Allow me to introduce myself: I’m The Worst Mother in the World.
Now, before you start arguing that I am certainly not the worst mother in the world, that surely, other women with uncontrollable tempers and penchants for certain class A narcotics are much more likely to hold that title than I, let me explain that I am not really talking about the World, as in, the seven seas and seven continents, but that I am talking about my world, as in, of the four people living in my house, I am the mother, and therefore the only one capable of being the worst at it.
The reason why I am The Worst Mother in the World is, simply, because I work. Part-time. People often tell me how lucky I am to be able to work part-time, from home, no less – what a great balance I have, how wonderful it is to be able to be there for my kids but to also have something to do with myself, yada, yada, yada – but the truth is, working part time is the surest way to get yourself to Worst Mother in the World-dom, because you can not win. Ever.
Case in point: I’m a writer. I write from home, mostly when my four-year-old daughter is in pre-school, or at night, after she goes to bed. For the purposes of this story, my son, who is eighteen months and doesn’t yet talk in full enough sentences to be able to break my heart into a million little pieces with one precocious observation, doesn’t exist.
Now, as far my daughter is concerned, because she doesn’t ever see me work, I don’t, in her mind, actually work. I drop her off at school every morning, I pick her up every afternoon, I take her to ballet classes, and I sit with her before dinner and do puzzles and art projects and teach her how to write the alphabet. As far as she knows, I have nothing else in my life aside from her. Of course, I’ve shown her my books, and I’ve explained to her that mommy is an author, but to her, working is something that daddy does. Working means picking up a briefcase, leaving for ten hours at a stretch, and getting home just in time to kiss her goodnight.
A few months ago, however, the curtain got pulled back on my little work charade. In a stroke of excellent fortune, one of my books became the basis for a television pilot, and suddenly, I was no longer in control of my work schedule. Suddenly, I was commuting for an hour to Burbank every afternoon for casting sessions, and my nanny was picking my daughter up from school. I was getting home at seven o’clock at night, and I found myself telling her that we would do puzzles and art projects on Saturday. I was sending her to ballet with my mother-in-law. Suddenly, I was Working.
My daughter took it well, or so I thought. I’d drop her off at school in the morning and remind her that Rosa would be picking her up that afternoon, and she’d nod and kiss me goodbye, already engrossed in whatever project the teachers had put out that day. And when I told her that granny was taking her to ballet, she’d say okay, and go back to watching The Doodlebops, or whatever else was on the Disney Channel.
The whole endeavor – from casting to the last day of shooting – took about three months. Some weeks I was gone every day, some weeks it was just a few hours for two or three afternoons a week. But it just happened to be that during those same three months, my daughter’s class was working on the letters of the alphabet.
Each week they learned three different letters, and each week, they were supposed to go home and cut pictures out of magazines that started with those letters, and paste them onto a piece of construction paper.
We made it to the letter C. I was busy with the pilot, my new book was about to be released, the only magazine I get anymore is Allure, and finding appropriate pictures in there was next to impossible (C, C, C, cellulite cream? Chanel?). Besides, she already knew the alphabet and the letter sounds, because we’d been working on them at home, together, for almost a year. So when her teachers didn’t say anything about us not doing the letters, I figured that it was no big deal. The letter Z came and went without comment, and frankly, I forgot about the whole thing.
Cut to: two days ago. The pilot has been over for more than three weeks. I’m totally back to my see-no-working, hear-no-working work routine. Things are just as they’ve always been. I walk into the classroom at the end of the day, and the lead teacher, M., who is Israeli and has the sensitivity of a drill sergeant, strides over to me and says, “Harper tells me that you are too busy to do letters with her.”
What? Just the day before, I spent almost two hours with her while she plowed through an entire phonics workbook. I must have stared at her blankly.
“We reviewed the letters today, and Harper had almost none of them in her folder. When I ask her why, she tells me you are too busy for her.” I can’t explain to M. about Allure magazine and the pilot and the fact that Harper already knows all of her letters. Instead I say, meekly, “I spend time with her all the time.”
But M. just raises her eyebrows, and then moves on to talk to someone else’s mother. There’s no nod of understanding, no “kids can be so silly, sometimes” reassurance, no point, even, for her to have told me the story in the first place. There are, mind you, nineteen other moms who work full-time and have never even seen the inside of that classroom, but whatever. That’s cool.
I walk Harper out to the car, trying to hold back my tears.
“Honey,” I ask, “why did you tell M. that mommy is too busy to do letters with you? Mommy does letters with you all the time.” I can tell she senses that I’m upset, and that she’s trying to think of what the right answer might be.
“I didn’t say that, mommy,” she insists. “I just told M. that I love her. That’s all I said.” Okay, SO not the right answer. I feel the million little pieces of my heart disperse throughout my body. Great, I think. So not only have I cut back on my writing so much during the last four years that I’m on pace to finish my next book around 2019, but now, because of three months of actual, visible work, now I’m too busy to spend time with her, and M. is the one who she loves. That is FABULOUS.
So, you see, I can’t win, and thus, no matter what I do, I will remain, forever, The Worst Mother in the World.