I started my life as a parent with six months of quantity time. I took 8 weeks off, but then worked part-time, mostly from home. My daughter and I were together almost all 168 hours of the week. We marinated in each other. We stared into each other's eyes for long stretches. Most of the time, neither of us was fully clothed. I was engaged in elaborate procedures to increase my milk supply, so I was either nursing or pumping or nursing-then-pumping every 2-3 hours around the clock, and my daughter was never more than three feet away from me. There was no day or night, just a repeated cycle of hunger, contact, cooing and shushing, punctuated by the pchika-pchika-pchika of my loyal pump. I tried to work when I could.
Then I started residency and parenting changed completely. Now the demands of my job were absolute, predictable down to the hour for an entire year in advance. I had to be fully available at work and so my partner took over the job of being fully available at home. My daughter started day care and began to adhere to a more consistent bedtime. Instead of working when I could, I had to parent when I could. Many days I had only half an hour or an hour with her before bedtime and I learned to make these minutes gleam with high octane focused attention. Then there were golden weekends, unexpected early days, vacations, and continued nighttime awakenings, which killed me but also kept me going. We cuddled as much as possible. When people lamented to me on behalf of my daughter about my demanding schedule and how little time I was able to spend with her (frequent occurrence), I gently told them how proud I was of the quality of our relationship despite these constraints. I didn't exercise, travel, or buy a new pair of shoes for two straight years but with what time I had, I parented with my whole heart.
Now I'm a third-year and it's not feast or famine anymore. I can eat breakfast with my family, put in a solid work day, then eat dinner with my family. And weekends are back (sometimes). The timing of this detente is coinciding with a leap on the part of my now two-and-a-half year old towards more independence and awareness and conversational ability. To celebrate, I took her on a road trip to see her grandmother in Vermont. We were in the car for fourteen hours in total and I gained a new appreciation for the things that quantity time can give you that quality time cannot. There was a period of twenty minutes in which she screamed "Mommy, I want to poop in the potty!" at top volume and I thought I was going to lose my mind. Then I figured out a tickling game we could play while driving and the car was filled with both of our giggles. We slid from mutual frustration to laughter to boredom to song to negotiation then back to boredom then back to jokes. It's not that these transitions don't happen over shorter stretches but with 72 uninterrupted hours ahead of us, I didn't feel pressured to make every moment fun. I didn't feel pressured to entertain E. We were just inhabiting time together, without bedtime or daycare drop-off or a specific activity to get to. E asked lots of ontological questions like "Mommy, who is your Daddy?" and "Where are all these cars going?" When we stopped for lunch, she laid out her chicken nuggets and french fries in a perfect straight line and said in a matter-of-fact voice, "Nuggets and sauce is my favorite. What's your favorite?" It felt like we were on an epic date, complete with some long silences and surprising moments of synergy and a sense of time without limit.
Like most of the issues in the Mommy wars, there is no one right truth for anyone and on average the truth is somewhere in the middle. The truth also changes. Parenting with limited time taught me mindfulness and focus and priorities. It made me a better parent. Now I'm looking forward to spending longer stretches of less goal-oriented time with E. I'm hoping to build a life in which quality is the focus both at work and at home, with enough long weekends and road trips and lazy vacations in remote places to marinate in timeless time together.