She’ll never remember this.
It was 2009 and I had been repeating this mantra manically over the previous week. Every time I dropped off my baby daughter at daycare. Every time she reached for me frantically as I kissed her goodbye. Every time I picked her up at days’ end, already asleep.
At night, my boys would greet me energetically, spilling over with the details of their long day without me. They would each wrap around me to remind me that now that I had come for them, there would be no leaving without them. They were 5 and 3 at the time. And they would remember. Somehow I knew that.
But back then, there seemed to be hope for my 15 month old daughter.
Someone else has been with her all day. Someone else has fed her and put her pajamas on. There is not even enough time to bathe her at night – she just moves straight from the clothes I pushed her into barely awake in the morning to the cozy pajamas I left in her daycare bag, properly laundered and labeled. But she will not remember, I consoled myself.
Most mornings, I would bathe her after pulling her out of her crib half awake – our limited time together punctuated by the shocking sensations of water and soap on her still tired skin, and we frustrated each other as part of our morning ritual as we both inevitably shed more than a few tears.
I moved through these familiar routines that week – the last week – as I had decided to take a leave of absence from my high stress, 60-80 hour work-week as a Manhattan corporate attorney. The reason I worked 60-80 hours is because I worked part-time.
I paced the plush carpets of my Times Square office building on my last day. I stood at my window dictating the final edits of a legal brief, and working out the excruciating details of a complicated settlement agreement on a conference call in another time zone as I stared out at the Empire State Building across town. It was a lovely view. And as I continued working on the bottomless pile of billable work on my desk, I wondered – not for the first time – how much I would miss it all – and it was at that moment that I stopped what I was doing for a moment and audibly gasped:
“She’ll never remember this.“
My boys had been in that Times Square office on countless occasions. Mornings that they awoke with a cough or a fever or just a tremendous case of “I-cannot-leave-you-today-Mommy.” I would bring them to work with me. Check them into the office backup daycare, or sometimes, just sometimes, bring them up to my office, close the door, and set them up in the corner, with coloring pages and crayons. I would work efficiently at my desk, stopping to put my finger up to my lips when the phone would ring: “Shhhhhhh.“
They still remember this.
But not my daughter. Not a moment of it.
And I wonder of course, like any good working mother does, how the tradeoffs, choices and sacrifices I have made have shaped my daughter’s future, her self-esteem, her journey. I wonder this anew on the eve of her fifth birthday, now that I have carved out a professional path that has me working at home and buried in a computer far more often than she would like. Now that I no longer practice law for a living, and now that my daughter learned only recently, from the boys, currently 9 and 7, that “Mommy used to be a lawyer. In the city. It was an important job. But she quit to be with us.”
I take a moment to reflect on what I would want her to remember from those days – if she could – if not the hazy faces of daycare and my 12 hour workdays in the big city, all the way across the river from her and her brothers…
Remember, my darling, that Mommy is smart. You are too. And even though Mommy forgets sometimes and congratulates you for being “SO pretty and SO smart” – it’s much more relevant to be smart. (Oh, and don’t ever pretend that you are not smart. Especially to impress a boy. That’s just, well, dumb.)
Remember, my love, that Mommy likes hard work. It’s a simple truth that hard work is so much more rewarding and yields so much more than it’s evil step-sister – the easy way out. Don’t ever be afraid of hard work, whether it takes the form of 12 hour workdays, stepping up to chair a committee, coordinating a fundraising effort, or the daily chaos that comes with raising three lively children. And even though Mommy forgets sometimes, when the fights and the mess and the chaos cause me to lose my mind, and I yell “I have HAD ENOUGH OF THIS.” It’s ok. I really haven’t.
Remember, my sweet girl, that it is ok to cry. Even though Mommy forgets sometimes and says “PLEASE stop crying RIGHT now.” We come into the world crying – so really, how bad can it be? But remember to save the tears for special occasions. Really happy ones or really sad ones. Not bath time. Crying is not a sign of weakness, but if you forget when it is an appropriate time to cry, your tears might just lose all their (healing) power.
Finally, my dear Grace, remember that Mommy used to be a lawyer.
In the city.
It was an important job.
But I quit to be home with you and your brothers.
It’s the eve of my daughter’s fifth birthday.
She is only 5.
She is already 5.
And she is so going to remember this.