9 to 5. But Not Really.

So yesterday, I had to pick up Charlotte early. Apparently, whatever had been bugging her wasn’t done making her miserable.

I got The Call from her teacher and was informed that my girl had been crying all morning—with the exception of water day, because, as her teacher noted, “She loves water. Nothing will stop her from water.” It’s true. She could have the flu, strep throat, and teething all at once, but she’d still run through a sprinkler in 10-degree weather if given the opportunity.

Charlotte had woken up—for the day—at 4:00 a.m., so I had them put her down for her nap to see if that would sweeten her up. It didn’t. I left around 2:00 to go get her.

I was telecommuting yesterday, so it’s a half-hour drive to Charlotte’s school from home. I hate having to leave work things half-done to go collect my kid—and believe me, I’ve done that A LOT in the past year. About 90% of the time, the kid drama falls to me, the mommy. And as I drove (fast) to pick her up, I had that all too familiar, fighting-back-tears feeling of frustration that whenever Charlotte gets sick, or heck, even cranky, I’m forced to do my job a little less well. To boot, I felt crappy about sending Charlotte to school when she wasn’t up to it. I had thought she was fine that morning, but I was wrong. Not the first time.

Every single time something like this happens, I start flirting with the idea of just STAYING HOME. I won’t—it’s not the best thing for Charlotte (she thrives in the structured, social, jolly atmosphere of school), and it’s not the best thing for our family. A second kid might change this; it might not. But I hate explaining to my boss that I have to leave again and answer rather sly questions of why Chris can’t occasionally handle sick Charlotte. I understand the argument—wifey’s job is just as important, theoretically. But you know what? Chris makes more than me. (More immediately relevant? He has multiple meetings per day. My day is typically much easier to reschedule than his.) If one of us gets canned because of Charlotte, it ought to be me. My pride is not so big that I’m willing to risk that man’s salary (or its future growth) just to make some gendered political point. Mortgages and daycare tuition and retirement goals and college savings accounts have a funny way of making a person swallow her pride and make decisions just based on math.

Of course, all this compromising means I’m the one who has to deal with the fallout, whether it’s at Charlotte’s school or at work or at home. And sometimes, the tug-of-war that falls on Mommy just because she’s the mommy is quite annoying.

So then. As I drove, I tried to distract myself with the radio. Sirius/XM’s country station was promoting Dolly Parton’s new album, so between songs she was telling little anecdotes and such. I adore Dolly Parton—she’s hilarious, brilliant, and talented, despite modeling her entire look and persona off the town whore. Literally. Anyhoo, she talked about “9 to 5,” which is one of my favorite songs ever, and then hooray! They played the song!

I cranked the volume WAY up, and as I listened to the lyrics, I just cracked up. Nine to five? HA! I remembered my strictly 9-to-5 days, but for the life of me, I can’t think of what I did to occupy my time on evenings or during weekends before Charlotte. I guess I worked more. And ran a lot more miles, too. But now? 9 to 5? Try 4 to 7, Charlotte time. Then 7 to 1, work time. Then 1 to 3 drive to pediatrician time. Then 3 to 5 Charlotte time. Then 5 to 6 work time. Then 6 to 7, make dinner and bath for Charlotte time. Then 7 to 10 work time. For that day, at least.

By the time I pulled into the school parking lot, I had brought my life back into perspective (with the help of Dolly). My boss is supportive and she really doesn’t care how my schedule is, so long as work gets done. I’m good at my job. The work gets done. Always. And it gets done quite well. This past year—with lots and lots of illnesses, in addition to our most ambitious production year yet at work—has been hard. But it has also been successful. I have no regrets. I’m very proud of what my tiny department accomplished—we broke several records this year. I’m also moving increasingly over to acquisitions, which is new and exciting. I couldn’t have made that sort of progress even as a freelancer. All of that was done in spite of colds, flu bugs, hospitalizations, and so on.

And I’m a good mom. Sure, I have missteps here and there, but Charlotte is well-cared for, deeply loved, gently but firmly disciplined, entertained with all sorts of silly ridiculousness, and constantly cuddled and snuggled. A year ago, I worked things out with my job to stipulate that Charlotte comes first: no more checking email on weekends, no more page proofs at night, no more dealing with author drama 24/7. No more. And you know what? They supported me. I literally, in writing, on record in HR, put that child first. So what if I sent Charlotte to school before she was ready to go back? I wish I hadn’t, but any parent could have read that one wrong. Besides, it’s not like I sent her to someplace BAD. I had sent her to a wonderful school where her class is only 6 kids large and where the teachers are so tuned into each kid that they notice if she doesn’t eat a typically favorite food or fusses in a strange way—or even if she sleeps in a slightly different-than-usual position.

Everything would be fine. I had proven it over and over again.

Blessedly, for the first time in 5 days, Charlotte slept straight through the night last night, all the way to 6:00 a.m.—her normal wake-up time. She was joyfully adorable this morning, she ate banana chunks (a favorite that she had refused for DAYS), and she seemed truly back to her old self.

So we took her to school today. Grinning, she ran through the door, jumped on a rocking horse, and excitedly plunged into her day. I told the teacher to call me if she fussed.

Guess what? She had a great day and played her little Charlotte heart out.

All is fine.


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