Every weekday morning at 11:35, I wave goodbye to the driver of the school bus and her special passenger, my daughter, Tamar, on her way to kindergarten. “See you soon,” I call. Four hours later Tamar will return. “How was your day?” I’ll ask then, thinking, “Short, too short,” while I listen to her breathless account.
I was unemployed when Ari, my oldest, entered school, but my days and nights were full. I returned to the workplace a year later. I am an adoption social worker, responsible for assessing those who seek parenthood through this particular journey. Now, during Tamar’s brief absence, I am upstairs in my home office, fingers flying across the keyboard, writing an evaluation.
My clients live throughout the greater New York metropolitan area and beyond. To meet them and see their homes, these houses and apartments with an empty room or a study envisioned as a nursery, I have driven as far east as Island Park and north of Albany. Months and sometimes years later, my mind goes with them as they travel to meet their children and, at last, bring them home. Some will stay within our borders, and others will go to Russia, China, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan. Most governments mandate a follow-up visit after the family’s homecoming to determine how all members are adjusting.
On one such visit, a beaming mother brought her new son into the living room where I sat. “This is Amy,” she said to the baby, cradled peacefully in arms that had ached for so long just to hold him. “She’s your fairy godmother.” It is joyful work.
My days run on fast-forward, and I stretch each one into the next morning. Deadlines must be met, but my children’s needs must not be sacrificed. Years ago, when my son and I were at the kitchen table, a work-related call interrupted our conversation. He said sadly, “Mom, you spend more time helping people have children than you do with your own.” It was his perception and, too often, our reality.
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As my children grow older and their schedules change, I adjust my routine accordingly. When Tamar was in full-time preschool, I did my field work and wrote reports during the day. This year, to spend time with her before and after school, I see clients in the evening and on weekends, when my husband is home with the children.
My seventh-grader’s needs are different from those of the boy he was only yesterday. With a cell phone in his backpack, Ari might call to tell me about a change in after-school plans. I want to be there for that particular call.
One Thursday, I knew that Ari would call. “Mom, did you finish your report?” he asked. “Can you come to my lacrosse game?” Again, I have to tell him no. The human stork, as he calls me, must continue to work. The next afternoon a tearful Tamar runs from the bus into my arms. “It’s Zane’s birthday party,” she said, sobbing. “Now, right now, Mommy!” My certainty that she was invited is matched by zero recall. I reach the parent of another kindergartner. I find out that, yes, it’s at a gym, and that she would be happy to drive Tamar.
I wipe my daughter’s eyes, hastily wrap a present bought for emergencies. When the mother arrives to pick up Tamar, we are ready. “You work so hard,” she says, trying to ease my guilt. It’s understandable.
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Several times a month, prospective parents sit across a desk from me. More often than not, both work. “What will you do about child care?” I routinely ask.
They have anticipated my question, and cite the Family and Medical Leave Act, supportive supervisors, reduced hours, and often, the chance to work at home.
As I make notes, I wonder if my daughter’s soccer team is winning, if my son completed his homework, and who will be awake when I get home.