I was brushing my teeth, ready to leave for work when I heard a clamour in the hallway, followed by a moan. I found my daughter lying on the floor, pale and dizzy. She had fainted, luckily landing on the carpet without hitting her head. I hugged her and got her settled on the couch. No fever or any other symptoms; water, blanket, pillows, a kiss followed – the mom parade of comfort. In a short while, her colour was better, but she had a headache. I administered Advil and picked up the phone.
The first call was to work, to let them know I’d be staying home. The second call was to the paediatrician to check in. Should I be doing anything else. Did my daughter need any more medical attention?
With my daughter calmly resting, distracted by a marathon of sitcoms, and the basics covered, I found myself staring at my computer. Looking at the list of appointments and tasks that lay ahead of me for rescheduling, I experienced such a sharp feeling of division. In my work as a counsellor at school, kids come and go all day with a wide range of problems – some more simple, others intense and complex. I felt the call to be there.
Standing in my kitchen, with my work clothes signalling to my body what was needed, I felt myself go into automatic triage. Who needed a check in by another staff member? Who could I reschedule? Was there anything immediate that required my particular set of skills? As my mind ran through the game plan, I found myself wondering if I really could just go into work. I found my thoughts drifting to whether my teen daughter would be fine watching TV and resting.
Almost immediately, I felt a huge stab of guilt spread through my body. What was I thinking? I’m supposed to be a mom first. I want to be a mom first. But. I am also committed to my work, connected to my students and I care for them deeply. I want to do that well too. I’m also part of a team of colleagues and I know my absence will add to their busy days.
As I scanned my calendar and wrote emails, I was reminded how much I look forward to my sessions with the kids. I love finding ways for them to move through their challenges. I love being able to affirm for them that they matter and they are not alone.
I also thought about how I had the opportunity to spend the day offering comfort to my daughter while she is feeling unwell. I want my daughter to know that she matters and that she is not alone. That when you’re feeling poorly, there are people who still stay with you, not because they need to, but because they want to, because all humans need love and care.
I feel torn about not being able to be in two places at once. I don’t believe that I’m alone at work. I know we have a community that cares and as I spoke to colleagues, the easy flow of understanding touched me – both in the collaborative efforts to meet the emotional needs of our students and the way I’m working to reconcile being a woman who really loves being a mom and a woman who really enjoys her career. I’ve heard this conflict eloquently shared by many other women – even as children grow older, the inner conflict exits.
In all of this, I find myself enjoying a few minutes of sitting on my balcony in the sun, writing to understand myself. I’m mom-ing and working and learning. I’ll get up in a moment to make sure my daughter’s forehead is cool and cajole her into drinking more water. And in a short while, I’ll attend to my more immediate work concerns through the wonders of an online platform.
At the end of the day, I’ll know I’ve done my best. I’ve dodged the forced choice of staying or going – I’ve chosen simply being.