I realized the time and jumped up from my chair next to Mom’s bed in the nursing home, almost knocking it over, and said, “My God, look at the time. I’m going to be late.” Then I slipped on my coat, and turned back to place a quick kiss on my mother’s forehead before running out the door. I heard my mother’s quiet, “Of course, Emily, running late…” as her eyes closed.

Reaching the airport just on time for the 10:30 shuttle to DC, I grabbed the first empty seat and smiled at the stewardess, who smiled back saying, “You really cut it close. I’ll get you coffee as soon as we’re in the air.”

I snapped on my seat belt, retrieved the papers I’d tucked into my tote and began to concentrate, pushing aside the nagging feeling I’d forgotten to tell my secretary, Rashida, something before running out of the office earlier than usual so I could give my mother a quick visit on the way to DC for the noon lunch followed by the Task Force meeting. Sighing, I told myself that with luck, I’d be able to catch the 6:00 shuttle back to New York for a late dinner with the kids.

Well, at any rate a quick bite because Sally and Tom would have eaten by the time I arrived at the local diner I sent them to whenever I had to go to DC, which was almost weekly. The diner was like family thank God. I’d arranged with the owners a list of what the children could order, and they stuck to it, denying them crazy tries at things I’d put on the No list I’d given the owner’s wife, things like mac and cheese or bacon sandwiches, with fries. Roast chicken with fries was allowed, as was a burger and side salad.

I tried to make them meals from scratch most of the time, stopping to pick up ingredients on the way home from the office and having them do their homework at the kitchen table while I prepared the meal. I knew they got whatever they wanted on the two days each week that my ex had them, so I felt I had to control them when they were home. Someone had to raise them properly and not give into

constant pleas for BigMacs and Burger King.

When the plane landed, I hastily pulled myself together and made it to the Press Club where I had arranged for the luncheon and Task Force Meeting. And DC was a necessity given the subject was the Electoral College and so many members of the Task Force were members of Congress or scholars from local DC think tanks like Brookings.

As soon as I arrived, I checked on the luncheon preparations then found a phone and called my secretary to see if any problems had cropped up in the NY office. Rashida, who’d been with me for ten years, gave me a quick rundown, then said, “Oh, you’ve got one of those packages from one of your corporate clients. Should I send it to you at home?”

“No. Hold it. Wait…sorry. I think I’m not going to make it back in time, and there are some cover sketches I have to get approval on from our touchy author, Claude, who’s coming by at ten. Put them in a a package with the corporate stuff and drop them off. You have my key, right?”

Rashida sighed and said, “So you’re working on that stuff tonight, all night. You’re going to...”

 “Stop right there. Don’t say it. I know what I’m doing.”

“Okay, Boss Lady.”

“Rashida, call the company car service to get to my place and then go home. It’s the least I can do…”

“Yeah, for me, but what about doing something for you,” she said and slammed the phone down.

I’d have to deal with that in the morning. I couldn’t let myself be distracted now. So, shaking my head, I rushed to the meeting room to greet the members of the Task Force as they arrived. Once they were seated, the meal was served. We always waited till the dessert arrived before the discussions began.

I took notes, glad I had to jump in only a few times to stop frivolous discussions or arguments. As a result, by four, they were clearly done for the day, so I stood up and said, “That was productive. Thank you for coming and the progress we’ve made.” 

I added, “I’ll make sure to send you some points of agreement that we’ll vote on for inclusion in the final report, as well as some of the material for the report itself. Also, I’d like to schedule the next session for same time next week. Call if that’s a problem, and we can try to find a different time, if a quorum won’t be available.”

Then I moved to the door, prepared to answer questions and shake hands. All of them seemed to have something to say and I couldn’t break away till a few minutes after five. 

Realizing I’d never make the five thirty shuttle back to the city, I called the diner to tell them to warn the children I’d be later than usual.

I collapsed into my seat on the six o’clock, and dozed off. I was shocked when the flight attendant woke me and apologized for the delay. “What do you mean, what delay?” I asked.

“We were held up by air control, so we’re half an hour late—it’s seven.”

I knew there was nothing I could do about it, but I was a little shaky walking off the plane. I grabbed a cab from the long line of waiting taxis and fretted the whole time at every small delay.

It was 7:30 when I finally arrived at the diner to pick up the kids. I

didn’t see Tom at all and then spotted Sally, who was, I could see, furious. I rushed over and one look at Tom, asleep on his side of the booth, and said as calmly as I could, “Did something bad happen?”

My very eloquent for a ten-year-old daughter looked me in the eye and said, “No Mom, nothing but Tom running a fever, me unable to do my homework, both of us feeling like orphans.”

“I’m so sorry. I couldn’t help it; the meeting ran late...”

She said, “Of course you couldn’t, you never can, can you.”

That’s not fair, Sally. I’ve explained how important it is to get that report out, how it can affect…”

She interrupted, shouting, “I know, save the world. Make it better. Mom, why did you have us?”

“What do you mean, Sally?”

“I want to know why you wanted children since your work is so important. More important than us, than anything.

The tears running down her face shocked me. I felt her forehead, wondering if she was also sick. She rarely was so agitated. Talking to her would have to wait. I managed to pick up Tom, surprised at how heavy he felt, and Sally followed silently, holding all our accumulated junk, still crying. Thank god our apartment was only a cross street and half block away.

Tom woke when I put him down on his bed, and looked at me quietly, then said, "I want Daddy."

Sally appeared and said, “I called him and he’s coming.”

“You what. How dare you.”

“Hate me if you want to. When I saw that package from the office, I knew what the evening would be like. You. Working. I want out.

“Sally, what do you mean, out?”

“I know Dad’s place is awful, small and messy. But he’ll be there for us.”

I stared at her, not understanding, and then asked as calmly as possible, “I’m home every night and weekends. I don’t get it. What do you mean?”

“Oh, your body is there, but you’re always working, you never play games with us, never ask what we did at school.”

“Nonsense, don’t I ask about your homework, Sally?” 

I heard the door open and there was my obviously frantic ex. He went straight to Sally, wrapping his arms around her. I watched them looking at one another with such affection, it hurt to see.

“Okay Sal, what’s going on? Where’s Tom?”

I watched her say, “Asleep. I think he’s sick. Daddy, help us, please.”

Paul turned to me and asked, “Is he sick? Did you take him to the doctor?”

Annoyed, and a bit guilty, I told him, “I just got to the diner and when I saw Tom looked feverish, asleep in a booth, I rushed us home.”

“I’m confused. What do you mean YOU just got to the diner? They were there alone so late?”

Furious at his tone, I said, “The plane was late.”

Before I could continue, he said, “Shut up.” Then he sat down, pulling Sally onto his lap, and said, “Sally, explain please?” 

Looking daggers at me, Sally said, “When Mom goes to D.C., we go to the Cherry Diner and have dinner and Mom comes rushing in orders coffee and sometimes a sandwich to go and takes us home. She asks if we’ve done our homework, and if we say we didn’t she orders us to get started. Then she pulls out her work.”

Paul kissed her on the forehead, and told her to get ready for bed, adding, “I’m going to check on Tom and then Mom and I will talk, alone kiddo.

If you haven’t done your homework, I’ll write your teacher a note. Go on,” he added, when she started to object.

When he came back from Tom’s room, he shook his head. Then looking at me sadly said, “It’s a low fever but otherwise he’s seems to be okay.”

“Good, Paul, so you should get going. I have a ton of work to do.”

“Work, work, work. I take it that this work is more important than the kids?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I take good care of them. I do the extra work so I’ll be able to afford college for them, so they can have extra classes at the museum, so they go to Broadway shows, so they have a good life.”

“Who takes them to the shows, Emily. You, so they can talk about them, share those memories with you. Oh Emily, are you closing them out, like you closed me out, how you close out everyone and everything with your constant busy schedule.”

“I do what needs to be done,” I said, beginning to shake.

“What are you escaping from Emily? You? Do you realize how you avoid life by filling up every minute with things to do. How you avoid yourself?”

“Stop. Please stop. You’re killing me,” I shouted.

I realized I’d fainted when I found myself lying on the couch, Paul staring at me from a chair he’d apparently pulled over. 

“You collapsed Em, and then you fell asleep. I let you sleep till the doctor arrived.”

“Doctor, for Tom?”

"No Em, you. This is Dr. Georelli. He’s an old friend and I told him I needed him.

“Hello, Emily, the soft-spoken man I hadn’t noticed sat down in the chair Tom had been sitting on, taking out of his bag a blood pressure machine. I watched him wrap it around my arm and pump it up. When he was done, he said, “Young lady, you are in big trouble. Your reading tells me you’re going to have a stroke if you don’t take care of yourself. How much coffee have you had today?”

“I don’t remember, oh, a red eye from Starbucks, a couple of cups on the plane down, some at the luncheon in DC, maybe two on the plane back.”

“You went to DC and came back, drank more caffeine than anyone should have in two days, and ate what?”

“I had some salmon at lunch,” I said annoyed at his questions.

“Well, Paul, that might help account for 185 over 95,” he said.

Then he turned to me and said, “Emily, you need to drink a lot of water, sleep as much as you can, and stay in bed all day tomorrow.” 

I laughed, explaining there was just too much I had to do tonight, let alone, tomorrow. 

“I’ll be fine if I can get my usual four hours,” I said.

He shook his head, looked at Paul and said, “Don’t leave her alone with the children.”

Paul saw him out then walked back into the living room and said, “If you don’t want me to sue for full custody and child support for Tom and Sally, Emily, you have to change. I’m moving back temporarily and first step—promise you’ll see a psychiatrist.” 

“No. I won’t. I don’t need one.”

“Emily, then I’m taking the kids and I’ll see you in court.”

I gave in. An hour once a week would be less time-consuming than a fight over custody, I told myself.

When morning came, I left Paul with the kids, and stopped by to see my mother. “She looked at me for a long moment, and asked what was wrong. I managed a small smile and said “Nothing.”

“Not true. Em,” then she pulled my head down and put her hands on my cheeks, the way she did when I was small. I fell apart and told her everything. 

“Emily dear, he’s right. You’re bone thin; you’ve got raccoon eyes—like when you were applying to college. Dad and I were so worried then. I’m glad Paul is finally taking a stand.”

I left then, and when I got to the office, feeling like a fool I called an old friend and asked her about the shrink she’d seen when her husband died. Thank god she gave me her name and phone number without any questions.

And so it began, twice a week for months. Painful as it was, with Paul’s moving in it didn’t affect the children too much. But I confronted my demons and began to understand how I’d joined a cult, the cult of “You can have it all if you work hard enough.” The mantra of feminism carried to the extreme.

Over the next few months, I pushed my bosses to let me hire an assistant, to put in place someone to do the PR part of my job. I gave up the corporate extra work, when Paul convinced me that the kids didn’t have to have college completely paid for, that summer jobs, student loans would be good incentives for hard work on their part.

And slowly, I began to relax, to enjoy little silly things again.

On the second anniversary of the night that I fell apart, I came home with four plane tickets, four because somehow Paul and I had become a couple again. I announced we were going to Florida to visit Epcot and enjoy beaches and other thing that tourists enjoy. I was nervous about taking two weeks off, but Sally’s “I love the new you, Mommy,” helped.

After an awesome two weeks, during which I only called Rashida once, I decided I liked the new me also.

June 03, 2024 07:45

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Carol Stewart
12:23 Jun 13, 2024

Great take on the prompt. I felt utterly exhausted reading the first half of the story, haha - her hectic schedule shown so well - and perfect progression from the turning point with the kids and their father. Good flow, good read.


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Alexis Araneta
18:18 Jun 04, 2024

An absolute pleasure to read. And yes, glad for the hopeful ending. Lovely work !


Beverly Goldberg
06:34 Jun 05, 2024

Again, thanks for enjoying. We are clearly from different generations, but both of us focus on the pain of life.


Alexis Araneta
06:47 Jun 05, 2024

It's not that I focus on the pain of life, but I think that if the prompt calls for it, why not talk about it. Literature is, after all, a form of communication, and one of the purposes of communication is to convey.


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Jim LaFleur
10:42 Jun 04, 2024

Heartfelt and Inspiring! Your story beautifully captures the struggle of balancing work and family life.


Beverly Goldberg
15:29 Jun 05, 2024

From someone whose stories I greatly admire, I'm so pleased you liked this.


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Helen A Smith
14:31 Jun 03, 2024

I enjoyed reading this story. It had great flow and the subject never stops being relevant. The MC felt such pressure to be superwoman, but circumstances forced her to realise she’s an impossible creature to be. The kids were honest as kids tend to be and I liked the realistic dialogue between mother and daughter. The ending was pleasing as it offered hope for a happier and more balanced future. I think most of us are still searching for that in one way or another. Well written piece.


Beverly Goldberg
15:30 Jun 03, 2024

Thanks Helen. I wrote this without realizing it was wishful thinking. But then I wonder why I never took Emily's road. Retired now, I still am a workaholic, but pro bono these days--and have given up trying to change. Yup, I was one of those early feminists who thought they could have it all.


Helen A Smith
16:15 Jun 03, 2024

I guess there’s no such thing as having it all, but some people seem to come close. I’m so not Superwoman 😂


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Mary Bendickson
13:40 Jun 03, 2024

I know this said fiction but it sounded too real for supermoms of the day.


Beverly Goldberg
15:26 Jun 03, 2024

It is a version of me, but the me that never stopped being obsessed with always doing. I'm retired now and in an assisted living place. Have I learned the lesson Emily did. No. I run two clubs here that require a lot of prep time, am trying my hand at fiction, and am still writing articles on political issues for a couple of politicians. Two days ago, I asked my son when he called if I could take a rain check on the call; he replied, "Of course Mom. How about you e-mail me a good time to talk. Oh, not tomorrow, I have a podcast. Whoops, I'm ...


Mary Bendickson
17:05 Jun 03, 2024

It's a wonderful life.☺️


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