“Yeah, Bud, what’s up?”
“Um…I think I know the answer, and if it’s no I understand, but…do you think you might be able to come to my Halloween parade tomorrow?…..Maybe?”
“Bud, I’m really sorry but I can’t. I don’t have much sick time left at work so I can’t leave early. But we’ll be on vacation next week and we’ll spend a ton of time together!”
“Oh….yeah, ok. I understand. It’s just…you took a day off to go to Gracie’s field trip to the pumpkin picking place, so I hoped maybe you could do something with me too.”
“Vince….I’m so sorry. But I did go to your walk-a-thon last year! And I collected all that money for your walk this year, and I’m selling those spice packets for your fundraiser…I’m doing everything I can, Bud.”
“I know, Mommy. And I love you so much, you’re the best Mommy. And I understand…I just wish you could be there.”
“Well…we’re going to get your haircut tonight, maybe we can do something fun after that!”
Because grabbing a donut on the way home from a haircut is exactly the same as being there for his Halloween parade.
Lately I’ve been living in a constant state of pang.
Does anyone else go through this? I can’t be alone here.
But I was alone in the dining room while Vince was burning a hole through me with his sad blue eyes this morning. I had no one to swoop in and tell me what a great mom I am, that I’m doing the best I can, that it isn’t a tragedy to miss a 20-minute Halloween parade.
Nope, it was just me, staring into those huge pools of 6 year-old sorrow, feeling the pang.
You know the pang- I’m sure you’ve had it. That quick, aching feeling that tugs at your chest whenever your kids unwittingly break a tiny piece of your heart- that’s the pang.
I’ve been plagued by them lately.
Saturday, while I was lying in bed trying to recover from a particularly persistent bout of my adrenal disorder, and Vince, who hadn’t left my side for 3 hours, said, “I really hope you feel better soon, Mommy. I don’t like seeing you like this. Weekends are for family time and family adventures.”
Last week, when I walked through the door after a workday so long that Pat had to pick both kids up from school, and Grace came flying into my arms squealing, “I missed you! You said you’d pick me up and we’d go for the special cupcakes because I didn’t have any potty accidents last night, but you never came to get me. I was so sad, Mommy.”
When Vince learned about martial arts summer camp and was so excited that he could barely get the words out…and I had to gently explain that we won’t be able to afford it this year, and watch his eyes turn down as he said, “Oh, it’s too much dollars? Ok, I understand. I’ll go to the other camp that we have enough dollars for.”
Pang Pang Pang Pang PANG.
This morning, as the pangs were raging, I wanted to tell him that I’m doing so much that most days I feel like I’m going to collapse. That I lovingly set out outfits next to their favorite seats on the couch each night before I go to bed. That I leave their protein bars and applesauce pouches on the table in case they wake up before me. That I make sure to always put Grace’s milk in her favorite Minnie Mouse cup, and warm Vince’s while he’s getting dressed because, “Cold milk makes me feel so freezy in the mornings!”
I wanted to tell him that I gladly took out a pension loan to pay for a martial arts after-care program this year so he could work on his confidence and anxiety issues. That I worked late every night for a week just to make up some of the time I had to take to chaperone Grace’s field trip. That I’ve given up most of my time with my husband to sit in each of their beds, sing songs, hear about their days, check their closets for the Sanderson Sisters (Hocus Pocus was not a smart movie pick last weekend), and read their favorite books for almost an hour each night.
But I’m not great at focusing on the positive. I’m much more skilled at beating the hell out of myself (as my bonus-mom, Marion, often points out, right before she exclaims in frustration, “You’ve gotta stop doing that to yourself!”- but hey, what can I say? Self-doubt is one of a mom’s greatest talents).
So all I said was, “I really am doing the best I can, Vince. I’m sorry I can’t be there more.”
I really was sorry. Sorry that I took a largely dead-end job so I could be there for the kids, but all I do is work and sit in traffic, and I missed Field Day last year, and I can’t go to the Halloween parade, and we can’t afford martial arts summer camp, and I’m not doing enough, and what if they start to feel neglected and all they remember of their childhoods were all the things I didn’t do?
And then something happened (because you knew this had to turn eventually)
Both dogs were walked, fed and snuggled in their beds with their treats. Bags were packed; teeth were brushed; shoes were on (not on the right feet, but I’ve learned to pick my battles); lights were off; stove was checked 3 times because I’m slightly neurotic; and we were shuffling out the door in our usual morning parade of lunch boxes and coats and “Guys, please walk a little faster, we’re really late!”….when the kids spotted frost on the ground.
“GRACIE! Look! Frost! Jack Frost came last night! MOM, he IS real!!”
I watched my kids drop their bags, run down the stairs and begin crunching their shoes on the frozen front lawn, dancing around together and squealing, “Jack Frost was here! Jack Frost was here!”
I watched them run to my truck and examine the swirls of ice on the doors and windows, wearing looks of wonder so great it was as though Santa Claus himself was standing in front of them.
I remembered our movie night a few weeks ago- it was about how Jack Frost came to be. I remembered baking Halloween-themed desserts for them, and snuggling under throw blankets while we watched Jack discover his origins and save the world from the Boogie Man. I remembered Vince holding Grace tightly during the “scary” parts.
And I guess they remembered too.
And I felt the pang in my heart…but it was the best kind of pang.
You can’t be everywhere, or give them everything. None of us can (nor should we, for that matter).
So when they look at you with that deflated expression when you have to say no, don’t let it undo you.
Don’t let the pangs get you down.
Because inevitably, just one of the things you DID do will stick with them, and fill them up, and keep them going. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, they see what you’re doing. They feel how much you’re loving them. Somewhere under the sad eyes and the “all my friends have this/went there/did this…” is a very real, very deep gratitude for you that they quietly carry with them.
And just when you feel like you can’t give another little piece of yourself, they’ll hand you some of that gratitude.
And it will fill you up. And hopefully, give you the best kind of pang.