Strike of the Marine Layer

When my new boss asked me to come to San Francisco for training the day after Labor Day, I only batted half an eyelash.

Sure, my in-laws are in town. Sure, it’ll be insane because of day after Labor Day travel. But, with an 11am start, I could prioritize seeing my child, catch the 8:45a to San Francisco, and arrive by the skin of my teeth for my literal first day on the job. You know, assuming all the stars aligned.

My panic started on Labor Day itself. Pain in my stomach, random tears, hyperventilating panic. My carefully planned departure meant I could wake up, get ready, breastfeed, and spend some time with Thomas before disappearing from his immediate view for 72 hours. The Jess who made that plan, who was going to be an in-control mom and employee, had booked the flight without hesitation. The Jess of September 3, 2018, however, couldn’t breathe.

I assessed options, but none were logical. To buy an earlier flight outright was in the hundreds of dollars. To move to the earlier flight, I had to get on a waiting list from which I might get moved to the standby list. Knowing I was painted into a corner, I took a deep breath, and kept the original flight.

That night brought more anxiety of its own. In-laws, packing, teething. All of these completely manageable (and some even embraced!) on their own. But together, they made for a perfect storm.

Thomas, feeling the anxiety (potentially) or the teeth (more likely), amped up the clinginess. Mistakenly, I let him fall asleep in my arms. For the next two hours, anytime he was put down, he screamed. Many tears were had by both him and I before he finally fell asleep after 10p. I had a cider and a noble Coors Light to calm my panic.

Thankfully, we did all sleep. I got Thomas up, fed him, and left for the airport with a chorus of, “I duv do too.” In the car, however, I received the first of many alerts … flying to SFO in the summer brings the marine layer which, unfortunately, brought a substantial delay to my flight.

I didn’t just feel the panic of being late for my first day as a new employee. Nor of going to a new job after a disastrous end (and some actual PTSD) from my last. I also felt the guilt of what I have come to recognize in myself and my mom friends as, “the working mom syndrome.”

The guilt of prioritizing my bond with my child over a place of business. Fear over how that would reflect on me, especially on my first day. If I’d just taken the earlier flight, I would have rolled into San Francisco early (because of COURSE the 6:30a was on time!). Instead, I made a “selfish” decision to prioritize seeing my child, getting some sleep, and not pumping. And, for that, I paid the price in extra franticness and guilt.

Instead of being safely on the ground, on time, in San Francisco, I sat in the Portland airport trying to clear my mind. I quickly pumped in the bathroom because, with the delay, I now would feel even more uncomfortable making the ask to pump over lunch.

I stepped into the elite line to board over glares from the “general boarding” passengers. Yes, fellow traveler, I am utilizing my (hard-earned from so many miles away from my little guy) gold status to jump ahead. But I need you to understand … I can’t check my bag and I needed to pump. Can’t you see I am one breath away from completely crumbling?

What is the lesson in all of this? I am ultimately not sure. Either way, it feels like a lose-lose.

I can take the earlier flight, be on time (maybe?), but miss the curve of his cheeks, the way his in-person duck-like laugh is so much more satisfying than anything else, and one hundred more hugs. I can take the later flight and “know” that my employers are passing judgment for first day lateness, which is so tightly coupled with my identity of mother and woman and employee, and threatens my very core.

Even 36 hours later, I’m still trying to settle the internal struggle. The only real conclusion I’ve come to is that this, like everything else, will take deep breaths, many moments of practice, and some trust that some in the world are more understanding than credit is given.

Yesterday, I landed in San Francisco under a blue sky. My Lyft arrived at the terminal in literally one minute. Traffic to the downtown office was clear. And, upon arrival, I found out that the kick-off had been delayed until 1p. I had that moment to breathe, and, it turns out, no reason to worry.

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