I visited my daughter’s school last week where she presented the year’s worth of the work she has done in kindergarten to me. I was so proud of her and all of her accomplishments in the year. One thing that stood out, however, was when she completed the sentence: “I am sad when” with “my mother is not home”. Given that there will be a whole lot less of me around home over the next while, this was heartbreaking.
When I explained to my son that I would be returning to my job in the city he asked me why I didn’t want to wash squash anymore. I told him that there was other important work I needed to be doing and he said that if it was because I needed more help, he could help me wash squash. Again, broken heart.
When I was very young my mother had to establish herself in a career that she was forced into the day she became a single mother. This made her very busy and not home a whole lot. I learned to cook and clean and find my own way on most days. I recall the hollow feeling of our home when I opened the door at the end of the day. My older brothers were often not around and there would be hours on end where the house was filled with nothing but the sound of my own footsteps (or those of our little doggie). I dread that my children should ever have this feeling.
I suppose my childhood could have been a lonely one. But I always valued the fact that I learned how to be independent, resourceful, find ways to entertain myself and explore the world on my own terms. Later in life I watched friends be herded unwillingly towards specific higher education, ‘invited’ to marry certain people, crowded by critical relatives. I had none of those problems.
Because of my own experiences, as a parent I find myself working extra hard to share the same space as my children. To make sure they know that they are good company. To make sure that I am ‘around’ if needed. To be by their side as they experience the world. To take them on adventures. To be available for every whim. I even try to sit with them when they watch television or play on a computer. As we all do, I am likely overcompensating for the things I did not have as a child. I wonder where the balance of it all will settle.
What I want my children to know is that their parents, both of them, along with a great handful of important others will always, always be there when needed. That they are not alone. I feel my job now is to figure out a way to instill the great independence and confidence I gained from being able to explore the world on my own as a kid and still let them know that I’ll be there should they slip and need a hand.
After years of juggling work and a farm and small children I finally surrendered two years ago and built my life closer to my children. When kids are little this isn’t such a bad idea – but it isn’t a complete one. My son had just turned two when I left work in the city to be home more, available more as I shifted to working on the farm. It was a bad ending to an anti-feminism book where a girl must quit her job in order to find balance in her home life. Is this what I would have preferred from my own mother? As she did her best in a situation that she could not control, I do not blame her for being away so often. Instead I applaud her for managing to juggle all that she did.
The question remains. When I drive to my job every morning how do I stay close to my children though I am so very far away so much of the time? How will they know that I’m still watching over them in every way I can imagine – just not standing right beside them? How do I forgive myself on the days that I can’t make it to the field trip, can’t get to them right away when they get hurt or sick, can’t be there on their holidays?
I think about my mother pushing through a very difficult situation when my father found a home away from our family. I think about how she did not have choices available to her. She had to support her family. She had to make her way. She says she was terrified. She came out on the other side one of the strongest women I know.
My mother was an example to me. A survivor. She taught me about possibilities. About what a person can do even in the toughest of circumstances. About not giving up no matter what the cost.
For some reason, I have always felt capable of anything I set my mind to. For some reason, I feel inherently able to make the best decision for my future at all times. When I was a child, I somehow knew that my mother trusted me to do the right thing whether she was watching or not. I knew she must inherently have faith in me or she would not have done what she did.
Presence for a child is so very important. But for your children to know that you trust them – that you have faith in them – I can’t think of anything more crucial.
And once in a while, pull up a chair and wash some squash beside them just so that they know they are needed and that you enjoy their company.