The French toast, of course, was not a big deal. At all. Breakfast foods -- with the possible exception of the authentic New York bagel -- are simply not life-changing. Except in the small ways that they sometimes are.
I made the French toast casserole in the evening, mixing the eggs and cream and brown sugar and vanilla just so, and leaving the leftover bread to soak in it overnight.
And, when I tucked my oldest son into bed, and he told me he was sad about the day coming up, sad that I'd be leaving for work before he'd wake up and not returning until after he was asleep.
"I'll miss you, too," I said. "But I'm leaving something for you. I already fixed a special breakfast."
Our nanny could just pop it in the oven and it would be ready when he woke up and he could have that extra bit of mom love in his belly, giving him energy for the day. It would be like I was with him.
He liked that idea and I did, too.
Somehow, though, in the confusion of our nanny's early morning arrival and my 5:30 am departure, she didn't quite get the message about the French toast. I'd written down and thought I said it out loud as well, but who knows. For whatever reason, it never made it into the oven and the kids had frozen waffles from the toaster, as usual.
Let me be clear here: I adore our nanny. In fact, whenever I daydream about winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, I am always careful to remember to thank her in my acceptance speech. She is a partner in making our lives work.
Still, she is also the other woman in my boys' life. Sometimes, when I tuck them into to bed, I catch a whiff of her scent on them and I am as jealous as any woman betrayed, all the more so because I have let her in. I have given them to her.
My work day, that day, was particularly long. The trains were behind, so I wound up driving all the way from our Wisconsin home to my Chicago office, fighting traffic and exhaustion.
The clients I met with were happy with my work and, yes, I did feel the satisfaction of doing my job well and of being valued. But I also had a random encounter with a friend from years ago, a literal lifetime ago, actually, as she was someone I'd known before any of my children were born. We'd worked together on a resettlement program for refugees coming out of the camps in Sierra Leone, arriving in Chicago - me, as a volunteer, and she, as a young staffer. She was still doing that work, now directing the program. Talking with her, I remembered myself as the person I was back then: THE PERSON WHO DID IMPORTANT THINGS. And, suddenly, the press releases and media plans I'd presented to my clients that morning seemed not only insignificant, but rather contemptible. I leave my kids to come do this?
At least, when I was a journalist, I had a bully pulpit, a place from which I might have somehow made the world better.
But I've given that up, in favor of this entrepreneurial venture that brings in more money in less time, with more flexibility. I gave it up because I just couldn't figure out how to be the kind of journalist I aspired to be while also being the kind of mother I aspired to be.
I consoled myself, of course, with the thought that I'm doing at least half of what I set out to do, mothering my boys in just the right way, making sure that they are confident and secure enough in my unconditional love that they have the courage to be bold adventurers in the world. Even being away from them, had I not left a whole day's worth of love, all set to be warmed up for 40 minutes at 350 degrees?
I came home, then, late that night, to find that the French toast was still sitting, unbaked, in the fridge.
I was, stupidly, angry. And heartbroken.
World? Not improved by me one bit. Kids? Nurtured by Eggo and an hourly employee.
Not a banner day in the life of a working mom. Not an altogether unusual one, either, especially among those of us privileged enough to have a surfeit of choices.
With Mother's Day fast approaching, I realize that it's simply impossible to know how this will all turn out. There's no performance review, no 360 evaluation to tell me what I'm doing well or poorly. I get those things from working with clients, but the project of being my kids' mother has no such structure. We'll just have to wait and see what kind of men they grow up to be. I can't know what they'll be telling their therapists about me, years from now, though it's clear that something will be my fault.
And, so, we just keep going, doing the best we can. And, on Sunday morning, we will all sit down to French toast together.