I knew tears would flow, but I didn't expect them to come from my 3-year-old daughter.
Mommy, where are my brothers, she asked Monday morning as I dressed her for preschool.
I told her that her father had taken them to the sitter's house. That Mommy would drive her to school and then go to work. It is time, I said.
Your twin brothers, once snug inside my tummy, are ready. Preemies no more, they are healthy and happy. And Mommy is well. I have to go back.
Her lips twisted into a frown and parted to let out a wail. Tears the size of raisins slipped down her cheeks. I grabbed her and held her close.
Since my sons were born in late October, I've been on maternity leave. Although I take great pride in my work as editor of the Brandon and South Shore Times, I relished the role of full-time mom to my daughter Sidney and her fraternal twin brothers Anderson and Carter, now 3 months old.
With little sleep and plenty of devotion, I spent the early days of my leave in what felt like parental triage: Change a blowout diaper for Baby A. Nurse Baby B. Baby A cries incessantly. Baby B joins in. Simultaneously, the toddler, fresh from school, serenades me with the remix of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Together, they create a symphony of chaotic sound.
Madly in love with each of them, this warms my heart.
• • •
Because Daddy and I have to make money so you can eat. Don't you like to eat?
She nodded her head and told me she wants to work. No ma'am, I said. Your job is to go to school.
Now it's my turn to ask a question. I want to know why she cries.
Because I want you to come to my school and stay with me.
And there it is. She wants me to have the kind of flexibility that allows me to pop into her classroom and surprise her. To bring her class cupcakes, Cheetos and goodie bags for the afternoon snack celebrating her birthday. To squeeze myself into an elf-sized chair next to her. To watch as she feigns shyness at her class Christmas performance.
She wants me to be a stay-at-home mom and not the more-than-full-time career woman that journalism demands. This is a conflict I know well, having first experienced it when she was 5 months old, and I resumed my career.
I still strive for the perfect balance between being a mom and a manager. I go on because that is what strong women and men do.
For now, I wake up well before dawn, nurse my boys, put them in the minivan with my husband and send them off. I spend a few minutes with a breast pump and then ready myself before I wake up my girl.
• • •
The next time she asks why I work away from home, I will tell her that Mommy works to pay for the minivan, her pricey preschool and karate lessons. I will negotiate mommy guilt.
All day long, I will put my heart into a career I enjoy while keeping an eye on the clock, counting the hours. I will endeavor to leave early some days and, when I do, wish I had a way to fly over the traffic that crawls along I-75 and foils my attempt to be home in time for dinner.
I will pray the boys are still awake with enough energy to smile or giggle when I pull into the garage.
I will watch Dora with my girl, give her a bath, read her a good-night story and tuck her in tight.
One day, I will tell her my decision to go back to work was about more than the mortgage and her college fund. One day, maybe I will confess that the thought of being a stay-at-home mom was as tempting as it was scary. (It really is the hardest job.)
I will tell her and my boys that I wanted it all and my desire to work outside the home did not diminish my love for them.
Until then, I will summon strength. Especially when the sitter tells me my boys rolled over for the first time, said their first words or took steps. I will smile and hug my children tightly.
And I am certain there will be times when I will twist my mouth into a frown, swallow slowly and blink back tears the size of raisins.
Sherri Day, editor of the Brandon and South Shore Times, can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2440.