I looked in horror as I entered the date of my son's preschool farm field trip on the calendar. It conflicted with one of the few days I had to go to work to teach the class I split with the department head. I honestly thought there had to be some sort of mistake with the dates and times of the field trip. How could I honestly miss a field trip? To the farm?! I started to play Tetris with my blocks of time to see if I could find a way to make it work. Short of human cloning, I logistically could not make it.
I thought about asking my boss to switch the days we co-taught, but he had already been understanding when I had to leave early on the first day of class so I could make it to Thomas's first day of preschool; I didn't want to push it.
I finally had to admit defeat.
For the first time in the two years that I had gradually re-entered the workforce, I truly realized that I no longer was an official, full-time stay-at-home mom.
When I became a mom nearly seven years ago, I knew in my heart that I did not want to return to junior high and teach English. At first, committing to being a stay-at-home mom felt like a giant relief; I didn't need to figure out how I was going to be at work and take my daughter to physical therapy sessions and doctor appointments.
After my son was born, almost three years later, the stay-at-home mom grind started to wear me down. The Disney Junior station was on a continuous loop. My adult conversations revolved around sleep training and preschool readiness activities. I felt restless and agitated, like I was craving to do something separate from being a mom. But a giant pit would form in my stomach when I entertained the idea of going back to a traditional classroom. I would need a work-at-home job; a job that the kids would never miss me. I could be at the bus stop, be home on snow days, volunteer and go on field trips.
I was nervous when I landed a job teaching social media strategy at a business college on Wednesday nights, but also ecstatic. I did most of my work from home and got a break from the nighttime routine with the kids. "Erin, you have given up a lot to support my career and take care of our family. I want to help you do this," said my husband.
Soon, my job evolved into an online course that required me to never go into the classroom, and then again when the school added a morning on-ground course that I would split with another teacher. I only had to be gone five mornings in a 10-week period. I still thought I had the Holy Grail of stay-at-home mom jobs
Harrington had been more than happy to take the kids to the bus stop and pack lunches on the mornings that I had to make the one-hour commute. He was excited to finally have enough flexibility and control over his schedule that he could be more involved in the daily child-rearing duties.
Everything was clicking right along until work and Thomas's first field trip in a new school fell on that random Friday.
Field trips had been exclusively my territory. Within the seven years that I had become a mom, my husband had never handled family business during daytime hours. No doctor appointments. No field trips. No volunteering in the classroom. It was always me. Missing this field trip spoke to me more loudly than the piles of laundry that I failed to fold or the orange juice that I forgot to buy.
I tried to make my peace with the fact that working had not been as seamless as I had anticipated. I could not do it all, which was a bitter pill for me to swallow.
On that morning, as I trudged along with the rush hour traffic, I felt overwhelmed with sadness that I was missing the field trip. What kind of mom would not be there on the farm field trip?! I realized that this was maternal gatekeeping at its best. I was extremely territorial in many aspects of child-rearing because I had assumed I would be a stay-at-home mom forever. I knew in order for me to Lean In to this new venture then I was going to have to let Harrington, you know, the father of our children, be a apart of taking care of the kids. For the record, he was elated to go to his first field trip; the gate had been lifted, and he had had a chance to see Thomas in a new setting and interacting with his friends.
See this smile? Thomas was excited that his dad was with him.
Mom's missing? Hm, I didn't even notice.
I think part of me will always identify myself as a stay-at-home mom. The day-to-day joys of bearing witness to every milestone will forever be engrained within me. I will also never forget the daily challenges of being present for my children while my goals were sidelined.
Because my evolution from being a stay-at-home mom to a work-at-home mom was gradual, I never felt that I had a defining moment of transition. I do think that missing Thomas's field trip was my moment of truth.
My ego still struggles with relinquishing my mom territory because, in a way, I am still a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I work flexible hours from my home office, but I still volunteer in the classroom. The flexibility, the number one factor in my work-from-home equation, tricks me into thinking I can be everywhere with everyone.
But that's an impossible standard to meet, regardless of a working situation. In order to maintain my job flexibility, I need to give up my maternal gatekeeper keys along with my guilt. I will take comfort in the fact that the world will keep spinning without me, as their dad packs lunches and kisses them goodbye at the bus stop.
Do you ever feel guilty for missing your kids' events or field trips? How do you deal with it?
*A version of this appeared previously on Mommy on the Spot.
Erin Janda Rawlings is mom, a wife, and creator of the blog Mommy on the Spot. She is also a freelance writer and an adjunct professor at Walsh College where she teaches the course Social Media Strategy for Business. Erin also works for Hay There Social Media.