I always dread the carb-laden events with my kids at school. And it has nothing to do with the carbs, per se, but with the stress and anxiety sweats I inevitably break into when I join the ranks of other parents to snack with my children at tiny tables in a packed lunchroom full of little classmates and crouched parents eating sweets.
This year, I was on top of it. I had the date in my phone and written in my planner. I made sure that my morning was open and my drive to the office pre-programmed into Waze. The alphabet list had been made and posted, and I checked it multiple times: A-M on Thursday; N-Z on Friday. Thursday! We are good. So I reminded Liv that I’d be attending in the morning and expected nothing but kiddo glee. What I got was teeth and a worried look. “Mom, I didn’t buy a ticket.” TICKET? WHAT TICKET? I scrolled back through the school email and saw that I’d missed that there were indeed tickets that they expected my child to remember to bring home to me, have me purchase, and return to school. Good for responsibility, I’m sure.
“Sweetie, can we just go? I’m sure they’ll sell tickets at the door,” I said, reassuringly. She was having NONE OF IT. “No, it’s okay mom. We can get a donut another time. And I’ll ride the bus today.” Awesome. Again, I feel a bit out of the loop. Somehow I’ve missed what was supposed to happen in the midst of the sea of emails, a partnership of school duties with my husband, and the child’s brain to bring the tickets home. I take a breath and tell myself I did the best I could with what I had, that my child feels loved and will be fine and will just go to therapy for different things than I did and that’s GROWTH, thank you very much.
So tonight, after an hour-and-a-half of math worksheets, she says to me, “…So A-L went today and the GOOD NEWS is that M-Z is tomorrow and YOU CAN COME!!” She says this with all the joy in all the hearts in all the world and I know she is wanting my yes and my excitement and relief. But I have a meeting tomorrow. Because I am a Working Mom™ and we have meetings at 9 am on Friday mornings. I feel the frustration roooolllll through me. I think to myself, But I was available yesterday! And cleared my schedule and was going to choke down a dry pastry to BE WITH my child in public spaces. And this feels not fair. Not at all fair. To her. To me. To her precious youth that I am always panicking is slipping past me while I meet clients and teach future therapists and travel the country. Hold fast, Teri, hold on. I take some breaths and say to her, “Love, I am so happy there is another day, but I have a meeting tomorrow morning. I’m so sorry I won’t be able to be there for this one.” And she looks hopeful and says, “Just say you forgot!” and is grinning her beautiful, playful grin with me and I can’t help but join in. We joke that I forget my meeting and we eat all the snacks, which feels so good to laugh together. We are snuggling in my big bed and laughing into the small space between us. And I tell her Oh how much I want to be with her. But that I can not miss my meeting. She nods and we’re both sad. We snuggle for a while. And then she says, “What’s Daddy doing tomorrow?” And we are both EXCITED because he is home tomorrow!! And she has the brilliant idea to ask Daddy to Pastries with Parents (and I am in my heart so glad it isn’t still called Muffins with Mommy because that is so much pressure on us mamas who love our kids and work). And he says yes and it is a bit of crisis averted.
I tuck her in and we talk and smile and she asks me to check on her “so many times” in the night, which I gladly promise to do. I’ll be up writing tonight. How would I describe to her what it’s like to love her so much my heart could break? How would I tell her that I love my work and that it’s so hard to leave my warm bed and her soft little cheeks and my happy little home? That I am both full of love for my family and joy for my work, and that though the world will tell her she has to choose one or the other, it’s not true. Love is big and vast and wide and beautiful and enough to hold us all – the mom part and partner part and worker part. There is enough. You are enough. We are enough. Over and over, to push back against the scarcity, the false dichotomy that there is only so much love a mom can give and she has to choose. Oh hell no. I don’t accept. We don’t accept. I don’t have to believe this lie and I won’t teach it to her. Instead, I will tell her the truth while reminding myself: I love you and I love my work. You matter most of all. So when I’m with you, I’ll do my best to BE with you. I don’t have to attend every event to express my love to you. And when I feel guilty, I won’t expect you to make that okay for me. That’s what therapy and talks with your Dad are for. You are SO loved. I’ve got you and love you always.
Parenting and working are hard. To be a working mom is a weight I never knew would be so hard to bear. We need each other to know that we are doing our best and are actually damn good moms and working hard in the process. We have each other. We’re just hard to find sometimes. Let’s look for each other and support one another. I see you out there hustling. And it matters - to your family and to all of us making our way.