I feel like I'm going to snap. Today at work I remembered how I'd had some ambition of picking Gabriel up from school on Fridays, and how distant and remote and impossible that seems now. School itself feels like a distant and remote world, one so far away from the gray cubicle walls, fluorescent light, and relative order and dullness of an office.
Then I was struck with a terrible thought. Maybe he'll get so used to being one of the CDC kids that that will become his life, his expectation, what he looks forward to after school -- not hanging around home with his mother. That will happen in all too few years anyway.
What if he doesn't want me to pick him up anymore?
I couldn't get that out of my head all day, and struggled not to cry when lulls in work let my heavy heart pull my thoughts back to my son. I couldn't feel as sad about Julian and Katrina, a preschooler and a baby who you'd think would need me more than an ultra-independent kindergartner, but was too sad about Gabriel to spin into my usual guilt cycle about the other two. There's plenty of time for that.
Maybe it's me who needs Gabriel more. We have such a history together, we've been through so much already together in his short life. Full-time momming is such a challenging, frustrating, hard thing to do, and its rewards are short, infrequent, and unpredictable. But those rewards are deeply felt ones. Seeing Gabriel's face light up happily when he saw me outside his classroom, and having him run to me with outstretched arms, is one of those wonderful joyful moments that make it all worth it. It was all I could do not to watch the clock during a meeting this afternoon, and then not burst into tears when I saw it was 2:45pm.
I wish I knew why this, of all things, is hitting me so hard now. I'm getting up to speed at work, which is one essential component to getting a grip on this work/home balance that so escapes me. That's good, it brings me closer to the obvious solution of cutting back on my hours -- easy enough to do with this flexible work and contract. But perversely, it's the very flexibility of this job that makes me not want to jeopardize it by not being productive enough yet, so I feel compelled to work every possible minute.
That is, unless some other essential interest gets in the way. To my great surprise, one problem that's been handily solved is how to fit in exercise. There's a trail about 3/4 of a mile from the office and a shower at work -- in just over an hour, I can fit in a run and the day's shower, with no overhead of going anywhere. The run gives me a crucial energy boost, and greatly improves my outlook on life, even today. I had a great time running with my iPod, going fast and feeling strong. Something has to give, but running and exercising isn't it. It can't be, or I really will snap.
The part I struggle with the most is the afternoons. The mornings, to my surprise, are pretty good. Though I'm a true-blue night owl, I actually don't mind leaping out of bed at 6:30am and whisking a pajama'd unfed baby into the car and zooming away into the sunrise. It's almost a personal challenge to beat the traffic (and today I left at 7:10, and there was a noticeable increase in traffic from yesterday's 6:59am departure), and I like getting to work when it's nice and quiet and getting a great parking spot. But I have to fix the afternoons, starting with my own irrational compulsion to work until 4pm. That's just too late.
One minor tweak in the afternoon rush worked well though: after picking up Katrina, I picked Gabriel up next. Then I left Katrina in the car with her protective older brother in the small parking lot right in front of Julian's preschool, which made it much easier to quickly run in and get Julian, and feel that she was safe. I can see the car the whole time, and if any adult pokes his head in, Gabriel is old enough to explain before they call CPS on me. Julian, I can still picture saying, "I don't know where my Mommy is, she left!"
Tonight I talked to Gabriel about picking him up from school. I asked him if he has fun playing outside with other kids after school, and he said "Yeah, I do!" Then I asked if he still wanted me to pick him up, almost afraid of the answer. But he said sincerely, "yeah Mom I still wish you'd pick me up from school." I said, "But you like playing with your friends afterward, right?" and he said, "Yeah, but I like it when you pick me up better." And he gave me his warm bony hug.
Such a kid. No wonder I miss him so much.