It’s my daughter’s first school swimming carnival and I don’t know what to do. I work full-time. I have three kids, all of whom are now at school. Which means a large number of sports carnivals and concerts and parent-teacher meetings and open days and soccer/cricket games and drop-offs and pick-ups.
Add to that the inordinate amount of school holidays they seem to get and most days I’m faced with the same problem as every working parent: how do I clone myself so I can be in several places at once?
And because bloody Science has not yet sorted out the cloning thing except for Dolly the sheep which, frankly, I think was a waste of cloning because how busy are sheep anyway, I was forced to turned to Facebook for advice.
If by advice you mean sympathy which is really what I was looking for. My girlfriends and I do this a lot. We pose “what shall I do?” questions that are actually a plea for permission to skip something we want to get out of because we’ve stretched ourselves too thin.
I wanted permission. Because the swimming carnival goes from 9-3pm and there’s only so much time I can take off work. So I wrote this:
OK, I accept that perhaps I didn’t word that very well. I accept that it could have been interpreted to mean I didn’t want to go because she wasn’t going to win.
My bad. What I meant was that swimming is not one of my daughter’s passions. It’s not a big deal in our family and it’s compulsory for all the kids to swim in two races. So it’s not like it’s something she’s trained for or has even elected to do.
Misunderstandings aside, I was mildly stung by the avalanche of criticism that poured in. Criticism like this:
There were other more nuanced responses too among the 497 comments that were left on my post in just a couple of hours. But naturally, the more extreme ones left a deeper impression, triggering simultaneous feelings of guilt and defiance.
Inside my brain, the noise went something like this:
Me: I really don’t want to go. I can’t go! It’s a whole day!
Me: You know how much she hates swimming. She’s going to be so nervous. You should be there.
Me: But I can’t go to everything! She has to learn that. Surely not all the parents are going to be there. Lots of mums work. She has to understand that I work.
Me: You work for yourself! And it’s not like you’re a brain surgeon and someone could die if you leave the office for a few hours.
Me: I know what I do isn’t a matter of life and death but I do have a team of people who look to me for leadership and depend on me being there. When I’m out of the office, their jobs are more difficult. I’m already working very reduced office hours so I can leave early to pick the kids up from school. As an employer, you still have responsibilities and Mondays are the busiest day of the week.
Me: But it would mean so much if you were there. Don’t make this about teaching her a lesson. She’s just a little girl.
Me: I go to all her concerts and soccer games. All of them! I can’t go to everything. She doesn’t even like swimming.
Me: Exactly. She needs you more if she’s feeling vulnerable about having to swim 50m. That’s a long way.
Me: I know it is but what about building resilience? My friend Kate insists that kids don’t need an audience every time they compete or do something and I think she’s right.
Me: Imagine the big smile on her face if you were there…..
Me: Shut up.
Me: No you shut up.
Basically put that ping-pong exchange on an endless loop for two weeks and you’ve got my headspace. Nightmare – albeit in a very first-world problem kind of a way, I know. I realise I am lucky to even be angsting about whether or not to go to the swimming carnival. Most working parents do not have the flexibility of working for themselves. Most working parents do not have that choice.
But – and I realise this is a very precious thing to say – I kind of wish I didn’t have a choice on this occasion. The choice makes it harder because I have to choose a choice and I’m a Libra and bloody hell.