One Shirt Two Shirt Red Shirt…Guilt Trip

It’s been a rough week in the mother guilt department around here.

Last May, I wrote about how we had decided to hold Peanut out of kindergarten this year. It was a decision that the hubby and I went back and forth on before making it. It was a decision that when the public school bus rolled through the neighborhood on August 8th and my little guy wasn’t on it that I questioned again. Are we doing the right thing by keeping him out until 2012?

The kicker this week was this New York Times opinion piece. Friends were posting it on Facebook, other blogs were writing about it, it filled my Twitter stream.

And yes, I freaked the heck out. What had I done? Did we make a mistake? Was our child now going to be stupid and unsuccessful because we delayed his kindergarten start?

Then, I calmed down. I took a few days. I went back to the beginning. And realized a few things.

First of all, can we discuss the headline? “Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril.” Peril? Really? My trusty Oxford American Dictionary defines peril as “serious danger.” Now, I understand their argument that holding kids back could backfire, but does it put my child in serious danger? After I calmed down and thought about it rationally, nope. Sorry. But it doesn’t. The inflammatory headline did what it was meant to do – grabbed my attention. But how many parents like me is it confusing? I can’t be the only one. I don’t agree with the implication that a decision I came to thoughtfully will now set him on the road to ruin.

Second, the author’s assertion that parents choose to redshirt their children to give them an advantage over their peers may be true for some parents, but not me. We chose to redshirt our child so that he wouldn’t be disadvantaged, not so he can smoke the other kids out of the water next year. It’s so much more complicated than the implication that parents redshirt their kids so their kids will be the best. I want my child to GET the best. And allowing him another year to mature felt like the best opportunity to make that happen.

I keep thinking about the kid Peanut met on the playground the other day, we’ll call him C. He’ll be starting the same kindergarten that Peanut will next year. He will be turning five in a week or two. He, by nature of the rules that a child be 5 on or before September 1st, was not eligible to start kindergarten this year. C and Peanut played wonderfully together. They were most certainly peers. If my child’s birthday were just a few weeks later, I wouldn’t have had to worry. I, like C’s mom, would have been at the mercy of the school system’s regulations. Instead, I was forced to make up my own mind.

I have plenty of friends with kids who turned five in May, June and even July who are happily ensconced in kindergarten classrooms and doing just fine. I also know a mom who sent her summer birthday boy to kindergarten last year and halfway through the school year regretted it. I have yet to meet a mom who redshirted her child and had reservations once they started big kid school. In the end, we all make our own choices and then try to do the best by our kids as those decisions settle out.

Instead of telling parents that the decisions they made carefully for their child’s best interests could make them failures in their future academic and labor market pursuits, create the opportunity for conversation. There is a reason a lot of parents hold their kids out. Explore those reasons. Discuss the classroom social dynamics with educators. Open a dialogue with schools. Adjust the cut-off date to make it less confusing for parents. Help us. The last time I checked, my parenting manual is still MIA.

I’m glad this is out there, giving voice to the other side of the argument. I simply wish the authors of this piece had approached it with slightly less implied judgment. I also wish they had addressed the issue of holding kids back a grade once they start. How does that impact a child’s future academic success? They discuss the benefits of accelerating students, so if my redshirt child ends up skipping a grade then it’s okay?

These things may be addressed in the book they are promoting. We’ll have to see. Until then, I will do my best to make peace with my decision, continue to challenge my child and remember that one size science doesn’t fit all.

The Balance Myth

The flexible work arrangement I have has been ideal so far. I work when I can, whether that’s at 6am, 9pm or somewhere in between. My mom always asks me “When are you working this week?” And at first I wasn’t sure why she didn’t seem to get it. I work when I can work. I get the job done and that’s that. Then I realized that our mothers’ generation never had much of a choice when it came to flexible working arrangements. I’m sure my mom would say that the first law firm she worked at when we were in elementary school offered flexible arrangements simply because they didn’t complain when my sister or I tagged along to work when we were mildly sick or without childcare on a teacher workday.

Since then, women have been fighting for a work-life balance. We’ve searched out jobs and companies that tout family friendly jargon and, in an ideal world, on-site daycare or other perks. We’re far from there. I read Opting Out this summer. I get it. It’s easy for a company to claim family-friendly practices and still subconsciously mommy-track their employees or make flexible schedules nearly impossible to implement. The balance appearing impossible to achieve with one side of the equation always more weighted physically, emotionally or both.

I realize I have lucked into a perfect opportunity – part of what it made so difficult to pass up – and so far it’s been worth it. Challenging work, ease of schedule and very understanding colleagues. Not to say that it isn’t hard. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the chores that aren’t getting done when I’m working, brainstorming messages while building Lego space ships with the 5 year old, missing the hubby when he’s spending his Saturday shepherding the kids around town so I can have a quiet house to work in and feeling guilt about all the posts that bounce around my brain in car pool instead of actually making their way into this space.

That’s when I realized that the work-life balance is a myth. We can never achieve true balance. I think if you take both mothering and working seriously, you will always be worried that you aren’t giving enough in one or both areas. Or at least I would. Shoot, I felt like I wasn’t giving enough when I only was focused on one area, not to mention two. Perhaps it’s the nature of motherhood or womanhood – always wanting to give the best of ourselves and feeling less than when we feel we don’t measure up.

Note I didn’t say when we actually don’t measure up because I think many of us have a problem accepting good enough as good enough. We want perfect. And perfect is damn hard to achieve under the best of circumstances not to mention when refereeing the WWF match that just broke out in your playroom while you’re trying to simultaneously make dinner and change the sheets.

What I have noticed that works for me is less working on balance and more working on presence. When I’m working, I am working. When I’m mothering, I am mothering. When I’m with the hubby, I’m listening as attentively as I can before I fall asleep. It doesn’t matter how much time I’m spending on each when I’m in that moment, it’s about doing the best I can do at that time. So far, it’s made me more productive when I’m working and less distracted when I’m playing trains with the boys. It isn’t perfect, and yes I’m checking email on my phone in between Uno hands, but it helps to remind myself that there is work, there is play, there are chores, but they all can’t get done at the same time.

Take this post, for example. I had time while the 5 year old watched a TV show and the little one napped. Is it perfect? Nope. Am I missing probably half the thoughts I had about it? Probably. But his show’s ending and it’s time to focus on the next thing. And so I’ll let this go and move on.

Legos anyone?

Remembering

Each year, September 11th quietly sneaks in a back door. I wake up to it. I feel it deep in my bones. I take a moment to hear the silence. I watch planes glide in clear blue skies, safely making it to their destination. I hug my kids a little tighter. The hubby hugs me a little tighter. I move through our day, remembering, but enjoying the present life I have. Seeing it with eyes that understand the alternative.

This year, September 11th has been coming at me hard and fast and teary for the last week. The 10th anniversary has resulted in documentaries, interviews, rebroadcasts. I have avoided most of them. I turn the channel. I avert my eyes. I change the subject.

Part of me desperately wants to be in DC. I’d like to walk the sidewalk in front of my old office building where National Guard stood. I want to sit inside the church where my colleagues and I clutched each other’s hands, passed Kleenex and prayed the following day. I want to watch planes take off from Dulles airport where they were silent 10 years ago. I want to hear the comforting voices on WTOP. I want to cross the Roosevelt Bridge out of the city and not see a black cloud towering into the heavens. I want to be in a place that understood the quietness of chaos, the taste of fear and the resolve to rebuild the gaping maw in the side of the Pentagon.

My own memories are also colored by guilt. My experience is nothing compared to those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues. My day leaving the city was not the selfless act of first responders running up the stairs. My tears ran down a clean face, free of the ash and debris of a fallen tower. My voice mail was absent of goodbye messages from a lost plane.

10 years is such a long time. And yet the scars of 9/11 run deep and still ache easily. For me. For New York and Washington. For a nation.

My five year old is currently obsessed with playing good guys and bad guys. How do you explain the kind of bad that I couldn’t even fathom until I watched the second plane hit? How do you explain that not all the good guys made it? How do you teach your children to be aware without passing on the fear?

I won’t avoid the coverage forever. Tomorrow morning I will get up. I will watch and observe the moments of silence in the morning. I will pray at church. I will remember what I need to remember for me. Then, I will bring the five year old to a friend’s birthday party and joyfully watch the small flames of five birthday candles flicker with the two very gifts of our freedom the terrorists most wanted to take away: hope and promise.

Despite the pain, despite the fear, despite the sadness, as long as we have hope and promise, they didn’t win.

And when I go to sleep tomorrow night, that will be what I remember.

Costume Changes

Things are a bit different around here. Suddenly my one year old is in a parents’ morning out program two days a week. My body clock is totally confused as I attempt to kick my brain into thinking gear at hours it normally took a break with bad reality TV, Facebook or a real book. Conversations with the hubby are jam packed with new schedules, concerns and the occasional pep talk. But we’re working on the new normal. Whatever that is.

On Tuesday, it was this:

Breakfast with the kids. Everybody dressed and diaper bag packed. Library books searched out and into the library tote. Shoes found and on feet. Out the door to the library to return the books and load my shoulders down with a new stack. Walk down the street from the library to music class. Clap and dance and otherwise make a fool of myself under the guise of teaching Pumpkin the joy of music while also chasing down his older brother who had to tag along since school hasn’t started yet. Cajole everyone back into the car for the ride home. Herd everyone back into the house while carrying diaper bag, library bag and whatever previously abandoned toys from the car that Peanut insists need to be brought back in the house. Feed everyone lunch. Change into skirt, blouse and heels. Kiss hubby bye as he comes home for lunch so I can attend a last minute press photo shoot. Take care of photo shoot, rush back home to send hubby back to work. Change back into shorts and t-shirt. Get a few things done during Peanut’s quiet time. Play Lego’s, games and read the morning’s library book haul. Throw together dinner. Change into another shirt and denim skirt. Kiss the boys good night as they head for the tub. Run next door to neighborhood board meeting. Get the info I need for next neighborhood newsletter then beg out of meeting a little early. Cut through neighbor’s yard, hop in the car and head out to book club. Wine, cake, conversation. Home at 11 PM.

Whew. I think I might still be recovering. But this is it. This is my new life. It’s energizing and exhausting at the same time. I’m struggling with making sure that the boys and the hubby are okay, that their quality of life isn’t changing. Sure, they might have to add a few tasks to their lists, but I want to make sure that I’m neglecting chores and not time with my boys. I want to avoid having to say “in a minute” or “not now.” Yes, they might have to wait for mommy to finish what she’s working on, but I want them to see that there is time for work and play. That mommy has special skills beyond what they experience. That doing a good job is important.

The balance is making sure that they don’t ever feel that they are unimportant. Because that’s not it at all. In choosing this, I am simply showing them that I am important, too. I want them to see in a day that sitting down and reading them library books is important. That daddy going to work in the morning is important. That mommy finishing a press release is important. That eating dinner together as a family is important. That mommy and daddy having time together is important. That hugs and kisses and family are important.

No matter what I’m wearing, I’m still, and will always be, their mom. And that’s the most important.