I'm working on a book that observes the balancing choices today's parents make between home and work. I used to be at one end of the spectrum, when my kids entered grade school, when it came to homework. Their teachers were telling me that this was work they should be able to accomplish on their own, and so I left them to it. But as I stand here today, with daughters in 5th and 7th grades, I am at the other far end of the homework spectrum. It all happened so gradually, so innocently....
I used to go out at night after work. I wasn't just hanging out with friends. I was a reporter new to NYC political circles, and I felt that it was important to get to know people so I could be plugged into what they were thinking and doing. It was also marvelous fun. New York is filled with fascinating characters who love to tell the story of politics as they know it -- both present and recent past. I had a professor in journalism school who used to say that you could walk down the streets of NY and pick up stories off the sidewalk, they were so plentiful. That's how the city in 2003 felt to me.
So, I was out two or three nights a week. But then I noticed that my older daughter wasn't doing so well in school. I thought, perhaps average is her best work. Maybe she's just not a student. But I began coming home more often at night to work with her, starting in about 3rd or 4th grade. It must have been helping, because soon I began to feel a tug in my chest every time I tried to go out and meet my political friends at an event. I became almost physically unable to stay away from home at night. I think other parents will know what I'm talking about.
At the time, I had this big, bald friend named Ray (hi, Ray) who would urge me to attend the events. "You have to get out and listen to what people are saying when they've had a couple of drinks," he told me. Constantly. He was saying this to me two or three times a week. I just couldn't do it. I tried meeting people for breakfast or lunch instead, which worked well enough. It was very hard when I considered that I might not be giving my very best to a job I loved.
Originally, I thought my daughter would need a year's worth of extra help from me, maybe 18 months. Then she would be on the right track. But she's in 7th grade now, and I'm still waiting to feel as if I can jet out on my own at night. It's not even that she needs me so much now. She has made an amazing transformation. She's serious about her work and so far this year has earned all A's (with just one C on an English paper. We'll do better next time!). I have to believe that my "sacrifice" helped her get here. But now her little sister needs the same focused attention from me and her dad. Our nights these days are turned over to homework, no questions asked.
I've even taken a more family-friendly job, and I no longer talk to Ray much. I've heard many of my friends' political tales many times over. But I miss that scene and wonder if I will ever get that kind of a kick from my work again.