After a hectic day of work full of several meetings and deadlines, I rushed through rush hour traffic to pick up my girls by 6 PM from the Horizons Day Camp, where I had guiltily dropped them off for the first time that morning.
After spending a short weekend in LA being enveloped in sisterly love celebrating my mother’s birthday, I was back in Silicon Valley where I’ve been living for a year now. We got home around midnight which made my early morning routine a little foggier and a little bit slower. After fighting the urge to sleep in, we made our way to Starbucks to pick up coffee and chicken and hummus boxed lunches for the girls because I didn’t have a single thing in my fridge that could quickly materialize into an edible lunch meal for my girls.
I ordered ham and cheese breakfast sandwiches for them to eat while I sipped my coffee and slowly came back to life and thought how nice it was to be able to grab breakfast at a coffee shop on a weekday like we used to do in LA. Lost in my thoughts as we made our way to the day camp center, my girls sang new songs they had made up, recited stories and asked me question after question which reminds me, I need to define equinox to them as this morning when they asked, the morning coffee had not peeled away the sleepiness that I have been fighting for the last week of 4 hour sleep nights.
They seemed excited to go to the day camp and meet new friends. As we walked into the center we heard a child crying for his mom which made the girls reassess the desirability of the situation and they quickly clung to me asking me not to go. “Take me with you mommy, I can stay at work with you. Don’t leave me here.” “I can’t sweetheart, you will both have fun and remember, you have each other.”
As I walked away heavy with guilt, I couldn’t shake off the blanket of sadness that seemed to suffocate me and threatened to make me cry. In the car, I wondered if I was doing the right thing – working and studying towards a better tomorrow at the cost of seeing them race to adulthood before my eyes without me being there MORE.
They’re not toddlers mind you, they are 8 and 9 and are pretty independent and strong young girls. I have always marveled at their resiliency and capacity to adapt to new environs. I was confident that they would be fine but I felt this urgency to be by their side gnawing at my nerves all day. During lunch I spilled water on myself as I wondered if I should have gone to visit them instead of eating my meal with colleagues.
After a meeting that ended at 5:30, I rushed to my car and looked at my map app. I jumped on the 101 S towards Palo Alto and exited a couple of miles after to avoid the parking lot of traffic ahead. My estimated arrival time slowly got away from me, 5:48, 5:52, 5:58. It tortured me as I took surface streets and it recalculated urging me to take a U-turn and teetering between 5:58 and 5:59 pm. As I missed the left turn and had to wait another eternal few minutes on the intersection of Page Mill and El Camino, I willed the lights to turn faster, the arrival time to freeze at 5:59 and my girls to be okay.
As I finally pulled into the office park, I quickly parked in a loading zone and jumped out of the car like a madwoman running in my heels across the plaza to pick up my girls before 6 pm and hoping that they weren’t the last kids in the center thinking I had abandoned them. As I walked into view, they came over and greeted me with their gorgeous big smiles and started showing me the lanyards they had made, the art work, describing the three new friends they had made until I interrupted them to hurry up and get to the car which was illegally parked. As we dashed back to the car I couldn’t help but feel silly for having been so worried. Of course they would have a good time, of course they would make friends – they were my daughters after all.
In the car, they took turns spilling out the contents of the day as I recuperated from my bad mom guilt trip hangover. At the red light I turned over my shoulder and excitedly reminded them that we would be going on vacation in two more days. “We’re going to have 8 days of nonstop time with each other girls, we can have breakfast, lunch, dinner, cuddle sessions, all of the time and attention that you want.” Bella looked lost in thought. “Are you okay Bella?” “Uhm, yes.” “Aren’t you excited?” “Yes.” (In a very non-excited voice).
I couldn’t help but sigh deeply inside. Here I was carrying the world on my shoulders all day, feeling like the worse mother in the world because I HAD to work for a living, because I am ambitious enough to move out of my hometown LA to pursue a better future with a loving partner and father to my children, because I come home tired after long stressful days at work to cook and be a good mom and then stay up late to study for my evening classes as I work towards my degree, because I wish I could stay home with them during the summer and be there for all of the moments of childhood that seem to keep slipping through my fingers – and they were oblivious to all of it. Just like I was when I was a child.
When my mother would wake up at 3:00 AM to cook dinner before she got ready for her shift at work which started at 4:30 AM I always wondered why she bothered working so hard, I was critical of her dedication to us. When I would come home after school and I saw her sleeping on the sofa, exhausted and still in her work uniform as a cook, I felt a mixture of sympathy and love with an edge of annoyance that I never got to talk to her, that she never greeted me, that she wasn’t like the other moms that were home all day waiting for their children to get home to ask them about their day. Now as a mother, I am grateful for the wonderful mother that I had. She has her imperfections like we all do but her qualities far outweigh the human qualities about her. Her desire and hard work towards a better tomorrow, her strength through bad financial, emotional and marital times, her love for her grandchildren, her hugs filled with aromatic coffee, her gentle smile, her love and acceptance, her belief in all of her children, her tenacity to overcome a horrible childhood, her generosity in love – all of these things and so many more keep her in the pedestal in which I have her. My own guardian angel watching over me, reminding me that someday my own daughters will see the sacrifice that mothers make for their children. Reminding me that these daughters of mine will be just fine because I’m raising them to be like my mother raised me to be: resilient, hardworking, confident, ambitious, and kind.