Leaving anyone we love is fraught with duplicity. While we feel the tug of distance, we have the fortuitous lens to see two things at once: the treasure of the bond forged and the aching feeling of distance when it’s gone. This binocular into our lives inspires joy but it also occasionally does bear weight. I’ve often said that leaving my babies (now children, but let’s be honest they’re always my babies) and going to work feels a little like walking around without a limb or without a necessary body part. Without them around something essential is glaringly absent. At times thinking on them is wildly distracting, especially right at first.
Up there, look at that graph. Haven’t you had days like this?
The fortune in raising and loving children is that we’re continually reminded of these dual realities. Life after a baby is forever transformed; as parents we are never again simply singular. Or at least as I see it, we’re not entirely whole again when alone. When we meet our babies big real estate in the heart is rapidly taken up by our children and although wandering, working, traveling away, and seeking new experiences is essential to our personal evolution, we do always seem to notice the absence of our babies when we’re apart. I’m coming to know this is true at any age.
Earlier this week after I returned home from a work trip, O (my 6 year-old) asked about my plans and start for my summer vacation. “Now that I’m done with Kindergarten I’ve started my summer vacation, Mommy, when do you start yours?” Cute at first glance but when I explained that my work didn’t come with a summer vacation our conversation got thicker. He restated his claim for the necessity of spending his summer WITH me. I smiled (and cried a little on the inside). I pushed back with the rationale for meaningful work, keeping my job (!), the opportunity to improve children’s lives, blah, blah, blah. But we all know when a 6 year-old wants something, reason can be easily tossed out the window. He locked in on it. And eventually I gave up and said that it perhaps, “wasn’t ideal.”
I’ve carried a bit of the interaction O and I had with me these last couple days. Got me thinking about balance, absence, the support we get from employers in the U.S. for leave, and the opportunity we have to support our colleagues and friends raising children and caring for those they love. Essentially I’m chewing on the day-in, day-out brushed up against the glory that comes from space for children. I was seriously struck by the recent news that Richard Branson, billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group, is providing financial support for UK parents — moms and dads — to stay home on a paid 1-year paternity/maternity leave after having or adopting children. Ohh, to act like the Europeans, and ohhhh, to give parents the gift of time with an open welcome upon their return! Imagine a one-year bubble to love, stare, grow and nurture each other as infants and as parents.
This duplicity is clearly a gift and I’m learning it can feel novel at any age or stage. I’ll just keep working to understand it. Imagine an entire summer vacation together. I know O can…
I feel this way often and had hoped it would improve as my daughter has aged. Like you, the tug to be with her remains strong, and at times it’s overwhelming. Other women at my work have told me that life through elementary school and beyond gets busier even as their kids grow more independent, and that feeling of imbalance continues. Sometimes I fear that ignoring that little voice that urges me to quit my job and be a full-time mommy will be a real regret in my life. They grow so fast! We’re so often reminded to listen to our intuition, be tuned into it, and we’ll be guided to safer choices or happier paths, and yet we have to stifle that strong urge to be with our children day in and day out to manage full-time careers. I wish I had the answer. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong choice. But for me, personally, I’ll probably be seeking a different path in order to spend more time at home and with my family, even though that will mean other great sacrifices to our finances or lifestyle. When I’m in my 80s, I’d rather have memories of lazy summer mornings, days at the park, weekday library visits, etc. rather than how I currently spend 40+ hours of my week.