Chart Number 177

July 3, 2015

By Ekta R. Garg

Last week Nine attended cooking camp, Iron Chef style. The students attending the camp were divided into four teams and spent the week reviewing some basic cooking techniques. On Friday each team had to prepare an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert for a team of judges, and the judges would choose one team as a winner.

At one point during the week, when Nine described the menu she and her teammates had planned, she told me how the main camp teacher had offered her some cooking tips. In that moment I felt a decided twinge of envy. How nice, I thought, to have the luxury of worrying about a simple cooking competition and nothing else.

And right there in that moment, I felt the full weight of the sacrifice of parenthood.

***

The longer I’m a parent, the more I realize that parenthood is as much about missing opportunities as anything else. It’s about making a decision to give up something for one’s self in favor of the greater good of the kids or the family overall. Sometimes that sacrifice comes in something small, like sleeping in. Six gets up at the crack of dawn, and more than once I’ve awoken to her large brown eyes peering at my face and brightening when she sees my eyes open.

“Are you going to get up now?” she asks with forthrightness. Her tone isn’t pleading or whiny. It’s riddled with expectation. I’m awake, her tone says, so you should get up too.

Sometimes the sacrifice is bigger. Since the school year has ended and the kids have returned home full force, I can go whole days without even looking at my computer. The result, as you all know, has been late or even missed blog posts. I wake up to Six’s exhortations, and I spend the whole day keeping after the kids, taking care of the house, making decisions small and big that will determine the outcome of the day or the week or the month or even the year.

A whole 10 or 12 hours will go by, and I just look at my laptop with a deep sense of longing as I pass my nightstand.

But that’s the choice you made, my conscience whispers. You decided to sit with the kids while they’re practicing their instruments. You decided to put your writing on hold and wait for them to finish their summer homework so you can be at their beck and call for that homework hour if they need help.

I’ve made the decision to miss an opportunity. Made the decision to put myself last.

***

That doesn’t mean the decision doesn’t chafe. I read online, in books, watch in TV or movies or hear from friends about other women finding amazing opportunities and pursuing them. They found those opportunities because they went looking for them. Every opportunity has its costs, I know. But I can’t help sighing once in a while; it would be nice to go looking for those opportunities for myself.

As a Northwestern alum I receive and read with great interest the university’s alumni magazine. When I found out that Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, also graduated from Northwestern my heart pinched. I’m not a fan of the series by any means, but the books have done well of course. Roth got the kind of grooming an author needs by going through Northwestern’s creative writing program. I would have thrived in a program like that, but I couldn’t take that opportunity. My life, my family obligations and expectations, and other factors took me in a different direction.

Still, the possibilities indie publishing offers emboldened me to take to my computer with a new level of passion, enthusiasm, and intention. And yet when I hear a voice pipe up—“Mamma, I need help with this math problem”; “Mamma, I’m hungry; when’s lunch going to be ready?”; “Mamma, can we paint my nails?”; “Mamma, can we have a play date with [insert friend’s name here]?”…

I hear the voice and I put my own opportunities aside. And I feel envious of the opportunities my children have on a daily basis. Camps. Friends. Running outside to play for an hour. If I go outside and shoot hoops with the kids for that hour, the stove stays cold and at the end of those 60 minutes I have faces staring at me and demanding a meal.

***

Yesterday I took some time to go outside with the kids, though, and in order to encourage Six as she aimed for the hoop with the ball, I mined my memory for some of the cheers I used to do in high school. My kids find it funny that I was a cheerleader, and most people give me a disbelieving smile of amusement when I tell them. At the age of 16 it totally made sense that I put on that uniform and led a group of girls as captain in loud, organized yells to encourage our teams. At the age of 36 people somehow find it difficult to digest.

It took me a few minutes to remember some of the cheers, and as I started calling them out and inserting Six’s name in the right spots I felt like someone else. For a few moments the driveway, the basketball hoop, the trees lining the driveway, all of these things started to blur in front of my vision. I saw, instead, a gym with full bleachers, two teams chasing the ball up and down the lines, and a thick notebook on the floor in front of me with the list of cheers for the night.

It was an opportunity in my teens that I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I miss with pangs of nostalgia tugging at my heart.

“Cheerleaders are so annoying,” Six said good-naturedly, and just like that the driveway, the trees, and my two children materialized. The bleachers, the pom pons, the thick notebook with cheers—they were all gone. And I realized it was dinnertime and I now had to give up the opportunity to play with the kids to go inside and take care of another responsibility.

***

Opportunity. It’s such a precious thing. I make choices every day about the opportunities I’m going to take. I don’t necessarily regret the ones I’m taking, but I do feel myself dragging at times when I think about the ones I miss. I only hope that I can find new ones in the future for myself, all the while showing the kids the value of making those choices.

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