November 11, 2010

Art, coffee, and an extra shot of guilt

Veterans' Day is one of the few holidays on which the bank where Sam and I work is closed, but our daycare center is open.

One could make a compelling argument for keeping the kids home and having an extra Saturday. Our weekdays are busy and our weekends are always shorter than we expect them to be. The evenings speed quickly from dinner to bath time to bedtime stories, with little time or energy for the relaxed kind of play that makes parenting such a joy. With an extra Saturday, one that's not swallowed up by dance lessons and Target trips and laundry and yard work, we could all relax and enjoy each other's company.

My family could use more silly, playful, kid-cuddling Saturdays. But there's another Saturday that's gone missing. It's the kind that Sam and I used to have years ago, when we'd sleep until noon and go where our whims carried us and talk about philosophy or music or what we'd do if we won the lottery. We dated and married each other because we made each other laugh, never ran out of things to talk about, and shared a romantic and intellectual connection. It can be so easy to forget this when, during most of our time together, we are focused on the needs of two much smaller people.

So, we opted to send the kids to daycare and have a relaxing day together.

I'm not a fan of mommy guilt, the pervasive and socially reinforced notion that makes loving parents second-guess their every decision and constantly question their own worthiness as parents. I think it's a dangerous idea, I think that the people most susceptible to mommy guilt are often the parents with the least to worry about, and I think it too often escalates into mama drama. Don't know what I'm talking about? Spend some time on the discussion boards at

So, I generally opt out of mommy guilt. I trust that loving my kids and loving my life and taking care of both is the easiest course toward a happy and harmonious existence.

And yet, I'm not impervious. I bought a Caribou Coffee drink at work the other day, and printed on the cup, it said "Spend time with your kids. Tomorrow, they're a day older." Reading this while in my office building downtown, knowing my children were 20 miles away and being cared for by other people, I felt like even my latte was judging me.

This morning, after I woke up with the kids, got them dressed, and sent them off to school, I went back to sleep for another hour. In that time, I had a terrible dream in which something unspeakably awful happened to one of my children. This wasn't one of those vague dreams with fuzzy lines and muddled plot - It was crystal clear, realistic, and so upsetting that I can still feel the emotions as I write about it now.

Sam helped me return to reality, and a rough morning turned into a really nice day. We went to an art museum, had lunch, and did a lot of nothing in each other's company. I saw babies in strollers and missed my own. I thought more about the guilt and decided to write about it here.

What my kids deserve more than anything are emotionally healthy parents who love them and love each other. Some days, that means taking them to school while we go look at art. Some days, that means all of us going to the mall or snuggling on the couch or going to Grandma's.

The guilt may always be there, deep in the recesses of my subconscious or maybe printed on a coffee cup, but love is easier to spot and much, much stronger.

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