I had my daughter's parent teacher conference last night. We got lucky, and were chosen for one of the few evening slots in the schedule. Still, in order to make the 5pm conference, I had to leave work an hour early, arrange for coverage of whatever needed to be done, deduct the time from my vacation/sick time, and work through lunch to make sure things that needed to be completed before I left got finished.
Then I listened to the teacher tell me how amazing my kid is -- which I already know, but love to hear over and over again -- and it was all great until he dropped the bombshell.
"Anna is my best Math student, and also tops in Science. She should join Math Maniacs and we'd also love to have her on the Imaginarium Lab team."
Math club and Science club. She'd love it! She'd be so good at it! I want her to do it!
But I know before I ask how this will play out. I ask anyway.
"When do they meet?"
"Right after school -- one every other Tuesday and the other is the second Wednesday of the month. They're done by four-thirty."
I turn with an apologetic look to my daughter, who already knows how this will go, too.
"I'm sorry." I say. "I work and so does her father. We have no way of getting her home afterward."
And as always, the guilt is weighing me down. Maybe we can get lucky. Maybe somebody she knows will be in Math or Science club (none of the neighbor kids are, unfortunately), and maybe, just maybe, they live somewhere near us. If she can get a ride home, the babysitter will be home with David till I get home from work and she can do this. If.
There's always "If" and it rarely translates to "When."
It's hard being a working Mom. There's a lot you give up that you'd like to do with and for your kids. It's a trade-off, and sometimes, women are fortunate enough to choose not to have to make those trade-offs. Maybe their husbands make enough money to pay the bills. Maybe the cost of living isn't so high where they are. Maybe they have parents, in-laws, sisters and brothers who are happy to watch the kids or pick them up or run them here and there if asked. Maybe they work for that perfect employer who lets them leave work anytime they have a conflict and smiles supportively when they do.
Then there's the rest of us. I don't have the luxury of a husband's salary to fall back on, because I don't have that husband anymore. He's moved to a neighboring state now, and I get enough child support to help pay my hugely underwater mortgage and keep my kids in this great school district. I suppose I could have let them foreclose the house and moved us into a small apartment somewhere that a part-time job could have paid for, but what kind of neighborhood would my kids be in? And what sort of services would that school district provide to my special-needs child?
I could pick up and move somewhere closer to my family, so that I have babysitters and people who can do for me when I can't do for myself, but again, a big gamble on where my kids live, what kind of schools there are, and the biggest issue -- uprooting my children's lives in a way that would surely be catastrophic on some level.
I made trade-offs when I decided to keep working after the kids were born. I take off work for the occasional class party or to be a guest reader, but it comes at a price. Did I already miss work this week because of David's fever? Sorry, Anna, I can't come to your Reader's Theater performance. Did we have two snow days this month? Sorry kids, I can't come home early on Friday like I said. We'll have to go to the movies another day. Big meeting going on all week at work? Sorry your head hurts, honey -- here's two Children's Tylenol and you'll feel better when you get to school. There's a summer camp for autistic children half an hour from my home. David has never been, because it runs from 9am to 3pm, Monday through Friday. Smack in the middle of my workday, and work is an hour away from there.
Lots of women would tell me I'm hurting my kids by working. While I can't deny that a part-time schedule would be ideal, if I could do it, I compensate for those lost hours every way I can.
I don't grocery shop with my kids. Or get the oil changed in the car. Or mail packages at the post office. Or any other errand. I do that on my lunch hour, so I have more time with them doing fun stuff. I do laundry and clean house after the kids are in bed or when they're with their Dad. Our weekends are all about them, not about stuff that needs to get done because it's already done before then.
Yes, I live in a nice house that has a mortgage that has to be paid by my not being in it all day. But that nice house is in a wonderful neighborhood off the main streets of town and full of great people who watch out for my kids. I could quite literally call any one of a dozen neighbors at 3am and say "Help! I need _____ !" and someone would be there. My school district is one of the tops in the state, with programs and educators who support my kids (especially my son) and my chunk of tax dollars make that possible.
We all have to make sacrifices where our kids are concerned, and in my case, some of them are unavoidable. In this economy, I suspect there are a lot of women who have to make those same choices, for various reasons. All I know is I'm doing the best I can, even if it means my kid might have to miss being in Math club.
But oh, how I wish she could be in Math club.
Photo Credit: cleong.
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