When Big E was a baby she attended the teen parent daycare in the school where I taught at the time. Every morning I would file into a classroom turned nursery with the teen moms, all of us toting backpacks and babies, and I would hand over my firstborn to a daycare staff that I knew had decades of experience and the patience and kind nature to not only spend the day on the floor playing with babies but to build trusting relationships with the high school-aged mothers, as well.
I knew that I'd be down to feed my daughter her applesauce at lunchtime, and that if I didn't run into her and the other babies riding their big red buggy through the corridors, a student or co-worker would and I'd get a full report. Still, every morning of those first months of working motherhood when I'd hear her Separation Anxiety-fueled cry as I walked up the stairs to my classroom I would marvel in horrified fascination that as my heart figuratively broke, I could literally feel the smart of each stab of her gasping cry.
I would arrive at my classroom, usually late and with a class's worth of freshmen sitting cross-legged on the floor waiting for me, and I would suffer through the visceral sting brought on by those cries. I was too wounded to absorb a student's heavy sigh or exaggerated eye roll as easily I would have in my pre-baby days, and everything felt so much harder than I'd calculated it would.
Time has helped to lessen the frequency of those days that sting, and this year's part-time schedule has helped even more. But still, there are occasionally those days and yesterday was one.
On Wednesday night my husband attended Little E's Pre-K teacher conference and found that her teachers were not noting the progress in her fine motor skills that we and her occupational therapist had seen. He also learned that through a series of miscommunications on both ends, we had not registered her for a slot in the class we'd planned for her to be in next year and so our only option would be for her to repeat this year's curriculum, during which, I suspected, she would continue sit quietly and be overlooked. After I got all crazy on the phone with my husband, I tried be less crazy on the phone with the center director. She spoke in sympathetic tones and promised to look into the registration situation, but I got off the phone feeling no better and found myself lying awake at 2 a.m. berating myself for warehousing my child in a place that was convenient for me but not all that great for her.
I went into work feeling as if I'd betrayed my daughter by sending her off that morning to the place that had angered me to tears the night before. Little E knew nothing of this and she is pretty much okay with the daycare, but lately I suffer even the smallest slight to her like a slash at my weakest point and so I got to work rubbed raw, too severely abraded to weather a snide comment, stray giggle or nagging e-mail. But just as I cannot come home from a bad day, curl up in a ball on the floor and tell the children, "Work sucked today. Now leave me alone," I really cannot explain the trouble with corporate childcare or the crippling guilt of working motherhood to a roomful of 16-year-olds. I had to play through the pain, but I knew I was hobbled.
There are countless women who manage this balance with more children I have and more important and time-consuming careers than mine. It seems, though, that no matter how I try to make it work, both sides of my equation are somehow diminished. Yesterday I tended to my wounds by shopping and drinking frappuccinos with Little E, fabulous parenting if ever there was. But I also fought on, setting up visits at two other childcare programs for next week.
Flawed as I may be at work and at home, I can only keep trying to get it right.