Listen. My oldest child is 16. I know mom guilt wanes over time, but does it ever fully go away? The guilt I have with her is way different from what I have with the 8-year-old, but it’s still there. It’s still there. We went to a college fair over the weekend and realizing how far behind we are with applications and scholarships and knowledge, I feel bad. I went to the 14-year-old’s parent teacher conferences last Friday. She’s not doing well. I feel guilt at noticing she might be struggling, but I didn’t think it was as bad as it is. I mean, I looked at the progress report and said meh, it’s her first semester in high school; there’re things to get used to. But no. She needs help, now. And I feel bad because why didn’t I act sooner?
The guilt lessens as they age, usually, but it’s still there. And I’m still in a season of feeling it pretty regularly with the boy.
I was able to pick him up from school today, something I don’t do because I’m normally at work and he gets out at 3;15. He saw me and left his friends, bounded down the stairs, and flung himself into my arms like he used to do in kindergarten or first grade but certainly not since he’s far too old at eight to do such. People will see! He looked up at me and said, “This is a nice surprise! It’s been so long since you picked me up.” And my heart splintered and broke off with pieces going into my lungs so that it was hard to breathe and I stayed quiet and nodded and smiled but I couldn’t speak because I would have wailed.
I waved to his teacher. I waved to one of the girls’ former teachers. And then I waved to a parent and she looked at me like I was naked on the sidewalk. I thought I was used to this, the looks I get when I’m at his school unexpectedly. I haven’t determined yet if people think we divorced and share custody or if I’m just too high and lazy to show up more often. My husband drops him off. He picks him up on days he doesn’t have after care. He goes to the PTA meetings if they’re on a Tuesday or Thursday when I’m teaching. He’s on one of the school’s commissions. He’s in charge of the marquee that he won’t make read WINTER IS COMING. The students and parents and faculty see him regularly. Then they see me and look shocked. I love that he’s this involved. I didn’t abandon them, Pat.
I know it gets easier and these feelings aren’t always there anyway. I know I don’t owe anyone any explanation about why I’m not around more, why THEY don’t see me. It doesn’t matter; the kids see me every day. And yet, I still feel guilty about so much that I’m missing and have to get secondhand. I hear about their days most days after they’ve already given the synopsis once. He had to remind me the other day which days he has after care because I forgot. I sent one to school today after she said she didn’t feel well; she had to get off the train before her stop to throw up. Picture day came and went for one. We can’t afford the oldest’s birthday in New York. Don’t get me started on the guilt of financial lack. We’d be here forever and ever, amen.
I know we tend to only feel guilty about the things we care about (seriously; I feel zero guilt over not finishing something at work). Weirdly, knowing that seems to make it that much harder to feel less guilty.