My husband affectionately named this Mommy's Cry Box because I told him I was collecting these family artifacts so that I could take them out and look at them when our children were grown up and gone. I imagine spreading them across the kitchen table and examining them the way an anthropologist analyzes precious findings -- piecing together a life from scraps of paper.
My second child was one when I accepted a job offer in a city an hour away. I committed to being a full-time working mother with a cool career instead of a part-time adjunct instructor and bartender who always had mornings free for silver-dollar pancakes and Tupperware towers on the kitchen floor. When my son started talking, we went through a brief phase where my husband was "Daddy" and I was "Another Daddy." When I was home, at least.
In short, I know the price of choosing work. I know my kids are growing at lightening speeds, and I know that I am powerless to stop it. I know that one day I will sit alone in a quiet, clean house and ache for their outside voices and small feet.
Sometimes I choose work.
In fact, on Monday mornings, after the 48-hour frenzy of packing my infinite love and tragically limited energy into the frantic, beautiful mess of a weekend at home, I drink coffee. I breathe. I sit at my desk and catch up on emails and news headlines. I listen to sleepy love songs on Pandora. In tiny, guilty ways, this is my favorite half hour of the week.
Escape and quiet -- balm to the introvert's soul -- are not the only reason I choose work. I also choose work because I find it wildly fulfilling. In two short years, my career has given me more confidence, purpose, and motivation than any endeavor aside from having kids. It's reconnected me to my own brain, to that 17-year-old salutatorian who believed she could do something incredible, to that dreamy 20-something who fell in love with words, and to me, now, and always. I choose work sometimes because I'm on the brink of doing something impactful, something bold, something deeply exciting...and I work in marketing. I'm not saving lives here. But, in a sense, I am saving my own.
My marriage is better than it's ever been because I love and respect myself more. I'm a far better parent when I balance that huge, enormous part of me with the other parts of me that I really hope my kids grow to know and enjoy as they get older. I take pride in teaching my daughters and son that a mother can be the main breadwinner in a family.
I know that Anna Quindlen wasn't talking about the decision to work or not work in the quote that opens this piece. She was getting at something closer to work-life balance. Don't take work home with you. No one ever lay on her deathbed thinking, "I wish I'd worked more." All that jazz. I get it.
But, still, sometimes I choose to spend my free time on work that could wait instead of showering every available second on my children. It's unhealthy for me to always, every hour of every day, put my kids before every single one of my own passions and goals. So, yes, sometimes, I spend an hour tweaking a website I'm working on instead of coming home early to play trains before dinner. I won't feel guilty about that.
There's plenty of time later to choose guilt.