At work, however, most of us are being paid, in part, to pick up and return in a timely fashion. Sorry.

4. The sweatpants and loose T-shirts must go. Unless you are a gym teacher. Similarly, your husband's clothing is strictly off-limits. Cute when you were preggers, unacceptable now. When clad casually, I for one tend to do casual things, like sit on the floor and say "Oh, shut up" a lot.

5. You must keep your blouse buttoned at all times, even if you just finished nursing or pumping. I know the UPS man took it right in stride when you were home, but your boss will feel differently. Promise.

6. People who are not your mother or your mate are not interested in a daily update of your child's every adorable gesture. Oh, they may smile and nod but they are faking it. Also, confine explicit descriptions of the birth to discussion with other parents or your really close friends. To all others, it is as if you were narrating your recent bout with kidney stones.

7. Things will happen in the workplace and the world at large that will have nothing whatsoever to do with your baby and you must learn to think and converse about them anyway. Secretly, most mothers can, in a matter of seconds, find a direct connection between the headlines and their child but it must remain thus: secret.

8. When eating with or in sight of other humans, remember it is no longer enough to shovel food in while holding the baby or during those scant seconds when the dear one is actually amusing himself. The skills you have learned leaning over the kitchen counter are worthless now: No points will be given for making, then eating, a bowl of soup and a salad entirely with your left hand. In fact, the inevitable slobbering mess will result in points being deducted. And lunch dates dwindling.

9. For a week or so before you return to work, practice speaking like a grown-up. That is, in complete sentences building perhaps to short paragraphs, using words of more than one syllable and a low-pitched voice. The syncopation of speech with another adult is very different from that with an infant, so remember to leave time for your conversational partner to actually respond.

10. As a follow-up to No. 9, review your postpartum vocabulary. Chances are, yucky, yummy, ouchie and sugar-pants are not going to make the transition to the workplace. Arm yourself with more appropriate terminology.

11. Your center of gravity is irrevocably changed because your personal sun-moon-and-all-the-stars is no longer in hugging distance and there is no preparing for this. Bring Kleenex, get the caregivers' number on the speed dial and cut yourself a little slack for a while. Unless you have the ill fortune to work for Scrooge and Marley or a Republican senator, everyone will understand.

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