My youngest (5) never wants to go to bed. Bedtime is always hard but a few days ago bedtime was worse than usual. Overtired, she was whining and crying about everything from the way her pajamas felt (Too TICKLY!!!) to not being able to watch two more episodes of Powerpuff Girls before bedtime (It ISN’T FAIR!).
I fussed at her, told her to stop and get her rear in bed. I was tired, she and her sister (7) were tired, we all needed to get a good nights sleep so we could try again the next day.
After tucking her in and kissing her head I repeated the process with T, during which I could hear Clo fussing, whining, and moaning across the hall in her room. After finishing with T I went back into Clo’s.
“What?” I snapped at her, too tired to hide my irritation. I was thinking of the things I still needed to do before I went to bed – dishes, laundry, unpack and repack backpacks, work on teacher gifts, clean the kitchen… for every second I stood there another task was added to the list.
She began to cry. Not the moany, whiney “I’m too tired to deal” kind of cry but real tears, silently streaming down her cheeks.
I sat on her bed and hugged her, still not 100% focused on her.
“Tomorrow is your last day of school” I told her. “Aren’t you excited? You need to go to sleep so you can have a great day.”
With a great sigh and more tears she rolled over, her back to me.
“You didn’t come” she mumbled.
“I didn’t come to what?” I asked.
“Today, you didn’t come to the party. You NEVER come to the parties. Other Moms and Dads come but you don’t.” she cried. “No one came.”
I did not know what to say. Guilt crept up my back and settled in my stomach, gnawing on my insides until I was nauseated.
She’s right. It isn’t often that I go to their class parties, rarely do I go on a field trip. I make an effort to attend one party and field trip a school year for each but, for them, that just is not enough.
I remembered a time when my parents were not there for me. To this day it bothers me, I wonder why they did not see that moment of my life as important enough to be there. To inconvenience themselves and be present to celebrate with me.
For Clo this end of the school year party was a big deal; just as big to her as the day when my parents weren’t around for me. I did not miss a ceremony, there weren’t balloons, flowers, or presents to mark this day. Instead there was a classroom ice cream party where the kids got to eat a bowl of sugar before receiving their certificate of completion to the delight of their parents who stood, clapping for them. And I was not there.
In my absence who clapped for her?
Who picked her up and told her how proud they were of all she learned these past 180 days?
I thought of the other “big moments” that I have missed. I missed hearing her first word, seeing her first step, watching her go down the big slide at the park for the first time. I miss getting to hear all about her day when picked up from school, eating after school snack with her, playing Barbie’s with her. Instead I am sitting in a 6×6 cubicle working 6 miles away while I pay someone else to be there – making memories and celebrating milestones.
I don’t choose to work outside the home. This is not a choice for me because I am the main financial provider for my family, something I am proud of. I am happy with how far I have come in my career and how much I have learned. I have worked hard to move up and am happy, along with my husband, to be able to provide for my family.
But the pride in I have my career doesn’t erase the guilt that I feel. The thrill of success comes with a cost.
I missed Clo’s K-4 graduation, and it hurt my daughter that no one showed up. She doesn’t care that I was working to be able to pay the tuition for her school. She doesn’t understand that I had to miss the field trip so I could earn the money for our groceries. She doesn’t know that I have to be away so much to keep a roof over our heads, and keep the lights and heat on.
I had a very good reason to miss her party. I should not feel guilty about not having been there.
But I do.
As soon as her eyes closed and she fell asleep she was over it – never to be brought up again. A few days later and she had a “sleep over” party for her birthday and received some presents she really wanted. We topped it off with our annual family beach trip. Things we can do because my husband and I both work.
And in the days I had off I packed in as much play time as possible,. For 10 glorious days I was “Mom” more than I was “Gina”. For 10 straight days I was able to create new, fun, happy memories with my girls and try to make up for all that I miss.
Now I am back in my 6×6 cubicle 40+ hours a week, back to paying someone to play with my girls – to feed them, keep them safe, and create memories with them while I continue to work. Their summer break has begun and, although I will still be working mon-fri, 8-5, I will also make sure they have a great summer.
Together we will create memories of swimming, catching fireflies, staying up late and making s’mores. And hopefully when they are older they won’t ask me why I wasn’t there, but instead tell me how much fun they had with me during our time together growing up.