I work outside of the home, and usually I find this to be a good balance. It’s not perfect, mind you—the long commute times and hectic evenings make for some long, arduous days—but in general, it works out nicely for all of us. The boys love their school, I feel I’m a better parent for the opportunity to periodically shift my focus to career-related duties, and I never feel as though we’re getting short-changed on spending time together (the upside of kids who go to bed late and wake up early, I guess).

We deal with the logistical complications as best we can, with me taking point on getting the boys ready in the mornings, JB managing dropoffs and pickups, and both of us stepping up to give the other flexibility to hit the gym or whatever it is we need to do during the week. It sometimes seems like a system of wildly spinning plates, but I imagine most families feel that way regardless of their working situations. Life with kids is hectic, no matter what.

The thing that never fails to send it all crashing down around my ears, though, is sickness. Both kids were sick last week, and Riley had some sort of dear-LORD-let-us-never-mention-it-again stomach bug this week. Plus, daycare was closed on Monday for an inservice day. Between these events and various colds and fevers over the last few months, I’ve pretty much run through all of my sick time at my office. Every day I’m gone, I get further behind and more out of the loop on ongoing projects. I suspect that every time I have to send another email saying I’m staying home with my sick kid, I become more known as that coworker who’s always staying home with their sick kid.

I’m lucky in that I have a very flexible, understanding workplace, and no one’s ever taken me aside and finger-wagged me for my absences. But it’s hard, you know? It’s hard to worry about my job when I’m already worried about my child. It’s hard to have the tense discussion with JB about whose turn it is to stay home. It’s hard not to feel like I’m letting everyone down.

And then there’s the sort of sick kid, when you have to decide whether or not they’re well enough to go to school. What a shitty choice that is, made worse by the fact that you’re undeniably influenced by how often you’ve been home to date. Maybe you’ll be at home with a cheery, miraculously-recovered child who’s overjoyed to get a solid day’s worth of Curious George, maybe you’ll kiss them goodbye and get the Daycare Call of Doom later in the afternoon.

I got the Call of Doom last week after Riley had seemed perfectly fine in the morning then woke up from his afternoon nap screaming about a headache and eventually barfing. I broke every traffic law in existence getting to him, but it still took over half an hour, and when I saw his sad pale face I could have crumpled under the guilt. My boy had been sick and crying and we weren’t there to take care of him. This is wrong. This is wrong.

Of course, once he got home he was totally fine. And I know kids get sick at school sometimes and live to tell the tale. (Hell, I still remember Scott Pendleton’s pukefest in Spanish class in 8th grade, and how once he finished horking in the classroom sink, he turned to the rest of us and grinned to show he still had his gum.) Parents can’t be everywhere at all times.

Still, it sucks. I mean, caring for sick kids sucks no matter what—I tend to immediately get overwhelmed with anxiety and concern, and depending on how much laundry is involved, shameful amounts of self-pity—but it particularly sucks to feel like I am failing on all fronts. Like no matter what I do, it’s not good enough.


73 Responses to “Shortfall”

  1. TJ on October 16th, 2009 11:05 pm

    What I have learned from the Internet this week is that when children get sick, it borders on apocalyptic in its life-disrupting potential. Even if it’s only a liiiittle sick. These are things I am glad I get to consider and prepare myself for before I have any, because no one just TELLS people about that.

  2. Donna on October 17th, 2009 7:05 am

    You guys! You have to realize at some point that you cannot be all things to all people. You do the best you can, love your kids as much as you can, and STOP beating yourselves up about it. NO ONE is perfect, if you were with your child 24/7 or away 24/7, they will still get sick, they will still get well, and it doesn’t matter in the long run whether you were with them or not, they’ll get better, and get sick again. And they will survive if you love them. You do the best you can, and they do the best they can, and the operative words are just love them. Who said parents were perfect? I mean really, you hear alot about shitty parents, but you don’t ever hear about perfect parents, and you know why? Because there aren’t any. Eating yourself up over it won’t help anything.

  3. Nancy on October 17th, 2009 7:29 am

    I was able to raise my kids and work at home, seemingly the best of both worlds. And it was, lots of the time. And then there were the times that I got up at 3:30 in the morning to do financial statements because I had spent the previous day and evening cleaning up vomit and picking the other 2 sick kids up from school. And while I feel like I had it easier in many respects, I still felt like a giant failure many, many times. That mommy guilt when we aren’t everything to everyone is a killer. But all of you moms need to know this – you are doing a WONDERFUL job juggling it all. Cut yourself some slack for being human and try to see how much you’re really doing. Now years later when I look back on all I accomplished back then on a daily basis, I am kind of amazed at myself. You will do the same.

  4. patois on October 17th, 2009 8:18 am

    I’m really able to replace “sick” with just about any state of being for my child and feel some level of guilt on my response to it.

    I will make sure I read your comment to Liz again and again.

  5. Laura on October 17th, 2009 8:29 am

    My kid told me the story of vomiting in his first grade classroom. He vomited spectacularly, and when I asked him what happened next (all worried, who took care of my BAYBEEE?), he said the janitor came in to clean up, “…and now we don’t have carpet anymore.”

    He’s almost 17 now, and he definitely survived with a funny story to tell.

  6. Kelsey on October 17th, 2009 1:15 pm

    It’s a shame that we can’t find a way to make this easier in our country – it is one of the things I worry most about when I consider going back to outside-the-home work. Most schools ask that kids be fever-free for 24 hours before returning from being sick. It’s the best policy for keeping other kids healthy, but too many families are in positions that make it really difficult to follow.

  7. Amy on October 17th, 2009 1:39 pm

    It sucks major hairy balls! I work full-time (because I have to, but I’d work at something even if it weren’t necessary). A couple of years ago I had a boss (with two almost adult children) who completely reamed me and did her best to try and get me fired because I was “out too much” and it wasn’t fair to the rest of the department. Like I was calling in because I was on a tropical island or something. My son had rvs and was almost hospitalized, and whenever he got sick had asthmatic reactions that required a nebulizer. She always made my life hell with the sarcastic comments, “Geez, he sure is sick a lot” and blah, blah, blah kiss my ass. She recently had another child who, hmph, is sure sick a lot! I think she has finally realized what I was going through. It sucks because even when I could make it to work (because my mom would watch him), I still felt like crud and thought about him all day long. I don’t think it ever gets easier…but you’re not the only one who feels that way!! Hang in there and stay healthy!

  8. seadragon on October 17th, 2009 1:54 pm

    What do you mean you’re “failing on all fronts”? I understand FEELING like you’re juggling fireballs, but really you’re doing a great job of coordinating your usual hectic life with the added challenge of caring for sick children. I would say that it’s sort of like taking on a triathlon when you usually just go running – and as far as I can see, you’re handing the extra difficulty level quite well!

  9. Sunshyn on October 17th, 2009 2:52 pm

    The new rules where we live are, the kid has to be sans fever for 24 hours before he can go back to school. Never mind that one is most contagious the 24 hours BEFORE one has symptoms… So I had to take TWO days from work instead of one, and the kid was fine on day 2 and driving me crazy with his boredom.

    So next time I will just minimize the fever bit (flu reporting requirements on the school absence line request you tell them the kid’s symptoms, including any fever! for purposes of tracking H1N1, and that is USELESS, because who knows which bugger your kid has contracted? NO ONE!).

    The kid needed to be in school. Being delayed and in mainstream via special ed, every day he misses in school requires about a week to get him back on track again. Next week is red ribbon week, and the teachers hate it, because it throws the kids off their routines. And then Halloween throws the kids off some more… Plus this year’s teacher and teaching aide neither one seem capable of teaching my kid. AARGH!

  10. Anonymous on October 17th, 2009 3:54 pm

    Amen. When I was a full-time, working mom until this past May when I resigned from my incredibly demanding job in television, I would just lie to my boss and say I was the sick one. Something about saying you’re staying home with your sick kid made me feel like my childless female boss thought of me as more of a slacker. I love your blog and I’m seriously in AWE of your stamina. Two kids, full-time job, TRIATHLONS! GYM! and still squeezing in time for outings with friends or hubby on Friday nights? How are you not exhausted all the time? I only have one child and when I’d come home on Friday night champagne and take-out in bed was all I could muster up the energy for. Bedtime by 10p was pushing it. I do have to say one thing though. Please don’t take offense, but it seems you do a lot more than hubby and you both have full-time jobs…why is that? Why are you waking up with the boys in the middle of the night? Why are you doing the cooking and staying home with the sickies? He seems to squeeze in a lot of guy trips while you’re picking up a lot of the slack. I think you’re due for a serious spa weekend with your girls — his treat!

  11. lisa on October 17th, 2009 6:56 pm

    This post just reassures me that having one stay at home parent (if its possible) is a good thing. There are days that I hate it and would much rather be working, but in the end I think if I had a full time job- it might be the straw that broke the camels back. I do have a very very part time job that has busier and slower times, and during the busy times when nothing is getting done around the house, dinner comes out of a box, laundry piles up, kids get less attention, I think: whatever extra $ Im getting just isn’t *worth* it. When my kids are sick I keep them home until we’ve had 24hrs of “all clear”. I realize not everyone necessarily has the luxury of doing that but I feel like its the right thing to do so I don’t infect everyone else’s kids.

    I hope this doesn’t come across badly (thats not how I mean it). I guess Im sort of on the opposite side of your situation and reading what you wrote makes me feel better about our situation which somedays Im not so sure of/sold on/in love with. Its tough no matter what side of the fence you’re on. :)

  12. jenB on October 17th, 2009 11:48 pm

    You are supporting your family and loving your kids. It sounds like you are doing all the right things right.

  13. Lorie on October 18th, 2009 7:42 am

    I can absolutely relate to the guilt. I am 3 weeks into a new job after being laid off from the other. My first week there I had to leave early to pick up my daughter. When I got to school she really did seem sick but no fever. By the time we got home I realize that this child was either just bored at school or was not sick enough to be home. It was hard for me to explain to my daughter that work is NOT more important than her but it is what allows us to have a great house and nice things. And then I had to explain that faking illness is JUST WRONG. lol

  14. Jennifer on October 18th, 2009 2:02 pm

    Is there a way to make the folks back at the office feel like you’re putting in some extra effort to make up for your time with the sick kids? Offer to work on the weekend some other time to make up for your time away (yeah I know that would SUCK but it might go a long way toward office goodwill), take phone calls from home, work hours from home on some of your days off, whatever. Perception/expectation is everything after all, so some sort of apparent sacrifice or going the extra mile might help both your work-guilt as well as anyone in the office who’s thinking you’re a slacker?

  15. Kami Lewis Levin on October 18th, 2009 5:04 pm

    if they can stand up unassisted, I send them to daycare. I mean, that’s why I pay them the big bucks, right?

  16. liana on October 19th, 2009 7:09 am

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been lurking for years now, and from the outside looking in, you look like a super mom to me. I’ve always wondered how you did everything. You seem like you have it all together, your pictures show a happy family, with tons of fun activities and lots of love to go around. The fact that you track the weekly if not daily activities in their lives shows how much you (seem to)have it together. The fact that you are able to keep in shape, have a full time job, and just have such a happy life is amazing. But truthfully? It makes me feel 1000 times better to realize that you don’t have it so easy. Because I have at many times felt like a failure. Your blog describes my life and feelings perfectly, and believe me, I’ve had many a break down over it. But, I guarantee, your kids see their lives the way I see it. You rock! And they are happy. Mine are too and in the end, that is what matters. The little things will be forgotten. It’s the big picture that matters.

  17. Erin @ Fierce Beagle on October 19th, 2009 8:00 am

    It’s moments like this that are making me rethink my life/career plan.

  18. Briana Pavey on October 19th, 2009 11:08 am

    I have found that trying to talk to my son about why he is acting out has helped. Even though he didn’t have the words yet when he was biting my thighs while I was trying to protect him from the hot items cooking on the stove…. But now, I get down to his level and we “talk” about it. I ask him why he is hitting/etc. and I say that it is naughty and threaten him with timeout. Sometimes he ASKS for timeout, which makes me laugh, but also makes sense in that he realizes that we both need time to cool down. I set a timer for 2 minutes and we avoid eye contact while he sits in the chair. He has only tried to get up one time, and i just replaced him and started the timer over. He’s only 22 months, so hopefully some of this will help you too.

  19. Maggie on October 19th, 2009 11:56 am

    I can totally relate to this right down to the tense conversations with the hubs. I am crossing everything that can be crossed that everyone stays healthy right now while things are crazy for me at work. There was a lot of hacking and sneezing going on in Pre-K this morning, though, so I fear my luck may be running out.

  20. Nila on October 19th, 2009 8:36 pm

    A wise woman once told me that when it comes to spending time with your kids, it’s not about quantity, but about quality. I try to remind myself of that when I’m overcome with mom guilt, which is quite often.

  21. Trenches of Mommyhood on October 21st, 2009 7:10 am

    You just described my life, my emotions as a working mom, perfectly. Thank you.

  22. Erica on October 23rd, 2009 6:57 am

    Right on for me again. This week I feel like I am absolutely drowning.

  23. Megan K on October 23rd, 2009 12:35 pm

    I totally know what you mean about missing work and feeling like everyone is going to think you are always out for your kids. My job is also very flexible and yet I still feel like this when I am out of the office. As if people are whispering behind my back about how I am a sucky employee. I’m sure it isn’t true, but I sure feel like that sometimes.

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