Yesterday morning, I tip-toed into BigBrother’s room and sat gently on his bed. As he’s one who has always risen with the sun, his room was still dark with many thanks to blackout curtains. I gently rubbed his arm and he buried his face in the pillow.
“Buddy, it’s time to wake up. It’s your first day at the babysitter.”
His eyes sprung open. “OH YEAH!” He jumped out of bed and ran off to the bathroom. I sat for a moment and stared at the picture of Baby BigBrother on his bookshelf. My stomach knotted and my breath caught in my throat. The scene replayed itself a few minutes later in LittleBrother’s room.
Already dressed for the day, I thought about how the recently babysitter development made me feel as I got them their breakfast, sent them off to get dressed and brush their teeth. When I told them the day before that they were going to spend the day at the babysitter’s house, voices rose from the back seat: “Hooray!”
Hooray? Oh yeah? Gut punches. Heart punches.
The firefighter schedule and the work-at-home mom schedule work really well, most days, during the school year. On the days that my husband is working a 24-hour-shift, I am able to get my work done when the boys are in school. As you might imagine, summer vacation throws a wrench in our well-oiled machine. When school isn’t in session, I have two little boys who want and deserve time and attention — and a full day’s worth of work to get done. When my husband is home, I am minimally interrupted during my workday. Mostly they happen into the room in full costume to ask me a question, tell me they love me or see how long until my day is done. I answer questions, button costumes and send them on their merry way with promises of stories and fun time as soon as my work is finished. When he’s not here… well, it doesn’t work as well.
A good friend recently decided to start in-home child care. She is one of the only friends whom I have entrusted with my children while I am not present, so the whole “do I feel comfortable enough leaving my kids with this person” question was already answered. The question that wasn’t answered, that I didn’t know to ask myself, was this: “Do I feel comfortable with the fact that my kids don’t miss me?”
On the one hand, oh yes, I feel comfortable with that. I’ve known, for a long time, that they are personable kids who like to be around other people, adults and kids combined. They didn’t really go through a Stranger Danger phase, which hasn’t been great for my tendency to be overprotective. Everyone is their friend. They like to jump into a group of people, feet first, and have a good time. The first days of school are never a battle; they walk through the door without looking back — and my heart breaks a little. But I’m proud.
But, oh, that heartbreak stings. Why don’t they miss me? Am I doing something wrong in my mothering? Does my work make them feel as though I don’t value our time together? Don’t they want me to spend more time with them? Have they given up on me entirely?
It’s amazing how one little “hooray” can make me doubt everything, every choice, every sacrifice.
Yesterday, the house was quiet, save for the parakeets. After I dropped off the boys without incident, I ate breakfast alone while I worked. I got the mail by myself; no one asked to run out and do it himself, looking — very cautiously — both ways before he got to the edge of the street. No one showed up in costume. I ate lunch — alone — while working. No one argued. No one sang, “God Is Bigger than the Boogeyman,” over and over and over and over. No one even sang, “Sexy and I Know It.” I had a snack by myself — and no one swiped any of my strawberries. No one asked me to read them a story. No one barged in when I was on a conference call. No one knocked on my door and said, “Mommy! I just wanted to say I love you!” I got a boatload of work done, which is important this week as it is an ultra-crazy week. I pulled ahead on my overloaded to-do-for-work list. I felt accomplished. I felt torn.
I shut my laptop at exactly four o’clock, grabbed my keys and was out the door. They weren’t excited to see me; I was interrupting playtime. We walked — slowly — back to the car. They told me about lunch and their day and who wore what costume and that the big kids were twins and that none of the other kids would be there on Friday because they were going on vacation and when do we leave on vacation and can we have Popcicles for a snack and, as I buckled LittleBrother into his car seat, thinking that these boys were making up for a lot of time with all of their words and my ears were already starting to ring… he said, “I missed you today, Mommy.”
I smiled and kissed the top of his head.
BigBrother made an addendum to the statement; he missed me, but he had fun. I winked at him, the differences in their ages and personalities strikingly evident in how they chose to discuss the matter at hand.
They miss me. They do. They’re just people-kids. They don’t mind being away from me — as much — as long as they’re with others, having a good time. They’re in a safe environment one day a week with other kids. I have no problem with child care, with working moms, with any of that unnecessarily argumentative hullabaloo.
I just wanted to know my sons miss me when I’m gone.
Now excuse me while I go put in some ear plugs as they’re home today and my office is a revolving door of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Buzz Lightyears, Woodys, pirates and various and sundry superheroes. I live the best life.