A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.
~Edward de Bono
I was blessed with a career as a financial analyst while I was raising my kids. I could work from home and I could also ratchet up or down my commitment depending on how much time I had available to work. I was even able to take a whole year off when I moved from New York City to the suburbs and had my second child. Then I gradually ramped up the job again, ultimately doing it full-time from home. With the proliferation of cell phones things got even easier. I remember talking to one of my traders while watching a bunch of kids on the roller coaster at a local amusement park one day and thinking I can’t believe I am trading stocks and chaperoning a class trip at the same time. I even ran my own hedge fund from home — after all, the market was only open from 9:30-4:00 — so I could trade during the day, spend the afternoon and evening with the kids, and then prepare for the next trading day after they went to bed.
My kids were two years apart, so I had twenty years of childrearing until the second one turned eighteen and went off to college. I managed to work from home for seventeen and a half of those twenty years. The problem was the other two and a half years, when my kids were preteens, during which I commuted to New York City and traveled all over the country in a very intense senior executive position with a technology start-up. I also got divorced and moved twice during that same period.
Those years were my undoing as a multitasking mom, or so I thought. I had managed to be class mom every single year, alternating between the two kids, and I did lunch duty, drove on numerous field trips, and did other volunteer work for school and sports. But during those couple of bad years, I felt completely disconnected from school, not really knowing what was going on, not signing up for volunteer work, and not driving on a single field trip.
I wasn’t even home for the emergency phone calls. My son was a “frequent flier” at the local emergency room and I would get calls at work, an hour away from home, with scary messages like “there isn’t enough skin left to put in the stitches” and “he was only not breathing while he was unconscious.” The worst was when I got a call that Mike rode his bike, unauthorized of course, down an icy, rocky trail through the woods and was found lying in the dirt at the end of a dead-end road. He ended up in an ambulance and I almost quit my job that day.
But the New York City job ended and things went back to normal. I was once again class mom, team mom, driver, and volunteer, juggling my work-at-home career and all the mom duties I could handle. I still felt guilty about those two and a half lost years however. That is, until I discussed those years with my kids, and they both told me exactly which field trips I drove on. They vividly remembered me participating in all my motherly duties during those commuting years, and yet I checked my calendar and I really hadn’t!
There is a great piece of poetry from T.S. Eliot that includes the following lines:
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
That poem describes exactly what happened in my family. My kids gave me credit during my commuting years for driving on field trips, being class mom, and all the other wonderful things that I had stopped doing, but which I had done in earlier years. Somehow, I got a pass and was able to “coast” through those two and a half years, living off my good reputation. The kids are absolutely certain, to this day, that I never took a break from being the fabulous multitasking mom that I most certainly was not during that time. It just shows, your kids won’t be nearly as critical of you as you will be of yourself. You have a little leeway. I just wish I had known at the time.
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