The voice on the other end of the phone line was plaintive. “I’m stuck at work, my husband is in the City – can you PLEASE pick up my kids from school? I wouldn’t ask, but I’m desperate.” The friend, who had gone back to work full-time a few months ago, was still trickily navigating the waters of being a working mom and it was proving much harder than her family had anticipated. The decision to resume her career had not been easy nor had it been made freely. The family needed the money and health care benefits.
Picking up my friend’s children was no problem. They’re great, well-mannered kids who get along with my own urchins well. They’d been over here a lot before their mom went back to work and were always welcome. They’d felt at home here, playing video games or amicably listening as my 6-year old barked out orders on how to play; they knew how to let my Diva’s bossiness blow by without any resulting turmoil. Now, while my own kids were giddy with delight at these unexpected playdates, my friend’s children were happy to be with their friends, but were also noticeably sad.
At various times during the playdate, they clung to each other, something I’d never seen them do before. At dinnertime, when neither parent had called or come to pick them up, the kids stared at me with uncertain, fearful puppy dog eyes. “Are we going to eat dinner here?” asked the little boy. “Of course,” I matter-of-factly replied. When they’re here, they’re mine and I’m ready with the standard menu of chicken nuggets, pizza, and mac and cheese. The boy ran to his tween-age sister for a reassuring hug before going off to resume play. “I just feel like I need to take care of Michael more now that Mom’s working,” explained the girl. “We don’t see much of her anymore.”
Indeed, like many working families, they were busy living their lives without the luxury of enjoying them. Weekends were spent catching up on chores, on errands, and with each other. Balance, no easy task for any of us, appeared to be harder for this family. “We never have any ‘Down Time’,” my friend complained. Sure, the money and benefits were nice, essential even, but the sacrifice was turning out to be far more problematic than imagined.
My friend’s plight brings to mind the realization that my time is coming. My husband recently reiterated that when he finally retires, I will HAVE to go back to work just for the health care benefits. I understand that. I’ll be ready to sling burgers, if I have to, when my children are older and, hopefully, in college. Right now, however, the issue of my unemployment is not a major issue. Yes, the extra money would be welcome and I am actively looking for a part-time job, but my family is not willing to make the same sacrifices my friend has. Thank God we don’t have to.
We watch our pennies, mostly leave our pockets as expenses continue to climb. We limit going away. The kids don’t have designer clothes or the latest electronic gadget. We try to explain to our kids that we’re not poor – we just choose to spend our money wisely. They understand that these precautions are necessary if they want me to be home when they get home from school, if they need me to take them here or there when they want, and if they want to see me at school volunteering for Media or lunch duty. Indeed, our circumstances may change, but I hope not.
My kids get one shot at childhood and I get one shot at being their mom. Unless it’s absolutely, positively necessary, I don’t want to be that mom on the other end of the phone line desperately looking for someone to pick up her children. I don’t want to park them somewhere because I need childcare. And I don’t want them to look at me like my friend’s children did – with fear and uncertainty in their eyes. Childhood is fleeting. It should be as secure as I can make it.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.