This morning I spent chaperoning a third grade field trip to the Lincoln Memorial and the National Portrait Gallery. I completely rearranged my schedule to do this. It was not convenient. I’m not saying this because I deserve a medal (but I’ll always accept a cookie) but just to provide the context that I understood that my presence meant a lot to Zoe and it was the final opportunity of the year to go on a field trip with her class so I made it happen. All the previous field trips had been scheduled on days that I was required to drop off or pick up at preschool. I haven’t been asked to volunteer in her classroom this year (although I offered repeatedly) so I haven’t had the chance to get to know her classmates like I did the past two years.
So today I had a chance to check out the boy she has a crush on, and meet some of her friends who I had only heard about. I bounced along in the back of the noisy school bus marveling at my early childhood ambition to become a school bus driver. I escorted girls to the bathroom and tried to keep kids in line and handed out bag lunches. I watched in sympathy as two of the other chaperones who were 7ish months pregnant climbed up and down the stairs at the Memorial and in the museum. I appreciated not being pregnant.
When we returned to school, Zoe’s teacher said I was welcome to take Zoe home, as the class would not be doing any important work for the last 40 minutes of the school day today. I took Zoe to Dairy Queen where we enjoyed blizzards. We came home and Zoe took herself to the playground in our neighborhood while I sprouted a migraine and took a nap.
Then later in the afternoon when I mentioned to Zoe that I had a meeting at church tonight, she despaired. “I feel like you’ve been gone every night,” she lamented. I said, yes, I was out last night, when I left the house at 9pm, when she should have been in bed anyway, to play in my last soccer game of the season. I had spent every moment of the afternoon, from 4:45 when I picked her and her friend up for their soccer practice to 9pm, with her. This afternoon Zoe said to me, “I wish I could spend every minute of every day with you.” I know this is not true. I understand the sentiment behind it. The result, however, is both flattering and smothering.
At least last night when I left Zoe did not scream and wail like Zeke did. Zeke, who also should have been asleep but was not, desperately wanted me to put him to bed. He was clinging to me like I was about to disappear forever. This represents a recent recurrence of the all-mommy-all-the time phase we have previously experienced. We have also experienced all-daddy-all-the-time phases.
There is something so painful and sweet and confounding about these moments. It is excruciating to hear and see your child sob violently because you are going away, even if it’s for two hours and he’s going to be asleep, or at least calm, within five minutes after you leave. It is amazing and sometimes startling to be wanted so intensely, to know that you are the person that someone most wants to be with in the world at that moment, that you snuggling with him would provide complete contentment. And that snuggling and rocking and singing would provide contentment for you too. But at the same time you have to do other things sometimes. You have to exercise your body, cultivate grown-up friendships, nurture your spirituality, see a movie. You have to have a life of your own or that time spent with those little people who want you so much will feel less blissful and more resentful. You need to have a life so you can demonstrate to your children that you do have a life that does not revolve 100% around them. 98%, sure, but you need to squeeze out that 2% for yourself.
I have worked for myself for a decade now and I started my business in part because I wanted to be able to make my would-be kids my first priority, after witnessing bosses who were not particularly family friendly. I am thankful every single day that I get to be a mom, which I’ve dreamed of being since I was seven, and a writer, which I’ve planned on since I was eight. I try hard to be present for and involved with my kids while still giving them room to develop their own imaginations, relationships, and interests. Yeah yeah yeah. It is still really freaking hard to not feel like I’m disappointing them when I am not going to be with them. Zeke loves playing with the kids at his day care, loves his babysitter, is always smiling and happy when I pick him up. But he never wants to go there because he always wants to stay with me. My saying, “but I have to go to work” does not matter in the least to him. I don’t know why I bother saying it.
You can’t please everyone. You have to take care of yourself. You have to take care of your business-work, relationships, community. But all these reasonable ideas, rational concepts, true statements seem to dissolve like so many toddlers bursting into tears in the face of your children who want nothing more in the world than to be with you.