I gave work the finger by leaving an hour early today. But still, leaving the office at 3:50 did not get me home until 6:40ish. Picking up the kids from my mom's house usually adds a good 20 minutes to the commute (we have to pack snacks for the road, clean up toys, collect our things, make sure everyone goes potty or has a fresh diaper) making my 2.5 hour commute even longer. Tonight, as soon as we got home, the kids turned into pumpkins, Ryan having screamed most of the 40 minute drive of the last leg of our journey and Jacob having slept through it all so soundly that he peed himself.
After feeding the kids a super-mom meal of old dino-shaped chicken nuggets, oatmeal, and strawberries, I really had no choice but to put them to bed. I just couldn't handle the whining anymore. Regretfully, I tucked them in and snuck out of their room. As soon as I closed the door, I felt a heaviness weighing me down. I hadn't seen them all day. I hadn't got my one hour of cuddle and play time.
Sometimes, as a working mom, I feel so absent. Even when we are under the same roof. Often times, I come home exhausted. And they come home bursting with pent-up tantrums. It doesn't help that I carry around mental baggage of the urgent work projects waiting on my desk.
I wonder sometimes if the little boys around my kitchen table are getting enough attention from me. Real attention. Focused attention. Even when I set aside time to give them my attention, I find their childish games are amusing at first but then quickly become repetitive and boring. As we sit down for a fourth game of Uno or Memory or See-What-Jacob-Can-Pretend-To-Blow-Up, I'm itching for an excuse to escape. Maybe I have to do some laundry? Isn't there a sink full of dishes? Then a pang of guilt strikes right through my mommy-soul. How did my own mom play board games with us for hours and not want to melt into the perfect-shade-of-beige carpeting of my childhood home?
It's easy to tell when a child's physical needs are being met. There is no mistaking the smell of a dirty child, the cry of a hungry child, or the nagging of a tired child. But how do you know if your kids are getting enough of the one resource you cannot multiply? How do you know your kids are getting enough of your time? How do you know if you are filling them up with enough good memories of you to outweigh the memories of the moments of your absence?
As I tuck my children in, pull the covers tightly around them, smooth their hair, and kiss their cheeks, I stop to study them for just half a second. I wish I could sneak inside their heads and scrutinize the contents of their memories. What does it look like in there? Every night I ask myself the same thing: "did I give them enough today?" I'm so terrified that the answer is no. That the answer is perpetually no and that they are running on the fumes of a year-long deficit of their mommy's attention.
Everything feels so out of my hands right now. I don't know how to conjure more time out of thin air. I feel trapped in a sea of routine and habits that I cannot change or give up. Too many times, I put other things before my own kids or just give them half of my attentions.
I always promise myself I will do better tomorrow. Always. Only to find myself asking the very same questions.