Today my dear, sweet, firstborn daughter turns 16, and I am away on a business trip. This seems entirely fitting, since I wasn’t around 15 years ago when she took her first steps, either. I was at work in the Newsweek office when my husband called, elated, with the news. I was heartbroken–and furious. Couldn’t he keep pushing her down until I got home?
These days I am much more likely to travel for a girls’ weekend than for work, but from an abandoning-the-kids standpoint, it’s all the same. In my house, it involves leaving “the list.” I have never gone away from home for more than a day or two without leaving my husband (or babysitter, on the rare occasion when we’ve traveled together) a detailed list of instructions, including things some might consider obvious, such as “Bathe kids” or “Make breakfast.” When it comes to child care, nothing is too obvious for my beloved. (For an example of this week’s list, see Sue Away Schedule Feb 16-19. And that’s a relatively straightforward one, given that we’re between sports seasons.) It’s always interesting to come home and see which items haven’t been checked off. Once when I went away, my youngest daughter didn’t take a bath for four days–though in defense of my husband, I’d forgotten to write it on the list.
She was fine, of course, if a little stinky. They always are. And whether or not my husband follows my instruction to “Fete the birthday girl appropriately,” she’ll be fine, too. (We had a mother-daughter lunch-and-shopping celebration earlier this week.) Really, the leaving of the list reflects my guilt more than it does my husband’s ineptitude. No one would ever accuse me of being a control freak, but there is something about leaving the kids–even if it’s for work, and even now that they’re 16, 13 and 8–that makes me want to ensure that things get done, regardless of whether they get done when I’m home. In Tina Fey’s Personal History column, “Confessions of a Juggler,” in this week’s New Yorker, she argues that the worst question you can ask a woman is not how old are you or how much do you weigh, but “How do you juggle it all?” No one knows, of course, because no one ever really does. Something always gets neglected–like an important birthday.
Happy Birthday, baby. I’m sorry I’m not there.