Even though I’m older now and have started a family of my own, I know you still feel guilty at times that you couldn’t stay home with me when I was little. Because I have the extreme good fortune to be a stay-at-home mom, you are often reminded of something you consider your shortcoming as a mother; when I ping your inbox with a picture of an aquarium trip or a picnic in the park at 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, I know you might wish you had that time back to do it all over. But I want to tell you something that I’ve always felt but never said: it’s OK that you didn’t stay home with me.
Because you worked, you gave me an ease with the unfamiliar that I may never have learned had you been by my side every moment of every day. You always loved to tell people about how well I adapted to new situations, about the fact that I would approach other kids at school and ask very directly if they wanted to be my friend. I gained that boldness because you gave me the independence to find my own way in the world.
Because you worked, I learned about what work-life balance looked like in practice. No, you didn’t let me milk an exaggerated illness to stay home from school or whisk me out of math class to go to the beach on a Friday, but you were there every single time I needed you to deliver a book report left on the kitchen counter or sit in the stands while I ran a 25 second race in a track meet that stretched across the better part of an afternoon. Just because you worked doesn’t mean you missed out on my childhood; you were there in the foreground of all my most significant milestones, your job always less important than the things that were important to me.
Because you worked, my childhood is stocked with memories of ice cream cones on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, outrageously priced GAP sweatshirts I had to have to fit in at school, tickets to earbleedingly bad concerts and brand new L.L. Bean backpacks with pink embroidered monograms. Because you worked, I was able to attend the college of my dreams and will only be paying off my student loans for the next 30 years instead of the next 60. Since I’m being honest, you should know that I often wrestle with my choice to be a stay-at-home mom, knowing that I may not be able to afford to give my boys the life — and the memories — you gave me.
Because you worked, I was proud that you were my mom. I remember visiting you during the workday, following the colored lines on the hospital floor to the elevator and pushing the #3 for the Accounting wing. Your job seemed so significant to me; you with your very own office, with your own phone that you answered so importantly, expertly discussing cash flow and balance sheets and things I still don’t understand. But when I came to visit, you always reminded me that, above all else, you were still a mom, with snacks hidden in the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet.
Why do I want you to know this now, several decades and two grandchildren later? Maybe because becoming a mother myself has finally made me understand your side of things: the ever-present guilt you feel for each choice you make, always wondering if it’s the wrong one, the one that will change your children’s lives irrevocably. I want you to know that your choice did change my life, but not in the way you always feared. I am who I am because you worked, not in spite of it.
So thank you, Mom. I owe you one.