I have a confession. I’m not the touchy feely kind of parent (shocking, I know). Long ago I learned that, in order to be a better mother, I had to go back to work so I could actually see that I was making some sort of forward progress on a daily basis (let’s face it — being at home with small children, yelling “don’t jump on the couch!” for eight hours only results in more bouncing, less patience, a sore throat, and a shaker of dirty martinis). I make no apologies for my decision to return to work, and for a number of years, we rolled with the punches of diapers, doctors, and daycare.
Even now, with people grown up and mostly out on their own, I still feel a slight irritation when I’m forced to switch my focus from work to home. My kids have somehow turned into nice people (for the most part), and I’m quite frankly relieved. Pretty sure it’s mostly due to the dependability of TheCop, but who am I to argue? I do know, however, that I am definitely ready to focus on me. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m impatient to be rid of the ties that bind. (After all, how can I miss people if they don’t leave?) I’ve found a coveted new professional freedom and I’m trying like hell to claim it. Networking provides connections. Connections provide opportunities. Opportunities promise discovery of potential.
So imagine my delight when I discover I’ve received an invitation to Google I/O as a result of my networking at SXSW. THIS. IS. HUGE. It’s a chance that you don’t turn down lightly, lest the gods of future opportunity frown upon you. And why would I? This is FANTASTIC! I’m incredibly excited, and already making mental plans and side notes. Without so much as even checking with TheCop, I click the link to register, at the same time pulling up my calendar to block off the dates. And lo and behold, to my horror, those dates are not blank. I have a serious conflict. Those are the dates for DangerBoy’s graduation from Basic Training. Those are the dates I’m supposed to be in Georgia, on a hot, dusty Army base, watching my youngest son march around before being sent off somewhere in the service of his country.
I try every possible scenario in my head, desperate to make this work. I even consider risking the wrath of TheCop and letting him go down by himself while I head west, until I realize that is probably matrimonial suicide. Also, I really want to be there for something that’s important to DangerBoy. Finally, I resign myself to the inevitable fact that I am indeed going to have to let this opportunity pass me by.
And herein lies the rub: it’s not that I don’t love DangerBoy (or the others), and it’s not that I don’t miss him deeply. I’ve been there for all the scraped knees, the bloody wounds, the missing teeth, the multiple ER runs for all the stitches, staples, and concussions; the fractured fingers, the mother’s day teas, the artwork, the hugs, the tears, the growing up, the going away. Every single thing, I’ve been right here, ready to drop and run to pick up the pieces without notice, my heart doing summersaults through pain, through joy, through tears. I’ve done my job to the best of my ability. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m now no longer necessary to the process, and I’m okay with that. Really. Yet even now I’m being pulled back, feeling the guilt of parental responsibility one more time, and know I am going to decline. I close my calendar, full of regret, and I sit quietly. I try not to think about it too much, because I’m not sure my heart and my mind are ready to reconcile this conflict of parental versus professional.
I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t conflicted.
Later that evening, after a frustrated workout at the gym, I came home to discover a letter from DangerBoy has arrived. TheCop opens it and reads aloud, while I sit down at my laptop. There is big news: DangerBoy has earned himself a Ranger contract with his hard work, which means he will not be leaving for Texas, but rather staying at Ft. Benning to go through Airborne school. That means the graduation we’ll be attending will be in June instead, and I dutifully move to mark it on the calendar. We’re excited; this is what he’s pushed himself for, setting the gold standard for himself and putting everything he had into meeting it. To know he’s gotten his brass ring is sweet news, and I am full of pride and happiness for him. As I turn back to the screen, the realization hits me: We’re now going to Georgia for a June graduation. June. Which makes Google I/O totally doable. I am elated! I can hardly believe my luck. I pull the laptop towards me and click on the tab I’ve been loathe to close. I fill out my information, hit the submit button and, in a matter of twenty minutes, my life has done a 180 degree turn.
Once the deed is done, I reflect on the fortuitous turn of events, and how it has worked out so well for me. Gradually, my thoughts wander back to DangerBoy and his amazing opportunity, and slowly I realize that he still will be going through Basic training graduation, only now, he will be alone. His family won’t be there in the stands, applauding him, and he won’t have family there to be with the day before, on Family Day. We won’t be there to applaud his successes until four weeks later, when there are new successes. And now there is guilt. Now there is internal bad parenting talk.
I told you. I’m conflicted.