My son’s first word was “Da-da.” I loved it. Though I secretly wished it had been “Mama” instead, I knew how much it meant to my husband and thought—it’s OK, I’ll get the next one.
Well, today my little girl said her first word to me. I was about to head out to work, she was being held by the au pair, and she smiled at me and said, “Bye-bye.”
Our wonderful au pair was incredibly excited. Had I heard it? Wasn’t that great? Can you believe it?!
I heard it.
While my brain wanted to rejoice in the excitement of the moment, my breaking heart won and a few tears lightly ran down my cheek.
I heard it. My daughter’s first word was “bye-bye.”
I spent that car ride replaying all of my daily goodbyes and realizing it was in fact the most routinely spoken word I offer her. Of course I love her and tell her that often. We sing songs, read books, and as I wake up with her every night, throughout the night, I whisper how wonderful she is. But then it happens—the rest of the world wakes up, I get dressed and ready, I kiss her, I smile, and I say, “Bye-bye.” I’m a rabbi, off trying to make the world a better place and help people find meaning in their lives. This kind of work often takes long hours every day. By the time I return home, she’s already asleep, so she rarely hears my hellos.
Let me be clear—I am proud of the choices I make and the work I do. And though it may keep me very busy and sometimes leave me feeling exhausted, working also makes me a happier, more fulfilled individual and therefore a better mom. I know this. Still, I hear her little goodbye ringing in my ears and a frown creeps across my face.
As a rabbi, part of me wants to sit here and spin the moment into a story and lesson of some kind. What’s the sermon here, I wonder.
I could write about all the wonderful things she will learn from me because I am a strong working woman.
I could write about all the ways I contribute to society and how it makes me proud.
I could write about the importance of having good childcare and how wonderful it is that she can send me off with a smile.
The problem is—all I really want to do is cry.
Sometimes being a working parent is tough. Saying that out loud doesn’t make me a failure. It doesn’t make me any less of a feminist or less of a professional. So I’m writing this note to all the working parents out there—for everyone who loves their children and their job. Even when we have it all together, even when we are proud of how we balance all of the competing demands for our time and attention, even when we know we are both good professionals and good parents—it is OK to admit that sometimes it’s hard.
So her first word was “bye-bye” and I temporarily felt like a failure. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. There will be other moments, other opportunities. I will have plenty of chances to shower her with love and to teach her as I watch her grow. So it’s hard, but it’s OK. I’ll get the next one.