It’s a cruel, cruel summer……(sorry, I just watched the original Karate Kid recently)
The summer of 2012 was a difficult one. I was conflicted about what to do with regards to my job. My division chief, a dear friend who was also my running partner, moved to head up a division at an Ivy League institution. I was so happy for her but I was very sad to lose her. To add salt to the wound, her replacement was not going to start until 3 months after she left and we had a partner on maternity leave. In the world of pediatrics, someone is always on maternity leave! The staff shortage meant that all of us in the group were working a backbreaking schedule that summer. I was working 7 days on-service then 7 days off service in the inpatient units. During my 7 days “off”, I covered night shifts and sedation shifts for outpatient radiology. I was also frantically working with medical school colleagues getting ready for the first module of the school’s new curriculum. The deadlines were getting tighter and tighter. And somewhere in there I was trying to spend as much time with my kids as possible since they were on summer break. Guess how often that happened, though?……
Humbled by a 10 year-old girl….
I have two beautiful children: Kara, who is now 11 years old and Tristan, who is 6 years old. Since the day they were born, my children are my world. I love them more than anything in this world and are the most important thing in my life. But actions speak louder than words (or feelings!), and my children noticed.
Towards the end of the summer of 2012, my children spent a week with my parents in the Rio Grande Valley, where I grew up. They had been doing this for a couple of years and loved spending time with Papa and Pita. When my parents drove them back up to San Antonio, we all had dinner at my sister Abi’s house. At one point during the evening, I saw Kara sitting at the bottom of the steps. I sat down next to her and put my arms around her. I missed her so much. I wanted to breathe in her very being. I will never forget the conversation that happened next.
Kara: “Why are you hugging me?”
What? This is not what I expected to hear.
Me: “I miss you.”
Kara: “Why? It’s not like I ever see you at home anyway.”
Wait, this is not the way this is supposed to go. I could feel my mother and my sister looking at us.
Me: “What do you mean?”
And then she said the words that every mother than works outside the home dreads to hear.
Kara: “You are always at work. You never spend any time with us. And when you are at home you just work on the computer and tell us to leave you alone. So why do you want to hug me now all of a sudden?”
After the shock of the verbal explosion she dropped wore off, my next reaction was to become angry and defensive. It was not my most shining parenting moment.
Me: “Oh yeah? Don’t give me that poor little rich girl song and dance. I didn’t hear you complain about how much I work when we were planning our trip to DisneyWorld, or when I paid the tuition for your fancy schmancy private school, or when we went out for sushi last Tuesday night!”
Yes, I sounded that mature.
And then, she said something that still rings in my ears to this day.
Kara: “I never asked you for those things.”
Silence. I did not know what to say. Chris, my brother-in-law Fito, and my father left the room as quickly as their feet could carry them. My mother was at the verge of tears.
Pita: “Kara, your mom works very hard for you. And it hurts me to hear you talking to her like that because she is my daughter. You need to appreciate all she has done for you.”
Well, that is when the flood of tears started. Yet, even though I felt shame, regret, and most of all, incredible sadness, I was still in denial. This could not be happening! She really didn’t feel this way. I could not accept it.
Me: “Kara, this summer has been really hard because I am understaffed at work and the medical students are starting their new year. But once my new partner starts and the curriculum gets underway, it will get better like it was before. I promise.”
She looked at me in the eyes.
Kara: “Mom, I have been feeling like this for 2 years.”
So dig the knife a little deeper, twist it, and pour some salt over the wound. That would be peachy!
Me: “Kara, if I did not work, we would have to live in a smaller house, you guys would go to public school, and we would not be able to take all the trips that we do.”
And that is when Abi, my youngest but wise sister, chimed in. Abi has a Masters Degree in Bilingual Education but has given up her career to be a stay-at-home mom.
Abi: “Excuse me? You just described my life. And please don’t feel sorry for me. I am very happy with my life and I would not want to change it for anything in this world”.
Oops. Time to backpedal.
At that point, all four of us were crying, yelling, and talking all at once. No words could describe what I was feeling at that point. Of course I knew Kara was right. She wasn’t telling me anything that I had not already thought about, especially that crazy summer. I knew I spent more time at work than with them. I knew that even though I always said that my children were the most important thing in the world for me, my actions did not show that. If I counted how many hours per week I spent working, and how many I spent with my kids, I would be pretty horrified with the discrepancy.
Time to make a change…..
In the end, I did as all moms do with bumps and scrapes…even those of the heart. I hugged and kissed my little girl. I soothed her hair, and said in between both of our sobs, “It’s OK that we are both upset. If neither of us cared that we don’t spend enough time together, we would not be so emotional about it now. The fact we are angry and sad means we both care and we want things to change.”
Kara: “I do.”
Me: “Things are going to change for real. I am going to quit my job so I can stay home and spend more time with you and Tristan.”
Me: “I cannot promise you that I will quit forever. But I bet the time we will have when I am not working will be amazing. We will make amazing memories.”
At that moment, I knew Chris and I had made the most important decision in our lives. I was working so hard to provide my children with “stuff” that I had forgotten about the actual children! I felt like Dr. Frankenstein did when he created the monster: “What have I done?!” I needed a break from the rat race. I needed to rediscover the joys of motherhood, family, and spending time with my children. My actions had to show that they are the most important thing in my life.
I had all I ever wanted, but now I had to get rid of it! At that point, I did not care if it was career suicide. I was going to spend a year dedicated to my children. I had never felt so sure about anything in my life.
So now the big question was…..Where do we go from here?