Friday, March 14, 2008

Compendium Of Guilt

My omission was not a serious one. I did not realize that the tardy bell at J's school was rung at 7:50 a.m. instead of 7:55 a.m. She had been working on a project to present to her class all of last week. Today was the big day and she wanted me to drop her off instead of taking the poster on the bus. I watched her climb out of the car and then burst into tears when a teacher told her to get a tardy pass. I felt gripped by guilt for tarnishing what would otherwise have been a perfect day for J. She had worked for days and had even practiced presenting her project.

My child had entered the bowels of the school building crying and I was not allowed follow her there and comfort her. Even so, I went to the front office as fast as I could to see if I could give her a hug to soothe the blow. I called out to her as a woman led her to her class "J ! Its' alright, baby". She turned around briefly surprised to see me and then walked away. There was lingering sadness on her face instead of the big smile that she has whenever I come to her school.

In the grand scheme of things, this incident has no significance and yet for the whole day today, that look of J's face kept coming back to me - each time I wished something about this morning had moved by a minute or an inch, something done left undone or something not done were done - that somehow, I could wipe away the blemish and start over with a clean slate. It is the slate where the whole compendium of my guilt is written. The other way to look at it would be that I have no real problems in life and can therefore afford to agonize over such minutiae.

I realized it was not about the tiny aberration to J's morning routine that was causing me so much grief - I am overextended beyond belief and sometimes like this morning, I make mistakes. I saw this incident as a telling symptom of all that I believe I have failed to give her. A family, a father, a real home, a sense of stability, connection to roots - the list is endless.

Then there are many trivial things - being there at the school bus stop in the afternoons, being able to take time off when school is out, feeding ducks at dusk, not whirling through the days like we were in the spin cycle of a washing machine, reading fairytales on lazy afternoons, remembering to clip her nails on time, being able to take her to dance lessons on Thursday afternoons, remembering to take her to the park at least three times during summer.

The list of things forgotten or never having found time or energy to do is very long and there is the sting of guilt its serpentine trail. Why can't J have at least everything I had as a child and even more is the question that is the most painful to consider. Why should she deserve any less. It does not help that she is a very lovable and accommodating child. J will do better than best to work around my limitations and always with a ready smile. Her demands are so tragically small that it breaks the heart. By being who she is my guilt is magnified that much more.

Had I imagined the life she and I have today when I decided to go solo ? Maybe not. There is a lot about my situation that am deeply grateful for but sometimes it is a like having a roof that leaks only when it rains. You have nothing to complain about on a sunny day when everything goes well. Sometimes during a long summer you actually forget that your roof is in broken and in need of repair. You imagine your world is quite perfect. It is only when you hear the first drop of rain fall that you fear what might follow. You realize then that you have no options. When it does rain, you will be soaked through. Three minutes late to school and a few tears is all it took to exhume all the guilt I have taken so much pain to bury.


Priyamvada_K said...

I know the feeling, lady. I go through what you so eloquently put as the guilt of not giving one's child the life one had.

But then again, think about it. The life we had as children had hardships too. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my parents were very much together. But I don't remember my mother paying that much attention to me. In fact, being the oldest child, I had to step in for whatever my mother didn't have time for. Often I took care of my siblings.

When we were growing up, parents took care of needs: helping with homework (only when we ask), signing report cards, putting food on the table. Other children were the ones that spent time with children.

This whole concept of 'parent spending time with a child' wasn't there before. And don't tell me we were never late to school :-) :-). We survived, and so will J.

Our parents had a much calmer approach and didn't fuss as much as we do. As single parents, our antennas are always up for whatever we think our child is missing. At such times, please give yourself a pat for all that you do as a single parent and for summoning up all the strength you can muster.

I bet you had gone over J's project in detail before sending her off. Please don't beat yourself up trying to imagine the 'perfect' life J would have had if your marriage had survived.

I go through these same feelings, and tell myself the same things I told you. Take care, and here's a big hug for J's mom :-)


ggop said...

This is a moving post. If it makes you feel better, all my working friends feel guilty for keeping their kids in after school daycare way beyond the last class.

J will survive, I know you hold yourself to a higher standard because of the single parent label. But it sounds to me you have invested so much in J's education you have nothing to worry.

At least J does her projects :-)
I had no gift for the arts and frequently palmed off my sewing to my aunt!

Anonymous said...

The post rings true for all us working mothers..single or otherwise. So dont mix both and condemn yourself. When you decided to go single, it was not like you had an option. So don't fret over what could have been. Maybe setting up dates beforehand with her involvement will help you.
if it helps, I have stay-at-home mothers around me..and i dont see even a single parent by the community pond..:>)

H said...

Priya - Thanks for the e-hug :) Even those help ! Thanks also for the perspectives. I think I look back at the past with rose-tinted glasses and things apppear prettier than they were in truth. But sometimes, I just feel overwhelmed. There is such a huge gap between what I want to do for J and what I have the capacity to get done.

ggop - You are right. I raise my bar to be sure that J is not missing out on anything because I am a single parent. Sometimes, it can be a logistical nightmare :) There seems to be a fine line between being a good mother and being obsessive compulsive about being a good mother. I guess the former comes easier to mothers in two parent households. I think I veer more towards the later....

Anonymous - Thanks for stopping by and for your comments ! Maybe working mothers feel way more guilt than they need to. In my own case, I benchmark myself against my own mother who stayed at home, was from a different generation and raised me in a very different time and culture.

Suchi said...

No childhood is perfect, HC.

From what you write you sound like the kind of thoughtful, deep-thinking parent every child should have. Not everyone is this lucky.

Heartcrossings said...

Suchi - Thanks for the affirmation :) I try to give J the best parts of my own childhood mius all the imperfections. Sometimes that becomes a tall order.