My second maternity leave ended on March 2nd last year, which means I’ve been back to work for exactly one year. I was already pregnant when I returned to work after my first maternity leave and knew I only had 6 months to kill before I was off again with baby two, so I did my time easily knowing there was an end date in sight. After my son was born, though, I enjoyed my year off with him but always had March 2nd looming. I knew I wasn’t going back to work pregnant this time and that this would likely be my last maternity leave. I like my job and I like making money, but I loved my time with my kids and I miss the uninterrupted days we got to spend together. I’m fortunate to live in Canada and work for the University of Toronto where I’m able to take a year off to be with my babies.
So, with all that being said, here are the top 5 things I learned on my last maternity leave (in no particular order). I should mention I watched a lot of daytime TV while I was off. A lot.
1. Add some of the pasta water to drained pasta to make the sauce stick.
I honestly had never heard of this. But Stefano taught me how to take the water from the pot and add it to the drained pasta and sauce to make the sauce and noodles one. It took more than a few steam burns to get it right, but it’s made all the difference. And, with two toddlers in the house, we eat a lot of pasta. Who am I kidding. We eat a lot of Kraft Dinner.
2. I learned to drink and love coffee (sort of)
I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Ever. I try not to drink a lot of caffeine and I don’t really like hot drinks, so I’ve gone my whole life (mostly) without drinking coffee. But then I had a skinny vanilla latté* from Starbucks and sometimes it’s all I can think about. Because of the prohibitive price tag, I treat myself and only have one on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I walk the three blocks at 7:30 in the morning, thankful the whole way that I live in a big city where we have two Starbucks in a 6 block radius. I’ve really come to value my weekend morning routine, even if I have to trick my kids into thinking I’m taking the garbage out.
*I recognize that real coffee drinkers won’t think a latté is real coffee, but for me, it may as well be a dark roast.
3. I learned the importance of dry brushing
One of my favourite daytime shows was Steven and Chris. I loved everything about this show and always learned at least one thing each episode. One day, they taught me about dry brushing – brushing the body using a stiff-bristled brush to promote circulation, encourage the lymphatic system, and slough off dead skin. For a long time I was doing this every night and it made me feel so energized and tingly. It only takes a minute or two but it feels so good after!
4. How to really be a mom**
After I had my daughter, I took to moming like a fish to water. She was such an easy kid: she slept well, I could take her anywhere, and she was so easygoing that I thought to myself, probably pretty smugly, “what’s the big deal? This parenting thing isn’t so hard.” Well. When I had my son, I also had a 19 month old. It took me having a second kid to feel like a first time parent. I had to take care of a baby and parent a toddler (while babies require a lot of care, they don’t require a lot of “parenting”). I was filled with doubt, worrying about teaching my toddler about the world and trying to give my son the same attention my daughter got (spoiler alert: it’s never equal). While some days I feel like I’m winging it, most days I marvel at these two little monsters, destroying my house and exploding my heart.
**I do not want this post to become a contest in best-parenting practices. Please take the above as one mom’s experience on maternity leave.
5. How to read
Obviously I know how to read. I’ve been reading books since I was a kid, starting with The Babysitter’s Club and R.L. Stein. However, after watching TV all day and being fortunate enough to have two babies in bed by 7:00pm, I was left with a bit of free time in the evenings. For years I read books that didn’t really challenge me as a reader. Then I read The Poisonwood Bible in November 2014. Not only did it challenge me, it changed me as a reader. I began to appreciate the writing, not just the story. I began to love the simple act of cracking a book’s spine and snuggling up in bed to read. This is by far my favourite habit I started while I was off.
What did you do on your maternity leave? Never took maternity leave? What would you do if you could take one?