9:30am at the office. I’m alone and pumping in the office “quiet room.” The eeh-ooh, eeh-ooh of the pump swishing. I’m hooked up to wires and flanges. I think of Aidan, my boy. His sticky hands grabbing at my shirt, pressed against my skin. The warmth of him in my arms. His cheeky smile that starts on one side of his mouth and moves to his whole face. The “oooooh, ooooooh, ooooooh” he babbles as he soothes himself to sleep.
A single tear burns down my cheek.
10:00am. Back at my desk. Milk stored in the fridge. Coffee growing cold below the family pictures at my desk that only make me miss them more.
And just when I’m feeling so sorry for myself, so alone, a sweet older man walks up. He beelines to the photo of Aidan smiling at 3 months old taped to my cubicle. He gets real close, squinting.
I beam proudly, “that’s my little boy.”
“I know,” he replies. “How old is he?”
“4 months yesterday.”
“And how old is he there?” He points to a newborn photo of Aidan, lying on our bed, in a loose swaddle, hands clasped below his chin, eyes closed, lips pursed. He looks angelic, serene, so fresh and new.
“Did you pose him like that?” he asks.
“No, he likes to do that with his hands,” I respond and chuckle thinking of our newborn boy wringing his hands, posing as if for a baby calendar. Like he should be curled up in a pumpkin or cornucopia or bed of flowers, not just set on our plain old comforter.
“This must be right when you got married.” He shifts his focus to our framed wedding photo of our first dance. The lights play in the background, our faces tilted together, my hand cupping Ryan’s neck, as we both breathe in our new “home.”
“Congratulations.” He concludes and walks on to his office.
A gift. A reminder that although I am not with them, they are still mine. They are always one thought, one whispered prayer away.
And when 5pm hits, I will be out the door, on my way to his babbles and smiles. I will trade the pump for his soft skin. I will snuggle him closer, breathe him in.
Just a few more hours. A few more hours…
I try to concentrate on my bullet pointed tasks at hand. Email volunteer instructors and TAs. Lesson plan for classes this week. One class is just starting; they’ll be learning about the naturalization process and eligibility requirements. They’ll learn that the current application fee is $725 and you can apply to become a U.S. citizen only once you’ve had your green card for 5 years.
I want to be present with my work, but I miss him so much.
There’s a grief in leaving Aidan every morning. Time is already so cruel. I’ve been resentful. Angry. I know, I know, people hold down full time jobs every day. I’ve done it for most of my adult life, yet it feels so much harder now. Each moment responding to email or teaching class is a moment that I don’t get to cuddle him or see his new expression. It goes so fast, they say—they all say, so much. And it’s hurdling by as I organize student files and print out citizenship bingo cards.
How can I savor every moment of this fleeting year when I’m forced to spend 37.5 hours a week (plus commuting!) away from him?
I used to think I would resent my baby for taking me away from my passions, but it’s the other way around.
Aidan has become my passion and everything else is in my way, especially work.
This is supposed to be my dream job—helping immigrants and refugees, so why does it feel so tedious? So burdensome?
The big world changing ideals that used to appeal to me in my twenties don’t drive me as much anymore. Not that I don’t care about social justice or solving poverty or living outside myself, but I don’t feel the same urgency to leave, to cure, to save that I did in my early twenties. I guess this is settling down. I want to plant roots. I want to build steady rhythms that connect me to my people and my place.
I want to build a family.
It’s tempting to withdraw. To wrap my arms tightly around my little family and shut the door. Shut out the news and the violence and the Donald. I’m surprised by how much I want that.
As much as I’d rather stay home with Aidan, I’m beginning to see this job as a refining force in my life.
At a time when I want to isolate, this role forces me to connect. At a time when I want to turn inward, this job pushes me way out of my comfort zone.
For those who don’t know, I coordinate and teach citizenship classes to help immigrants prepare for and pass their naturalization test and become US citizens. Becoming a naturalized citizen, especially in this political climate, is a life-changing event for my students and their families. As citizens, they gain access to better jobs, they no longer fear deportation or round-ups, and they are able to finally say this place where they’ve been living for years is home.
Maybe my role isn’t at odds with building a family after all.
It’s been one of our dreams—no, plans—to adopt. To welcome a stranger into our family. To be a safe space, both literally and figuratively to children who for whatever reason are alone in the world.
My job gives me the chance to create a welcoming space. To practice hospitality and encouragement and showing up.
As two introverts, Ryan and I don’t open our home that often and I am NOT a party planner. The day after our wedding, we looked at each other and said thank God we never have to do that again (the planning and organizing and facilitating of people and details and timelines).
I was most definitely not the includer in school. I wasn’t purposely an excluder; I just assumed no one wanted to spend time with me. I assumed they would say no, so I never asked.
What if I could see my job as a training ground for how I want my family to be? A place of welcome and refuge and safety. Where the tedious is performed joyfully because it’s really an act of love. It’s so much easier for me to take this perspective when I’m changing diapers or washing bottles and get to hold and squeeze Aidan and see his smiles and his development.
It’s harder with strangers who I don’t know and love. Who show up in the middle of the class cycle and leave me five voicemails during my lunch break and who forget to bring their green card three classes in a row (and we need a copy of their green card to count them for the grant that funds my position).
What if I stopped dwelling on what I can’t do with Aidan and start embracing what I can learn at my job?
I can practice hospitality when I call an anxious student back right away– not to check off my task list or not risk losing a potential student, but so that they feel heard and included and respected.
I can learn joy in service from my volunteers who show up to teach without much direction, to encourage without questions, and to celebrate with creativity. I arrived at class one day to find my volunteer teaching assistant wearing a t-shirt with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the day we learned that test question. Another volunteer who teaches two classes—four nights a week!—brought cupcakes to celebrate Jefferson’s birthday and cookies with mini flags on Flag Day. Talk about creating a welcoming environment!
On Monday I will welcome nearly 100 “strangers” to my classroom on the first day of three new 10-week classes. This is my chance to include and encourage.
It’s wild to see my students’ progress over just 10 weeks.
Sure, they learn about US history and the naturalization process and they memorize the heck out of the 100 civics questions they’re expected to know, but the real gift is seeing them grow in confidence and community. They may be the first person in their family to go through the naturalization process. They may think they are alone in their nerves and fears and insecurities.
But in my classroom, they form a new family. They become Facebook friends and start their own study groups after the course ends. They call me up to tell me they passed the test. They feel safe referring their friends to the next class cycle.
Yes, I miss Aidan when I am at work. Yes, I (mostly) wish our financial situation would allow me to stay home, but I am learning to see that my time away from Aidan is not wasted.
I am living out obedience. I am welcoming the stranger. I am practicing doing small things with a little more love and (hopefully) less resentment.
I am building a bigger, broader definition of family.