A couple of months ago I made plans to take a day off to take Finley and her sisters, on the last pre-k field trip of the year. I had the niggling suspicion that things would not go as planned. Sure enough, my schedule at work started to grind and churn, each day feeling more and more like a log jam bearing down on me. When the field trip day came I made sure that everyone still wanted to go.
Briar looked at me nodding, “Of course we do, Mom.” I smiled remembering her first day of school and the blur of firsts and lasts that followed.
Avery looked up at me after lacing her shoes. “Yeah, I want to go, I can tell them how much I know about beavers.” The timidity she began school with has been replaced by a brazen confidence, but her inimitable Averyness is still there in spades.
Finley said, “Girls, girls, listen, it’s going to be great. I will show you all my classmates. Right, mama?” She still struggles to make an r not sound like a w and when she wants to look serious she tucks her hair, that I used to pull in messy twists, behind her ears.
The thing I’ve learned over the nearly nine years I’ve been throwing this clay pot of working mom, is that I can’t plan for everything. The truth is that I navigate the school year with a combination of high heels, work gloves, and tissues for my tears. I sign up for some field trips, while others I don’t. Some days I snap pictures of every little thing, other days I put the 18th connect-the-dots worksheet from school into the recycling bin.
This particular field trip is one that I attended several years ago with Avery as the student and Fin as the tag-a-long sister. It was a buggy, overcast day. It was also the time when dragon flies hatch. I’m comfortable saying that I enjoy being in nature, but I am not a fan of living, breathing, flapping nature being on me. My attendance became legendary, as one teacher often reminded me at morning drop-off, “You were just so afraid of the bugs, weren’t ‘cha?” laughing and elbowing in my direction at morning drop off. Over time I stopped caring, playing along and laughing, “You bet, I’m a big, old bug hater.” There are other comments too, “You won’t forget Pajama Day this year, will ya? No, you’re a good mom, that time you forgot you ran right out and bought some.” I wince, owning that details slip through the cracks when a backpack travels in different cars to and from home, school, Nana’s and home again and between dinner, bedtime, and the morning sprint.
But do we have to go back time after time and replay it? Monday we did. She greeted us with a huge shout to the other parents, “Look at Amanda, she’s got a whole pack. Remember the time you came and you were so afraid of the bugs? She’s prepared this year!” I laughed and brandished our Bite Back bug repellent.The big girls raced across the beach busting with pride that as the oldest kids they could tear away from the pack.
As Finley played, the teacher came over and said, “You made it? Remember when you had to miss Avery’s graduation? Remember how upset you were?” then she just walked away. I looked out at Briar and Avery, not wanting to reveal just how fully her words had knocked the breath out of me. It was three years ago. I’d had an awards ceremony to attend for work. Yes, I was disappointed, but we worked through it as a family. I attended the rehearsal with Sean and Finley, we arranged for Nana and Jeannie to accompany her to her official ceremony. I could show more pictures, share more stories, but somehow that doesn’t matter. Other moms swat at the bugs, but I get singled out.
I don’t know when we started graduating from every grade, celebrating every obscure holiday with gift bags and costumes. I don’t know when it became ok to judge parents for not going to every single event. Who gave the green light to the idea that one contribution is worth more than another? We pay for preschool programs to enrich our children’s minds, expand their social experience, and begin to establish a comfort with the concept of parents going away and coming back, right? Instead, here we are, conducting a twisted neener-neener game. I admit that I have had my moments of envy and even a bit of resentment when I see stay-at-home moms chatting in the parking lot, rather than rushing from one place to the next. At the end of the day, we all have laundry to do, toilets to clean, and tweezers to find.
Part of what motivates me during my work day is my desire to be a strong role model for my girls. I don’t want them to think that every opportunity in life is going to come with clear pros and cons so that they can make snap decisions and never second guess themselves. Life isn’t like that. It’s beautiful and magnificent and yours for the taking, but it isn’t black and white. An auditorium seat that one person perceives to be empty, may very well be the symbol to a beaming kid that their mama is out receiving an armload of trophies that represent the efforts and triumph of the entire family.
I am a mom who works.
Briar, Avery, and Finley are my first thought in the morning and the last thank you on my lips at night. If that leaves doubt in someone’s mind about how I feel about them in the moments in between, then so be it.
The truth is, while the judgement genuinely hurts, I’m caring less and less about what someone else thinks of me.