I hear them before I see them — the 8-year-old, followed by the 5-year-old — as they clomp up the stairs that lead to my office. They knock (when they remember), then in they come, dropping their backpacks at my feet like an offering. If I’m on the phone, they shush loudly at each other until I hang up. When I’m finally theirs, they fill my lap with a jumble of artwork and homework and memos from the P.T.A. I give hugs and praise and savor whatever nuggets they offer up about their day. All this serves to postpone, but never prevent, the final part of the ritual. The part where I notice the time, tell them I love them, then boot them out.
Being a working parent — in my case, a journalist — means having at least one moment of the day when you push your children away. Because guilt is an equal-opportunity companion, there is a version of that moment to suit any frenetic schedule: early in the morning, when you tiptoe out before they even wake up; during the late-day phone call home, a call that you you really don’t have time for because your 4 o’clock meeting has begun; between dinner and bedtime (assuming you made it home for either), when you have to read a hefty brief instead of Harry Potter.
And then there are the business trips — the mother lodes (parent lodes?) of conflicted moments. I was quite the sight in the Philippines last winter, wandering among ramshackle jungle huts in search of a phone because it was 8 P.M. in New York and I had promised I would call in time to say good night. (I never did find one. I did penance with extra presents.) I topped that during one ugly moment in the Atlanta airport when the airline gave away my seat on the last flight out, meaning I would not have been home when my children woke up on Thanksgiving morning. (I threatened to walk through the security door to board the plane anyway; a seat was somehow found for me on another carrier.) READ MORE