I went to a workshop tonight. Or really more of a support group. It was a group of woman who, like me, are struggling with the “empty nest” and trying to reacquaint ourselves with ourselves. We talked, we listened, we grieved together. It was wonderful, empowering and profoundly validating for me. And it helped me to understand one more piece of the puzzle that defines this time of transition.
When my children were little ones, I had to leave them with various “sitters” and “daycare providers” while I went to work. It was never an option for me to stay home to be a “full time Mom” (a label which still makes me feel sick to my stomach, as I wonder about whether I gave up my role as Mother while I worked to provide for my children). Work was necessary, and I went and did it. The fact that I enjoyed it, and did it well, is simply an aside.
But the whole time that I worked, leaving my babies in the care of others, I was racked with guilt, anxiety and an intense desire to be home with them. I remember feeling a pain like death when my middle child, at the age of about 18 months, walked from room to room one Saturday, opening closet doors and calling for “Nella”, his lovely day care teacher. I remember realizing that Julie, my best friend in town and the babysitter for my kindergartener, was spending more waking hours with my little boy than I was. I remember how furious I was at her, and how jealous and how very, very sad.
So now, as my children have grown and moved on, out of my house, I realize that the depth of my sadness may be linked to those many years of getting them up from bed, speeding them through breakfast, and rushing them off to daycare. I remember barking orders, “Get dressed right now!! Finish that toast! Come here and get your inhaler!” I remember “Shut off that TV” and “Hurry, get in the car!” I remember mornings where one or the other asked to stay home, and I remember how sharply I replied. I remember, so very well, entering the daycare, and dropping off kids, baby bags, bottles and diapers and a change of shoes. And giving a quick kiss goodbye so that I could hop in the car and rush, rush, rush myself to school to nurture other people’s children for the day.
And I also remember, with a yearning that I cannot begin to describe, the feeling that I had each day, leaving work behind, and rushing, rushing rushing homeward, to hold them, and feed them and rock them and tuck them so softly into bed. I remember the joy of the Friday before vacation, and the giddiness that I felt knowing that for 9 or 11 or 13 days I could wait for them to wake naturally from sleep. That I could make pancakes, and take all the time in the world to watch them eat. That we could stay in our pajamas all day, watching movies and eating buttery popcorn, and laughing over nothing.
So tonight I began to wonder; do those “full time Moms”, the ones who never had to hand a crying child to another woman for the day, do those women feel the same depth of sadness that I do as those children grow up and leave us? Or is part of this present sorrow an echo of that sense of loss and guilt that I felt as I left my babies behind on my way to earn a living?