The past two weeks have been quite busy professionally. Lots of long hours, lots of meetings – one of which referenced the travel I will be doing in the near future, and lots of missed bedtimes.
The mention of the travel made me feel like I swallowed a pound of lead for a few reasons:
1. Travel – especially of the extended kind, to coasts other than the one I live on – causes what boarders on a financial and logistical crisis in my world. Not sure if you have noticed, but this operation I call working single motherhood quite frequently feels like it is hanging on by a thread. A thread that can snap if one of the 12-15 colds a year that Ellie gets turns into something bigger, or if god forbid I get sick for more than a couple days, or any other serious situation arises that needs my attention. I know that single moms aren’t the only ones that feel this way, but I feel it most acutely when I am told I will be needed somewhere other than NYC.
In the meeting, I stopped short of saying, “Um, so I guess Ellie can shoot the main camera, while I shoot second camera.” I just gulped. And reminded myself that if I don’t keep pushing my career forward, I am not going to be able to give myself and my daughter everything I’d like. Things are very tight right now…very tight. I have RSVPed no to 5 out of town weddings so far this year. I just can’t afford it. And I can’t afford any more time away from Ellie. It breaks my heart to miss my friend’s weddings. I was supposed to actually be in a one of my best friend’s weddings last weekend, and there was no way I could swing it. I couldn’t even afford the cab to the airport, let alone anything else. You may or may not have noticed that my friends and family mean the world to me, so missing a large life event is a hard pill to swallow.
The only person more important to me than my friends and family, is Ellie…there is so much that I want to give her. And I am not referring to cute designer baby jeans, I am talking about the basics, food, clothing and shelter – along with music and art classes…or dance classes, and preschool, soccer, softball, lacrosse, or basketball, and a high school and college that supports and challenges her. All of the things I had the opportunity to partake in growing up (Okay, ignore the fact that I have no rhythm, and I’m not what you would call graceful on the field…but whatever…I got to figure that out for myself, while amusing many around me. And no, I never even tried lacrosse or soccer, but my sisters did – so you get the point). I don’t want Ellie to feel pressure to do everything, but I want her to have the opportunity to enrich her mind and her body. And I can’t do that where I am at right now, so I have to continue to grow professionally or we are going to be treading water. And I am not a great swimmer either.
2. I typed all of the above with one side of my brain, while the other side was saying, “Living in a box is better than missing one more bedtime.” I missed 3 bedtimes this week – painful. I never knew that once I became a full time working mom, that I’d always look at the clock while at work and see the time in relation to what Ellie is doing. Once I know she is already in bed for the night, the guilt dissipates, and don’t feel as bad being at the office late into the evening. I think to myself, “Well, even if I rushed home right now – which I can’t – but if I did, I would just sneak in her room and watch her breath, so I guess I should stop beating myself up with the guilt mallet that I carry around with me every day and night.”
The issue is, with this thing we call parenthood…there is no right answer. No perfect formula. I am actually reading a book right now called, “No Regrets Parenting,” by pediatrician Dr. Harley Rotbart. The book is the first parenting book I have read, mainly because Dr. Rotbart said he raised his kids without reading any parenting books – using his instinct instead – AND the premise of the book is all about making the most of the time you do have with your kids.
In the book, he references keeping your eye on the “other biological clock” and that there are only 940 Saturdays between the time a child is born and when she leaves for college – and that we need to make the most of the ones we do have by really being present with your kids. Well that was enough to have me weeping on the subway into work. The mere thought of Ellie leaving for college felt like someone kicked me in the gut. Forget about the fact that I still have no idea how the hell my mom not only let me go to college, but also let me get on a plane and study in London for a semester. And how she managed to keep her shit together while I was studying in London, and two planes flew into the World Trade Center…grounding all air travel to and from the United States – FOR DAYS. With the way I feel right now, I think I would have had to start swimming across the Atlantic.
Anyway, the whole point of the book is to help parents get to the major and minor milestones in their kids lives with, well, no regrets – which might be different for each family depending on circumstance.
So what does that mean for Ellie and I? I began to think about a conversation I had with my mom a couple weeks ago, and I was discussing how much it sucks when I miss Ellie’s bedtime and basically go days without really seeing her. I worried that this would somehow damage the very close bond we have. And my mom reminded me of my relationship with my father. He is a CPA and owns his own business. Tax season dictated the family calendar, and from January to April 15th, we barely saw my dad at all. My mom kept everything running smoothly in the house, working as a nurse, while my dad worked from 7am – 11pm every night for 4 months, and almost as grueling hours on Saturday and Sunday.
“Look at you and daddy. You have a great relationship with him. You don’t hold the fact that he worked so much against him at all, and Ellie won’t hold it against you,” she said, bestowing upon me one of the greatest gifts she has given me in a while (in addition to all of the great food, home decor and clothing)…she gave me absolution of my guilt.
Not only do I not resent my father for working so hard, I admire him for it. When I am stuck at work at 11pm, I think to myself, “My dad has done this for over 35 years, for 4 months in a row, every night…I can manage a few late nights.“ And I also realized, that both of my parents, having worked all through my life, adhered to the “No Regrets Parenting” philosophy without reading the book…they made the most of the time they did have with us.
When it wasn’t tax season, my dad was on the softball field with me, and both of my working parents did everything they could to be at every Christmas play, and to listen to every overly verbose story I would tell, from beginning to end, even if it was the fifth time they heard it. They clapped when my sister Mallory put on her “shows” at dinner, talking into a this plastic microphone. They wrapped and rewrapped and wrapped again, blankets around Adriane’s Cabbage Patch dolls, and they sang along to the Wee Sing Videos with Jackie more times than she could count (and she could count very high, at a very young age) In short, they couldn’t always be there, but when they could, they made the most if.
At some point in my young adult life, I remember asking my parents, how they worked so hard, and then when they weren’t working, they were getting up early with us, or were doing something for us, or were cleaning or shopping, or planning or signing us up for something, or breaking up some fist fight about who stole whose jeans…I could not wrap my teenage brain around the concept of NEVER EVER EVER having a day off.
And I remember my dad saying, “You just do. You do what you have to do, and you will do anything for your kids. Even if it means getting up and out of bed when you are really tired, and never having a day off again in your life, you do what you need to do for you kids.”
And I almost positive that conversation took place on the way to softball practice one evening.