She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.

~Margaret Culkin Banning


My sweet girl,

I wanted to go with you

I need you to know that

When you came to visit me at work

I know it wasn’t easy

I know it wasn’t where you wanted to be

You said it over and over again

‘I want to go home. I want to go home.’

No one could miss the fact that you weren’t happy there

You were confused and frustrated that Mama’s computer didn’t play your games

The lights were bright

People were talking in different directions

It’s far from ideal, I know

But then I showed you the white board and the dry erase markers

And in an instant, everything changed

‘I will draw me as a princess’ you announced

And you did

And your ‘friend’ – she’d be a princess too

So you drew Sabrina

The girl you met that one time that you went to the sunday school class

Three years ago

And you were happy, feverishly coloring in the princess dresses

One pink, one red

I wanted so badly for Mama’s work to be a place you’d like to visit. It broke my heart when I’d asked the day before if you’d wanted to come on a day this week when a couple of other kids would be visiting. You’d said, ‘NO’ without hesitation, then added an emphatic, sing-song ‘SORRY!’ for good measure.

But for a few minutes at least, stopping by quickly with Daddy to drop something off, you were happy there. An open door for next time. All I can ask.

When it was time for you to leave, I said, ‘OK, baby girl, it’s time to go now.’

I knelt on the floor to hug you and you said something.

You said. ‘Mama, I want you.’

I stayed frozen in the moment, hugging you in the middle of the floor. An absurd place to be, but there we were. Your long, lean arms were wrapped around my neck. There was no space between us.

‘Oh, honey,’ I said, ‘I want you too.’ I whispered in your ear, ‘Thank you for telling me that. I want you too.’ And then I told you it was time to go with Daddy and that I’d see you later at home.

You didn’t let go. (You always let go. Hugs don’t last like that with you. Ever.)

‘I want to go home with YOU’ you said.

And I split right open there in the middle of the floor.

I searched for my game face.

You see, my little love, Mama is always Mama, but at work, well, Mama doesn’t have the option of splitting open in the middle of the floor. (Which probably explains why it happens so much at home)

You finally had the words to tell me what you wanted. And you did – so perfectly, so succinctly, so beautifully. And yet, in that moment, I couldn’t give you what you were asking for.

So I hugged you for as long as your little arms stayed wrapped around my neck.

‘My girl wants me,’ I thought. ‘My girl wants me.’ I could have clicked my heels together in that moment. Or sobbed. What can I tell ya, little one? Sometimes cloud nine comes equipped with a stake through the heart.

Last night we put The Script on a loop, remember?

This time it was me that had to hear it again and again – me who needed the comforting reassurance of familiarity.

‘Brooke, do I like being away from you?’

‘No, you like being WITH me’

‘That’s right. So what happens when I’m at work?’

‘You MISS me!’

You took another run at me as you said your last line, trying to ‘nick’ me over, as you say. I let you knock me down and we rolled to the ground together in a single giggling heap.

I once found out that when asked to describe me, a colleague had said, ‘she’s great at what she does, but what you need to know about Jess is that she’s a mom. First and foremost, it’s just who she is.’

It had surprised me at the time. It’s true of course that I’m a mom before all else, but it surprised me to hear it in that context. I’m sure it sounds silly to you that I was surprised, but I’d thought I’d done a pretty good job of compartmentalizing my life. (I can just see you reading this someday, rolling your eyes and laughing. Oh God, how I hope you roll your eyes and laugh at your mama someday.)

My love, I need you to know that I wanted to come with you. I need you to know that, despite your big sister’s entreaties to the universe to ‘somehow make sure that everyone can just get all the things we really need for free so that we can all be together all the time like it was in the history days,’ life just doesn’t work that way. Someone needs to pay the bills, baby. And I’m grateful to have the wonderful job that I have, which is why I feel such a tremendous responsibility to do it well. Someday I hope you’ll understand that. How lucky we are that mama CAN work.

As you left, I put my game face on and went back to work. I was stronger, lifted by the fresh reminder of who I do it for every day, why I’m really there.

And torn to pieces by the overwhelming fear that you may not understand any of that.

I love you, my sweet girl. More than anything in the whole wide world. Remember our other script, baby? The one we say when we’re lying on your bed when you’re supposed to be sleeping? The one that we said last night as we stared together at the ‘moon’ you’d made from the flashlight’s beam on the wall –

‘What would I do for you, Brooke?’


‘What wouldn’t I do for you?’

‘NUTHIN, Mama!’


Mama wants you too, my angel.

Mama wants you too.


27 thoughts on “work

  1. I think you just wrote the post for every working mother out there. and even those of us who don’t work outside the house feel that tug whenever we do something for ourselves, knowing that it makes us better parents.
    typing through the tears of the ugly cry.

  2. That was beautifully said. Something we all feel, my daughter says that to me everyday, “Mama, I want you”. Mom guilt is the most potent and debilitating kind of guilt. I love how you said you don’t have the option of splitting open at work. Sometimes we all feel like that; but remind ourselves WHY we are doing it. I have shown people at work pictures of my daughter, and said “Do you see this beautiful face? THIS is what I have to leave at home everyday to come here” This piece made me cry….but in a good way 🙂 Thank you for sharing !

  3. DOAM there hasn’t been a leaky eyed post in a while now (thanks too), but this sure takes the cake. I believe that all working mom’s feel guilt while they work, but mom’s with special needs children feel it 10 times more.

  4. Thank your for writing this post for ALL working parents. Once again I see so many parallels in our lives and what ties us together is that we’re PARENTS first and foremost. I am basically a SAHD (at least I often feel like one), because of my schedule (24-on, 72-off) and my wife’s schedule (she works overnights). When I’m home, I’m pretty much it. When I go to work, my heart breaks a little walking out the door. When my girls call during the day and Isabelle tells me she want’s me, I “split open in the middle of the floor” no matter where I am. When I walk through the door after a long shift (especially a 48 or longer) and Isabelle takes a run at me and knocks me over, we roll around laughing and crying at the same time. All these moments and more are the common threads that tie us all together. It’s also the reason why I so often find myself in a puddle after reading your posts…

  5. Your daughter wants you. She found her words. And isn’t it the hardest thing in the world when you can’t give them what they have struggled so long and hard to ask for? And that thing being you, on top of it? Split wide open, indeed.

    What a beautiful post, thank you.

  6. She knows, Jess. In her heart she knows. She just hasn’t yet found those words to tell you. But she knows. I promise. Cross my heart too. ( and just so you know… I don’t make promises unless they can be kept.). Ske knows.

  7. Just beautiful, Jess. I feel your pain as you wrote this and I understand it so much. I have had to put my life on hold while I get my snowflake’s life sorted out so I can go back to work. But she sees me unable to take the time I need and want to with her because I am on the phone advocating for her, fighting for her and I wish she could understand that it isn’t that I don’t want to be with her, I do, desperately. One day, my daughter will find her words too and I will find mine. In the meantime, you give such beautiful expression to the words I cannot yet find.

    Surely they know, Jess, surely they somewhere deep inside understand. Like you, I pray they do. I hang on to the hope that they do.

  8. She will understand. And she does. It is the battle of every working mother everywhere, even if we work from home.

    I hope that God blesses you and your family in the new year, and that it’s full of laughs and leaps.

  9. You captured the yin and yang of that moment so perfectly- she is finally able to express her need so exquisitely, and you can’t give it to her. There seems to be a lot of that in our world… Once again, beautifully written Jess.

  10. Oh, Jess, my heart breaks for you. I can’t even imagine what you must’ve felt like. I couldn’t do it. You are stronger then me in that sense. As hard as it is for you, you still some how manage. That’s amazing. You are a wonderful, strong and beautiful person. And even the people you work with see that you are always first and foremost a Mama. xoxo

  11. A day after Christmas, I’m a work (which I LOVE) but carrying sadness with me to not be at home with the kids and husband. So this post acted as a medicine and bandage, placed directly on my raw wound…Thank you for writing this blog, it means so much to me.

  12. Had my girl say that she needed me last night, on the phone from 5 hours away, right after she went through some incredibly bad times. I wasn’t with her because I had to work. Oh how it hurts not to be able to do it all.

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