“Aren’t days like this hard for you?” the woman from my writing club asks me as I’m driving her home.
“What do you mean?” I respond as I take a left turn.
“Working all day and then coming to our writing group at night and not seeing your son.”
“Nope,” I say. But as soon as it’s out of my mouth, I regret it. The correct, socially acceptable answer, would be, “of course, I miss him every moment I’m away from him.” But the truth is that, when I’m away working or writing, I don’t.
Before I had my son three years ago, I used to dream about throwing the towel in my day job at a university and finding some financial solution that would allow me to stay at home, take care of him, and pursue my writing career. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with every job I’d ever been in – loved the creativity, the relationships, and the feeling that I was making a difference, but hated the hours, energy, and pieces of my soul that my job took from me. Having a son would surely fulfill my desire to be productive and contribute, but save me from slavery to my e-mail account and strategic plan.
But as my prenatal class teacher told me, “everything you think now about parenting is purely philosophical.” While I appreciated every moment of the year-long maternity leave I took and I reveled in the long, quiet days watching my son grow and develop, I started feeling like something was missing around nine months in. That something was me.
So, I went back to school one night a week to chip away at my master’s degree. I started writing about motherhood. I agonized over going back to work, but managed to reduce my workweek and find good care for my son. At that point, every moment away from my son ached like an ulcer in my heart. But I came back from each separation feeling just a little bit more like me, with the renewed energy to continue the juggling act of motherhood.
Don’t get me wrong. There were days during the initial transition to daycare when his cries as I left made me ready to quit my job. But those days were rare, the norm being a quick hug goodbye before running to see his “girlfriend” and the toy bus. There were events I’ve resentfully missed because I had a paper to write, but was mollified by the fact my son was cared for by his grandparents and they took pictures of their adventures. There are nights when I give up sleep so I can write because it’s the only time I have to be creative, but I gladly suffer for the results.
Because what I have come to accept is that the triad of family, work, and writing is what I need to be the best at all three. I’ve discovered that when I’m the sole parent of my son for more than a weekend my patience plummets, that when I work overtime my grumpy self emerges, and that when I don’t write I am too easily overwhelmed. But when I manage the magical balance of all three, I truly feel like supermom.
However, my choices do come with a guilt that gnaws at me.
When I was sharing this guilt with a fellow “working mom”, she posed this question: “Is your son being loved right now?”
I thought of his daycare teacher who he idolizes and of his daddy who would be picking him up, and nodded.
“Well, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
I sighed in relief.
So, when I do feel the pull of guilt, I ask myself that question. Since the answer is always yes, I do my best not to miss him. Of course, when I see other little ones at my workplace, pass by a construction site I know he would love, or hear that he has asked for me, I long for him deeply. But while I’m away, I find it important to stay present where I am so my time away is worth it.
While I know other mothers may judge, criticize or label me, I also know that different combinations work for different women. In the end, we’re really all just trying to do what we think is best, and this is it right now for me.