“You’re late!” my four-year-old daughter, Lexi, exclaims when I sit down next to her on the carpet in her pre-k classroom. “You missed all of the holiday songs.” Tears fill her eyes.
I was on time when I raced to her pre-school, but my cell phone rang just as I was entering the school. It was my new, high-profile client, and I didn’t feel comfortable or courageous enough to say that I couldn’t talk because I was walking into my daughter’s holiday party.
After cookies, apple juice, holiday stories and loads of fresh guilt, I give my daughter hugs and kisses and tell her that I have to go back to work.
“Can you pick me up today after school?” Lexi pleads, arms wrapped tightly around my neck. “All of the other mommies are doing pick up today.”
“I can’t today sweetie,” I say.
The tears are in my eyes this time and guilt gnaws at me. After some more tight hugs and lots of kisses, I fly out the door to catch my train back to New York City. Pounding down the pavement, running from Penn Station to my office, I can feel myself destroying my boot heels each time they get stuck in the cracks. I curse at the cement for ruining my new Cole Hahns and feel beads of sweat rolling down my brow even in the 40-degree weather.
“You’re late,” my boss announces to me as I slide into a chair in his office, casually wiping off the mascara that’s now smeared beneath my eyes. “Where have you been?”
“Lexi had a holiday party this morning,” I say matter-of-factly. “I got in as fast as I could.”
He accepts my excuse, but clearly isn’t thrilled by the reason or my tardiness.
I used to lie. Or rather I’d edit the information I shared about my whereabouts. As long as I got my work done, it seemed to make more sense to not disclose the revolving array of my kid-related activities. But I’ve gotten bolder with my bosses. It’s my clients who I still believe in more of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. They want to hear that you’re working on their business, not out playing dreidel games with your child’s pre-Kindergarten class.
These are the times when I feel as if I can’t please anyone. And no one is giving me credit for just showing up. “You have no idea how hard it was to make it here,” I want to say to my kids sometimes. The same thing goes for the people with whom I work. I want a gold star for effort.
When my kids are up all night with croupy coughs and snotty noses and I have slept a total of 45 minutes and somehow I put on lipstick and drag myself to the office after mainlining caffeine to stay alert, damnit, I want recognition. I want applause or at least a little sympathy. Sometimes I feel like shouting, “I’m here folks…I’m a trouper!” But no one seems to care.
A friend of mine who is an executive at a media company and pregnant with her third child recently said to me, “I always think about how much more I could get accomplished at work if I didn’t have kids.”
I see her point. But on the other hand, maybe it’s the fact that we do have children, that like it or not, turns us into Superwomen who are able to get so much more done. We may not get gold stars for extraordinary effort, but we deserve them.
Some blame the Gen Yers, the first generation to grow up in a world of warm fuzzies, trophies for all, and grade inflation for lacking a hearty work ethic. But I think there’s something we Stay-at-Work moms can learn from those kids who grew up watching Barney. Sometimes we all deserve an “A” for effort.