Free flight to the US paid for by work? As a recent expat, there should have been no question, but as a mom of two, I paused. I told my husband about the opportunity, already ready not to go, but he told me I should do it. “Go for a week!” he said, encouragement I am sure he will regret the instant Maya poops in her panties (but I was in the bathroom, she says!) while Aviv is climbing the walls (he actually believes he is Spiderman).
Of course I should go. Not only because it is OK to be away from my kids (right?) but because I have identities other than that of mother—writer, friend, employee, daughter. Daughter. When deciding whether to go, I immediately felt the Mom Guilt, the nagging reminder that I should pick my kids up from daycare, that I should make their breakfasts, and that I should kiss them goodnight. But I have Daughter Guilt as well.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. The cancer was an early stage and after one surgery she was cancer-free. What we didn’t expect, and what no one prepared us for, was the fact that her recovery would take two years (and is still ongoing) and would include feeding tubes, additional surgeries, and 23 visits to the ER in 25 months.
When she was diagnosed, my son was 2 and my daughter just 6 months old. Fortunately, my entire family lived within minutes of each other and the best hospitals in Boston, creating a strong support system for my mom and for ourselves. That changed this spring, though, when my husband and I moved to Israel with our children. Our decision to move was a long time coming and predated even her diagnosis, but leaving my parents was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
People ask me all the time if life in Israel is harder. My answer is simple: Raising two small kids anywhere is hard. This is a hard stage for endless reasons. Does the security situation make it harder? Sure. Random stabbings on the street do not increase feelings of happiness or safety. The current challenge I face can easily be imbued with these issues but in truth, it is much more barefaced. I want to be in two places at once. I want to be everything to everyone. The allegiance and love I feel for my mom is unwavering. The relationship we have is unique; it is honest and raw, based on love and mutual understanding. Was I a complete asshole to her for a few years, all of which ended in teen? Absolutely. But I atoned, and we have moved forward.
And now, she faces her greatest challenge yet, and I am a world away. I speak with her every day for as long as she can, either by phone or by video, and for the most part she tells it like it is. After living just a few minutes from each other for the last three years, we miss each other in a way that is palpable. I want to be there, to sit with her in the hospital, to make her tea when she is back home, to bring my kids over to make her smile for a few minutes. Instead, I am in Israel balancing a full-time job with playdates, Judo, and potty training. She understands and somehow only manages to tell me how much she misses me every other day in an attempt to minimize my guilt.
This position of needing and wanting to care for my children and my parents is not unique, but it is among the first that I haven’t found a solution for. I am left with guilt on all sides. In order to speak with my mom from the hospital, I often stop building a puzzle with my kids or push off making dinner. If I want to tell her about the kids, I need to wait until they are asleep, and I barely have energy to pull together amusing stories in an effort to make my mom smile. And even then, I am still so far away.
So I am taking a new approach and not trying to solve it all at once. Instead, I am considering how to manage it little by little. I will go to the US. I will learn how to be away from my kids and give my husband the joy of caring for our children in the hours when they poop and eat intermittently until they fall asleep. I will go relieve my father of anything I can—food shopping, cleaning, laundry—and I will be with my mother. I will thank my brother and sister-in-law in person for the endless protein shakes and hospital visits. And then I will come back to my kids and be a far-away daughter again. Until the next solution.