Sometimes, I feel as if things are slipping away. The good things. The things my mind says to hold on to with greedy little fingers. Yet at the end of the day, I'm too tired to have a firm grip on anything other than what I didn't get done.
As the kids get older and more self-sufficient, it becomes easier for me to steal an hour or two from them and work more on this or that or something else. When they don't complain or put up a fight, I steal more time. And then some more.
Then, I started noticing my oldest was acting up. He was being dismissive and rude, and didn't seem to have the time to give me eye contact. My gut told me I was being a hypocrite if I expected him to stop everything he was doing so that he could hear me out if I wouldn't do the same for him if I were busy.
My recourse? I decided to write him a love letter that he could read at his convenience.
It was a Sunday afternoon when he read it. I told him that he was amazing and wonderful and that I was proud of him. I told him that I was wrong for assuming that just because he doesn't ask me to sit next to him to watch some burping, karate, skateboarding show with him, it doesn't mean he wouldn't like having me near. I apologized for having put work first so often and I apologized for not seizing more moments to plant a kiss on his cheek, even if he didn't want it.
I tell you this because I still have the note hanging up in my office, and it's crinkly in parts because my son's tears dotted the page. Once he dried his eyes, he grabbed the nearest Sharpie -- which in retrospect, I know I shouldn't have in a house with children -- and turned my note over on the dining table, writing a love letter back to me.
Behind his back, I cringed, I grimaced, and I bit my fingers because the Sharpie was bleeding through onto my table forevermore ... forevermore ... forevermore. But, I couldn't possibly interrupt him. I was learning, you see, and sometimes lessons hurt, like having your son's glorious name inscribed in black, permanent ink on your mahogany. His note was simple: "I will always love you."
He requested his side of the note be the one displayed in my office because -- get this -- he said that out of the two of us, I'm probably the one who needs to be reminded of this truth more often. Huh, now that I think of it, I think that bit of verity hurts more than my son's name now on the table. In a good way, of course.
I made a decision that day to go on more bike rides with them, play more games, sit longer with them, and say sorry more often because I'm confident I mess up on a daily basis and no parent ever grows up so much to be above an apology.
Then, the other day, my son asked me the multi-million dollar question: Why do you work so much?
As if it were the simplest question in the world, I answered: Because if you want to succeed, you have to work harder than anyone else does, no matter what it takes.
Um, fail Mommy. Epic fail. Did I actually tell my son, a future husband and father, that his work should mean more than his wife and children? I mean, I see the heaping truth behind the rationale, but long ago, I also adhered to the rationale of raising good kids. That may mean I'll save my course of world domination for another season in life. Take, for example, when my kids aren't forming their self-respect based on the amount of time I adjudge them to be worthy of.
I have the great privilege of working beside men and women who are venturing into a part of their lives where their children are grown and gone. The one thing I've never heard any of them say is how they wished they worked more and spent less time with their children when they were still around.
Work is good, work is fine, and work is necessary, but the only thing I want my kids to know I'm obsessed with is them. Now, if you'll excuse me, another round of hide-and-go-seek-tag is about to start in the living room and I need to teach my sons that Mommy takes no prisoners.
-- Heather Ijames is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian. You can send email to her at email@example.com. Next week: Inga Barks.