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I am a freelancer but I have several regular clients — companies I work for on an ongoing basis. One of those clients scheduled an important meeting for today. Usually, this wouldn’t be a big deal except today it was — a big deal, that is. Today’s meeting overlapped with my big girl’s spelling bee. She was one of three in her grade chosen to participate. I mulled it over. I debated it in my head. And then in the end I went to my meeting, sending my mother and my mother-in-law to the spelling bee with my little one in tow.

I thought about my big girl on the drive to the client’s offices. I’ll be honest: My heart ached that I wasn’t able to be there. But this client is one of my favorites. I spend a nice chunk of my time working on what we discussed today. I had to be there. There was no question. But what struck me on that long drive out there was how — when I was growing up — my mom couldn’t even ask the question. There was no question. She was a bank manager. She had to go to work unless she was dying of some illness. (And sometimes she went even when she was dying of illness.)

There was no possibility for her to come to our school events. No dad, either, and all our family lived in the Bronx (and weren’t exactly what you’d call “involved”) so we just didn’t have anyone there with us for special school events. It didn’t stand out to me. I don’t remember being especially sad or upset about it. It was what it was. My mom worked. That was it.

I know lots of working parents who are in the same situation today. They have jobs in the city or do things that don’t make it easy to leave early or take a long lunch. All my friends who are teachers, for example, send their parents to daytime school functions. They can’t take a personal day when they only work 180 days a year. Yet all their kids turn out fine. Maybe better than fine. They realize the importance and value of responsibilities. And they deal with having Grandma or Grandpa there instead of Mom and Dad.

Still, mommy guilt nagged at my soul so on my way home from the meeting I stopped off at a local meat market. They have the best homemade snickerdoodle cookies in the area. I bought two and sat waiting for my big girl when she came off the bus. When I saw her, I folded her into my arms and told her how proud I was that she participated in the spelling bee. And I explained — when she told me she was sad that she didn’t win — that it didn’t matter that she transposed the a and the i in ‘sail.’ (Yes, it seems she cares far more that she got out than that I wasn’t there to see it.) I told her she did a great job no matter what the outcome. And then I gave her the cookies, and that was that. I was definitely more upset about missing the event than she was that I missed it.

Would I have preferred being there over what I did? Sure, but I’m finally finding a little perspective about parenting. We do what we can do and that’s all we can do. And kids survive. They just do. Just like I did. Just like countless others have. After all, there’s very little that a snickerdoodle won’t fix.

What do you remember about school? Did your parents participate often? How does your own experience color your parenting today? I’d like to know.

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