Yesterday evening my son informed me he’d been chosen to play Quidditch at a special all-school Harry Potter-themed assembly scheduled for today. He was bursting with pride – mostly fourth- and fifth-graders had been chosen.
“Only me and one other third grader got picked, Mommy!” (He still calls me Mommy when he’s really happy or scared.)
“You’ll come watch, won’t you, Mommy? It’s going to be so cool!”
My heart dropped to the floor. I have a two-hour conference call scheduled for today. The Quidditch match starts right in the middle of the call. It’s one of those 10-person meetings that’s been rescheduled four times already, time is running short so we must close the deal, and there’s just no good way to bump it.
In other words, I’m going to miss Quidditch.
I spent about ten minutes panicking and staring at my calendar, desperately looking for a solution. And then I realized I simply cannot be in two places at once today. So I took a deep breath (actually, several deep breaths) and told myself it’s going to be OK.
One of the hard truths of parenting is that we cannot be present all the time, for every single thing. Missing stuff is inevitable. And this isn’t just the case for working parents. My friend L missed her daughter’s first steps when she was out to dinner with her husband on a Saturday evening. My friend S missed her daughter’s dance recital because it conflicted with her son’s playoff soccer game. And yes, my friend K missed her preschooler’s spring play because she was on a business trip. Sometimes work is the culprit, and we can’t always solve for that.
I am missing the assembly. At some point you will miss an important event.
The good news is this will all be OK. We’re going to be OK, and our kids are going to be OK. (I am saying this to myself over and over, on a loop this morning.) Yes, today the guilt threatens to overwhelm me, but I’m trying to swallow it, because (a) guilt is pointless, and (b) if I don’t let it go, it will only make things worse for both me and my son. Kids can sense guilt on us – I believe that completely. I won’t weigh him down by letting him feel my guilt.
Plus sometimes creative solutions exist, and we can attend a rehearsal rather than the actual event, or send another adult in our stead to take pictures and cheer for our kids. In my case, my mom (aka world’s best Grammy) cheerfully agreed to attend in my stead and snap approximately one million iPhone photos.
But when we’re stuck in a conflict with no good workaround, here’s a truth: we are teaching our kids resilience and independence when we let them do things alone. We won’t always be there to cheer for them or validate the experience for them, especially not as they get older. By allowing them to enjoy the event with just the other people participating, we teach them to value the moment independently. And that’s an amazing life skill, particularly in our social-media-everything, instant gratification and validation world.
When my son and I are both home tonight, I will have him tell me every single detail about the planned match (including all the “secrets”, like how the principal is going to play Lord Voldemort and freeze everyone with a spell in the middle of the game!). I will listen closely as he talks, my iPhone stashed in another room where it can’t interrupt us. I will take it all in, and he will know my focus is only on him. If I am lucky, he will hold my hand while he talks. And this will have to be good enough.
This one hurts a little; I freely admit it. But no one ever said this parenting thing was for the faint of heart. I’m trying the best I can, and I know you’re doing the same. Hugs and high fives to all of us.