Thursday, March 18, 2010
I was telling a friend recently about a memory I have of my father helping me with a school project. My fifth-grade class had read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and my dad used his woodworking tools to carve a submarine. I painted it silver, and then I used yarn to fashion a giant squid, braiding each of its tentacles. I don't recall what my teachers or classmates said about the project, but I vividly recall the attention my dad paid me for those hours.
As a mom who works from home, I often feel guilty about the time I spend with my kids while I'm distracted. Yes, I'm here when they get home from school, but if I'm in the middle of a rush editing job, I'm not always able to close the laptop long enough to look each of them in the eye and ask, "How was your day?" and then, more importantly, to keep looking them in the eye while they answer. I know their memories of me as they walked in the door will be of me sitting in their line of sight, right here at the counter in the kitchen, typing away. I won't be the mom who had their snack ready and then sat with them at the table while they prattled away about recess politics and senseless homework assignments.
Could I quit working and be that mom. In theory, yes. But would it change my relationship with them? Make it stronger? Make them more well adjusted? No. I really don't believe it would.
My father and mother were busy all the time. All. The. Time. They owned their own business and each worked more than 40 hours a week and were tired when they got home, where still there was more to be done: cleaning, dinner, home repair, yard work. And I was busy, too: homework, piano practice, my own chores, a social life their own schedules couldn't afford them. I never thought to "miss" them, to wonder what my life would be like if my mom was more "milk and cookies" and my dad more "how are the boys treating you?" I was fine--completely fine.
I still am.
And I appreciate those memories of undivided attention I recall. I'm sure there were plenty I don't recall, too--ones I bet they do.
My guilt, I realize, isn't for my kids; it's for me. They'll remember I was here, just as I remember my parents were "there." They'll know I loved them, just as I know my parents loved me. If anything, my own children will remember me asking too many questions when I did have the time to pry. They'll remember me telling them to put on a different shirt or some deodorant or to write that thank-you note or to watch how they speak to each other.
And they'll remember, I hope, the moments of undivided attention I gave them. And I hope those memories will be as sweet to them as my memories of those moments will be . . . sweet, to me, but never enough.