School started last week and it's been the usual uphill push to get the ball rolling again. I signed up to room-parent both girls classrooms again (I finally relinquished one position yesterday - the overachiever needs to slow it down a bit) which makes the ramp-up to back-to-school-night slightly crazed. Meeting with teachers, both to give them my take on my children and to drill them for what they want for the year ahead room-parent-wise. Pestering fellow parents for party money and cell phone numbers for the emergency phone tree. Getting into the groove of making lunches and walking or riding the kids to and from school. Transition time. And, as we all know, transitions can be tough.
Last night, as I was headed out the door to back-to-school-night, laden with bags of salami, crackers, cheese and grapes, Lana and Mihiretu grasping my legs, begging me not to leave them (for two full hours, with their favorite babysitter, poor, poor, children) Mae handed me a carefully stapled, fastidiously colored, paper tennis shoe with strict instructions to put it in her classroom. It was an assignment she had brought home to finish but wanted on display for the big night.
I hobbled down our steep driveway in my three-inch wedge sandals (I'm going to wear them sometime, goddamn it). I shoved the bags of food into the panniers on my bike. I rode to school (quite a feat in three-inch wedges). I placed the food in artful arrays in both classrooms. I gave my room-parent speech to Lana's class. As I sat back down in the miniature seat, I realized, with a wave of nausea, that I didn't have Mae's shoe. Then, between signing up for classroom jobs, running to Mae's classroom to do the same, packing up uneaten food and making my way home with Ben in the dark, I forgot again.
This morning, as I was assembling lunches and urging children to eat their breakfasts, Mae asked about her shoe. I froze mid-jelly sandwich and admitted that it hadn't made it to school. She was immediately in tears, understandably so, saying that she would have to make another one and she had spent so much time on that one. I apologized, told her that if we couldn't find it, I'd tell her teacher what had happened and I'd help her construct another. That, of course, didn't appease her. Her eyes narrowed to slits, tears still on her cheeks, and she stared me down, drilling me with fury. This is a specialty of Mae's, one I'm not a big fan of.
I told her that as sorry as I felt and as much as I could understand her anger, sometimes, on my end, it seems like the only thing that's seen are the mistakes. I'm always in motion. The housework is one thing. Then there's the scheduling - after-school activities, play-dates, our babysitting co-op, dinners with other families, doctor's appointments, vacations. Then there's the stuff I do for school, tasks from which my children benefit but are really meant to keep this social fabric we depend on intact. On top of that, the weight of holding the emotional health of these children, doing my very best to insure that they make it through this childhood with as much self-esteem and joy as possible.
I do all these things. I do them happily. I love my job. I'm so grateful I have the opportunity to be at home with my kids. But sometimes it feels like it all goes unnoticed. Except for when I lose the paper sneaker. I don't need to be thanked all the time. If they were thanking me for everything I did, honestly, we wouldn't have time to talk about anything else. But when things do go wrong - and, to my credit, it's rare - I'd love a little more slack.
Sometimes I feel like I'm giving my family everything I have. I try to feed myself, too, but usually I feed them first. And, like mothers and wives for time immemorial, sometimes it feels like I've given everything away. Ben does his job, a job, I'm well aware, that pays our bills, but all the same, a job he loves. The kids will go on to pursue what calls them. And I wash the dishes. And make the phone trees. And get older.
I love these people so much. I can't even come near to putting it into words. If you've loved a child, you know what I'm talking about. I want to give them what I'm giving them. But sometimes I wonder where I am in all of this. Where's the actress, the intellectual, the flirt? Sometimes it feels like I'm the maid, the secretary, the nurse - all honorable jobs - but I do them most often invisibly. This is a selfless job. But when you look at that word, selfless, what does it mean? Without a self? I'm too vain, too egotistical, too flawed, to be selfless.
The job of a mother is to send children out into the world who are the best people they can be. Whole people who can go forth and maybe make a positive difference in the lives of others. I know that I am doing that. I'm doing it well. My work may be largely unseen, now and forever. Most of time that's okay with me. Today I could use a little pat on the back.
This morning, after my talk with Mae, I suggested she take a walk down the driveway and see if she couldn't find her shoe. Moments later she came back triumphant, the shoe intact and unspoiled in her hand. I hugged her and apologized again. She went to comb her hair before we left for school. And then I felt a small hand on my hip. Lana gave me a gentle and wordless embrace. She gave me a little pat on the back.