We don’t get to hang out much anymore, my kids and I, now that I’m working in Tel Aviv four days a week for a dynamic and engaging digital media agency.
After taking a long hard look at our finances – not to mention the fact that I was going batshit crazy riding around in circles on the kibbutz – I decided to look for a fulltime job.
I emailed my resume to some interesting companies, hit “refresh” about a thousand times a day, and felt flushed with cheery optimism when I received a few replies. It turns out that while writers like me are a dime-a-dozen in the United States, we’re kind of a commodity in Israel, and it’s nice to feel wanted.
I borrowed grownup clothes from a friend on the kibbutz. I rode the shuttle in a flurry of nervous optimism. I arrived three hours ahead of schedule and drank two lattes. And when I received an offer from an exciting job at a digital media company in Tel Aviv, I said yes.
“What about your kids?” B asked.
“Just because I have a uterus doesn’t mean I can’t be the primary breadwinner,” I replied.
And I love my job: from the morning commute on the crowded train where I inevitably become intimately acquainted with someone’s armpit or (if I’m lucky) chest hair, to the bus ride from the train station to my office with my expat friend from NYC, to the people I work with and the coffee we drink, to the sound of my high heel hooker boots hitting the pavement of a bustling city, to just being the F away from the kibbutz, to the adrenaline rush that comes with doing something that involves every electrode in my brain, to the thrill of learning, always learning.
I am more myself than I’ve been in a long time.
I also know that my kids are fine – their father works as a freelance web developer, and their savta lives nearby.
But I feel like I shouldn’t be ok with it.
“Don’t you miss your kids?” several mothers have asked me.
The thing is, I don’t.
There are some nights when I get home and they’re already asleep. And when I open the door and step over a mass graveyard of stuffed animals and building blocks into the sudden stillness of a slumbering house, I am flooded with relief.
“Thank God they’re sleeping,” I sigh.
It makes me sad that I feel this way.
Before having kids, all I ever wanted to do was be a mother and stay home with my children. And now? Been there, done that, now go the fuck to sleep.
But when I tiptoe into their bedroom and look at M curled up in her bed, her curls matted against her flushed cheek, and Little Homie on his belly with his butt in the air like frog, I feel guilt rise like bile in my throat because I don’t miss them as much as I thought I would.
“You are all I ever wanted,” I whisper into the darkness. And still, I’m ok with not being around so much anymore.
It’s amazing how fast people can adjust, and our family is getting used to this new normal. B is a terrific father, and the kids are happy. When they fall down and scrape their knee, I’m no longer the default. He is. And he does a great job. And I’m ok with it. And then, because these changes don’t phase me, I feel guilt press its strong fingers into the soft spot right above my belly button – a souvenir from two pregnancies that tore my muscles down the middle, a place still tender to the touch, even if it’s only my imagination that makes me twinge.
And I’m ok with that, too.
Because still, in the middle of the night, when they wake up – and they always do – I’m there. And they want me. And I want to be with them.
It’s not enough though, because I know that tiny changes add up in the day to day moments that I miss – and over the weekends when I’m with my kids, the differences take my breath away. They’re so big, my babies. Their knees, once dimpled, have become strong and sturdy. They run and play and push and pull and drink make-believe coffee and read stories to each other. I look at them and hardly know them as my own.
And yet, I feel like this new normal forces me to appreciate the moments we have together. When I’m home with my kids, I’m not on my smartphone looking for escape. I’m not counting the minutes until B comes to take over so I can get a break. So maybe that’s why I can be ok with these changes. Maybe being away from my kids makes me a better mother.
Or maybe that’s just bullshit wrapped in a hackneyed life lesson. I don’t know.
But I do know this: I love my kids. But I love myself, too. And right now, working outside the house has made me happier than I’ve been in a very long time. And so that’s what I’ll do. I’ll wake up early, come home late, and leave the laptop untouched on the weekends.
And maybe it’s enough. Or not. But it’s ok for now.