With the exception of two six-month leaves of absence after the birth of each of my children, I am fortunate to have worked since the day I graduated college. During this time, I have changed jobs but they have been strategic steps forward in my career and I just recently celebrated my eleven year anniversary at my current job. Looking back, I never made a conscious decision to continue working after the children were born. Instead, due to very convenient circumstances and a very flexible office, I was able to take time off with my newborns AND return to work with a flexible schedule.
Eleven years later, my newborns are 7 and 5 years old, my office schedule is still very flexible and I could not be happier. Happier that is until the summer months, when I am having lunch with my co-workers at a local eatery. Of all places and times, it is here that I sometimes question my decision to return to the office.
Sitting contentedly with my adult lunch and adult conversation (which ironically mostly focuses on our children), any mother and child/children is almost always seated at a table nearby and catches my eye. Sometimes “she” is smiling and laughing with her adorable child. She cuts her child’s food as the child is deep in animated conversation. They both are relaxed and completely engrossed by each other. Other times “she” is fuming and frazzled and seems about ready to pull her hair out. Her child is standing on the seat whining for a change in food options with food smeared all over her face. In fact, sometimes “she” may have two or three with her. Regardless of her demeanor, it is during these moments that I often feel a twinge of regret for missing out on both the good and dreadful moments.
Who are my children eating lunch with at camp? Did I pack them enough fruit? Did the ice pack keep their food fresh and their thermos cold? What are they chatting about with their friends? Do they miss me? Would they rather be with me at the community pool? Would we have gone to the library or the movie theater to keep cool? Would we have visited friends and family and drank lemonade on the back porch?
Most often the shriek of the child sitting close by pulls me out of this sentimental trance and I return to the conversation at hand with my co-workers. However, the thoughts creep their way back later in the day as I sit at my desk trying to make the next deadline. Considering my co-workers and I try to make it a point to leave the office for a sit down lunch once a week or so and there are give or take 10 to 12 weeks of summer, I found myself tackling this guilt on a weekly basis.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that I had what Oprah so often called an “AHA moment” and everything changed.
I was diligently working from home and both children were safely under the care of their camp counselors. Knowing I have only several hours of precious time before the parade of pick ups and carpools begins, I plowed through a substantial assignment and was pleased that I had time to review and edit my work. After some correspondence with my office staff, I called it a day just in time to begin my motherly duties. With my work complete for the day, I was excited to spend some quality time with the children. I would take them to the library and then head over to the pool. I would call my husband and let him know to meet us for dinner at the pool. Yeah for summer!
I picked up my cherry cheeked son first and greeted him with a cold bottle of water. No sooner as he clipped himself in his booster than he begged me to drop him off for a play date with his neighborhood friend as per the plans they made at camp. Next, we picked up my oldest and her friend. As they climbed into the car, it was quickly engulfed in excited chatter over plans of where and when their play date would take place. “This way, Mommy, you can finish up your work and we can play together for like the whole night,” said my daughter. Peering back in my rear view mirror, noting my son’s hands clasped tightly on his ears mocking the exaggerated expressions of his unknowing older sister and her friend, I looked at my children with wonder and pride.
Minutes later I was seated again at my home office desk checking email, children safely at their respective play dates and the “aha” hit me. This intricate balance I have created has given my children the confidence to grow and learn in a way that was never given to me. They have developed into well-adjusted and jovial children who appreciate the time we have together as well as those moments with their friends. They schedule. They plan and they thrive. Yes, I may not catch every moment when I am at the office but they make sure I receive their dramatically detailed and expressive accounts of who, what, when, and why.
I appreciate the work/life balance.
I appreciate my children’s independence.
I appreciate that I get to be Mommy and I get to be my husband’s wife.
I appreciate that I get to be me.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog by centraljerseyworkingmoms, a New Jersey mom.
Photo credit given to Nunu Babies.