Working Mom’s Lament

My eyes fly open, and I sit up. I look at the clock and curse. 2 AM. I’ve been asleep only for 4 hours. The only sound in the room comes from the monitor from which I can hear Daniel’s wheezing and coughing, sounds so weird that it seems he is almost speaking in tongues.

I listen to his labored breathing and hope he’s better by 7AM because I need to go to work for a two-day workshop after two sick days at home. Unable to go back to sleep, I surf on my iPhone, visiting blogs and trashy celebrity gossip sites.

My alarm goes off, and I stumble to the shower to start getting ready. Daniel wakes up, and I get him from his room. His forehead is hot, and his face is flushed and puffy. He’s whiny and crying, “Momma, hold me” while I kiss and hug him and turn on Super Why so I can finish getting ready. He begins to cry, and my heart breaks. He should stay home today. I should stay home today with him. Finally ready to go, I put on his jacket over his cozy footie pajamas and feel grateful that he is going to his grandmother’s house where I know my sick boy will receive lots of cuddles and hugs.

At work I make his doctor’s appointment, booking the only available time, a time that of course is the most inconvenient one. I exhale, pull myself together and go to my workshop, prepared to razzle and dazzle despite sounding like I swallowed a frog and having a scratchy throat and throbbing head. Calm and focused on the outside, twitchy on the inside as I await the verdict from the doctor’s office: an ear infection. I immediately replay the last 4 days in my head, searching for any clue that would have told me Daniel had an ear infection instead of letting him suffer longer than necessary.

Class over, I head to the required evening dinner and working session, checking in with Jimmy. Daniel is miserable: no nap, feverish, needy and clingy. He won’t eat or drink anything. Guilt, today’s constant companion, waves hello. I should go home. A good mother would go home. Previous generations of women fought hard so I could sit at that table and think about being at home. Should, should should. Always should.

The moment I swallow the last bite of braised lamb shank (while Jimmy is eating leftovers if he has even eaten at all), I make my excuses and fly. I race home, but I’m too late: Daniel is already in bed. Jimmy and I chat about the evening and how pitiful Daniel was. No longer racing anywhere, I slump, my body reminding me I’ve been awake since 2AM.

I get ready for bed and wonder why I do this routine each and every day. Why I go to work. I have good days during which I accomplish a lot and make a difference:  I’m queen of the world.  I have bad days during which I feel tied in knots and tripped up by processes and people, making no progress and feeling like it is impossible to make even the smallest impact.  On those days I resemble that poor guy in Munch’s The Scream painting.  He looks like he might understand the special hell that is working with bureaucracy.

Birth and death and sickness and health and change and carpet beetles cycle around and around. Lately I feel like I’m constantly moving and running and getting nowhere, especially during times like this. Exhausted, I wonder why I bother. I gave up ambitions of setting the world on fire years ago; I’m just a rat in a cage.

I go to bed, thankful that the breathing coming from the monitor is smoother and less labored than the night before.

Four hours later, my eyes pop open. It’s 2AM. Time to do it all over again.


  1. I’ve got almost this identical post sitting in my dashboard right now– without the sick babies. I feel most days like I never stop working yet I never get anything done. I’m not sure what the answer is.

  2. I am so sorry he’s sick, and this sounds incredibly tough. I always think of you when I hear jobs in manufacturing are coming back to the US. In my mind, you are the one making it happen. That probably sounds silly. But it seems to me your job is very important!

  3. Amen! I don’t know a single working mother who has not expressed the same frustration, guilt, and exhaustion. I’m with Katie. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know from experience that being exhausted doesn’t help. Rest this weekend and take care of your sweet baby boy. Maybe Monday will feel better.

  4. Wow. This post captures so much so well.

    I LOVE this line:
    “Previous generations of women fought hard so I could sit at that table and think about being at home.”

    I am not even a working mom and yet I empathize fully because it is exactly this reality that frightens me most about re-entering the workplace.

    I wish it were easier. I hope that Daniel feels much better soon – and you can get some much needed rest.

  5. Such a well written post. I wonder the same thing all the time and remember that my work does pay for tuition, vacations, and not worrying too much about money. But then on a day when one of the kids desperately just needs mommy and she’s too busy working I wonder if its all worth it.

    I hope your son feels better soon!

  6. Here from Mel’s roundup, and so glad to find your blog. I love this post – so much of your day sounds like my day, right down to the use of PBS to enable getting dressed. I know ear infections all too well, and I hope Daniel feels much better very, very soon. I hope that things look up & that you can catch your breath soon.

  7. Also here from the roundup, which I was reading because I pinged awake as my brain is still on the treadmill you describe though it’s Saturday when I don’t have to be anywhere. I can here my toddler daughter wheezing & coughing also. I am wondering how I will get her to the doctor also. I know the relentlessness and the queen of the world feeling too. I hope that Daniel gets better quickly and that you catch a break soon too. It’s a scenario playing out everywhere but for me staying at home (the thing others suggest if I express frustration) is not the answer, don’t ask me what is!

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