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“Mommy, do you have to go to work today?”

Originally Published in The Medical Post, November 10, 2019

As I’ve transitioned from residency to fellowship, from a work day that started at 6:00am to one that starts at 8:00am, I am now home in the mornings when my kids wake up and I honestly can’t decide what I prefer.

 When I would wake up in perpetual darkness and silence, ready myself for work with no distractions and sneak out of the house to avoid waking anyone, I longed for the ability to say “good morning” to my kids.  I wanted nothing more than to sit with them while they ate breakfast, hug and kiss them good bye, and wish them a wonderful day while I was at work.  I had that ever-present mommy guilt for leaving my family to go through the morning routine without me.

 Today, however, I am fully immersed in the morning experience with my children.  I may get an extra hour of sleep, but that time of brushing my teeth in contemplative silence, or enjoying that first sip of home brewed nespresso coffee without the soundtrack of bickering children in the background… well, those moments are long gone.

 Mornings these days don’t need an alarm clock.  Even before my own clock rings, my 3-year-old human alarm greets me at the bedside asking, “Mommy, do you have to go to work today?”  When the answer is “yes” (and 5/7 times it is), she swiftly follows with, “why do you have to go to work?  Can you make pancakes before you go?”  And most recently, “but mommy, I’m sick and I need you to stay home and take care of me…” (She’s not actually sick, but her brothers have taught her that it’s Mommy’s job to take care of sick people)

 It doesn’t take long for the older kids to chime in with their contributions to the question and answer period (usually by this time I am in the washroom trying to get ready, with the door open of course). “Mommy, will you be home before bed-time?”  “Will you be home for dinner?” “Will you take me to swimming club tonight?”  I feel relieved that I can more often answer with a certain “yes” to these questions.  And then I feel thankful that back when the answer always would have been “No” or “I don’t know yet,” there was never an opportunity for those questions to be asked in the morning.

 Some mornings are not always punctuated with enquiries about my plans for the day.  Instead, my kids are engaging in something I can only consider a rioting circus act with the sole intention of boiling my blood before I manage to escape for work.  It’s like they are intentionally trying to make it impossible for me to get my day off to a good start.  It is these mornings especially – the ones where I leave angry and frustrated at my children – when I really miss those morning when I left the three of them lost in their slumber-lands without a hug or kiss or good-bye.  It’s not long after I leave the house that a new kind of working-mom guilt builds up: This time it’s the guilt of leaving my kids with an impression that I’m frustrated with them that they will then carry with them for the rest of the day.

 Just when these stressful, guilt-laden mornings pile high enough to make me wish for the lonely early mornings back, the morning I always dreamed of finally arrives.  Without warning and when least expected, I wake to smiling faces and cuddles in bed, I leave the house with a strong Dr. Mom composure, a steaming coffee in a pretty to-go mug, and three cheek-kissed children waving ecstatically as their confident mother leaves for another day of work.  These mornings are few and precious: I’d be lucky they occur once or twice a month.  However, when they do happen, I have no doubt that the other 20-something days laced with the guilt of being a physician mom seem worth it for those few mornings when I finally feel that I’m doing right by myself and my children.  I get an extra hour of guilt-free sleep, I get to kiss my kids good-bye, and I start my day with a smile on my face.

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