A huge slab of wood took up space in my laundry room until two years after our first daughter was born, the reason it was initially purchased long forgotten. While I was on maternity leave with our second daughter, my husband carried the slab down to our unfinished basement. When it reemerged, it had been transformed.
The creative artist I married lovingly crafted me a desk, which he secured atop the radiator in our front room–the playroom. He bolted it down carefully, adorning it with chains to give the illusion of a floating desk and mounting Edison lights on both sides.
My new workspace—a push present, for which child I am still unsure—faces the street and our beautiful trees. Sunshine streams in as the day progresses. The desk itself reflects the outdoors, painted a metallic mirage of blues and purples with my favorite flower, a Stargazer Lily, hand painted on the left side.
I stared at that desk each day for six months, long after returning to my office from maternity leave, wondering when I would get the inspiration to sit and create, willing the space to draw me in. Instead, it stayed separate, removed from the hustle and bustle of the room around it. Our children played in the room daily, but never touched the desk either. It was like it didn’t exist. Instead, it became just a wish or a promise for later.
COVID-19 hit like a ton of bricks. Working in healthcare, in support of front line workers, my stress and anxiety was only lifted when I received orders I could work from home. I was relieved. I could keep my family safe. I could control my exposure more readily. My typical anxieties about working from home were overpowered by this new, unforeseen stressor.
I am a working mother for a reason. I needed to be around people. I needed to interact with adults. I needed to feel productive and valued in a different way. Both of my maternity leaves left me exhausted and overwhelmed. I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. My husband is a natural caretaker. So when we had our first daughter, the idea of him staying home and me providing for our family felt completely natural, but it didn’t quite feel right being away from them either. My work schedule evolved into 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. so I could spend the afternoons with my girls. I thought that was enough.
On my first pandemic work-from-home day, I arranged the piles of work I had haphazardly thrown in a box on my beautiful desk. The items looked misplaced, away from the sterility and homogeneity of my office, but also filled the desk with purpose for the first time.
I stuck rigidly to my original work schedule, rising at 5:50 a.m. and–without the commute or obligatory shower–was sitting at my desk by 6 a.m. I did the same work, ate the same food, and scheduled call after call to stay connected to the outside world, to somehow make sense of the time we were living through. I hoped to maintain as much normalcy as possible.
It was the little things that slowly started to chip away at my armor.
After days at home, my husband pulled out our old laptop and set it on my 2-year-old’s art table. She dutifully sat next to me, typing away, calling out the letters as she pressed, occasionally shimmying the mouse this way and that.
It was a treat to snuggle my then-8-month-old against my chest at morning naptime, carrying her upstairs and smelling her neck as she cuddled into me, stroking my hair as I stroked her back.
Zoom calls were made that much nicer when my coffee was magically refilled and delivered by my thoughtful husband.
I traded in microwave overnight oats for making them fresh in the pot, my two-year-old by my side. I traded writing with co-worker interruptions to writing with toddler disruptions. I traded blocking out landline rings and colleague yelling for Daniel Tiger and snack demands.
It was different and new, but it felt right. I had spent so much time since having my first child trying to separate my life as a mom with my life as a professional, working twice as hard to prove nothing had changed when everything had. I was miserable trying to balance an impossible load, trying to tear myself into pieces and still be whole when I arrived.
I came home in more ways than one that first day. I came home to myself in a way I never would have imagined. It snuck up on me. Establishing a new routine took work and patience. I am a hard nut to crack so it makes sense it would take a global pandemic for me to realize I can be both things simultaneously. I can be a talented professional and an amazing mom. Both roles can not only coexist but thrive, together.
I used to view the desk the same way. “Why won’t you inspire me?” I thought to myself. It didn’t draw me in enough to do what I thought it was intended to do. I thought if I had the space and the materials, it would be easier. I expected to sit and write the next great American novel, to actually get paid to bear my soul about motherhood and friendship and hard times.
But I wouldn’t let it into the story. No one touched it, no one experienced it. Everyone walked around it like a decoration. It didn’t get to live and stack up memories. I treated it for a singular purpose, and it wasn’t living up to my expectations. Just like me. I was treating myself as a singular purpose and I wasn’t living up to others’ expectations.
That desk is where I handwrite thank you notes, participate in Zoom calls, create reports and emails. Where I conduct interviews and mentor professionals. It is also a climbing gym, a breastfeeding station, a home for wayward stuffed animals, and Superhero Girl dolls. It hugs my two daughters and me with care and safety.
The desk has a purpose now. It fits neatly into our lives, entrenched into the playroom and our children’s lives – as am I.
Krystina Wales spends her days in donor engagement and communication for a healthcare organization in Baltimore, which she considers the best job in fundraising, and she is also deeply committed to volunteering in Baltimore City. But her favorite roles are wife and mom. When she is not adventuring with her two daughters, she is in perpetual search of a really good cup (read: pot) of coffee or mastering her life goal of crafting the perfect charcuterie board. You can find her on Instagram.