I love being a student here in Halifax. I’ve been away from my kids for nearly two weeks and while I miss them terribly and can’t wait to come home, I have a dirty secret: I am having a great time. I’ve met amazing people, I’ve explored a new city, my head is full of ideas and knowledge, and my tummy is filled with Nova Scotia oysters. I want to work really hard, earn my degree and maybe one day finish my manuscript and have it published.
But there is a downside to doing something for myself: guilt.
I feel guilty for being here; for having left my kids. I feel guilty doing something for myself when I should be doing things for others. I feel guilty for having fun; for wanting to stay here over the weekend instead of taking a whirlwind 24-hour trip home. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
I overcompensated by buying my boys more presents than will fit in my carry-on. I bought them “Angry Lobster” t-shirts, lobster-shaped lollipops, Minion Tic-Tacs, cookie cutters and even a ping-pong set. I call them every day—sometimes multiple times a day—only to discover they are happy and busy playing video games. Too busy to talk to their mother who’s on the other side of the country feeling guilty.
I should be happy. I was worried my kids would fall apart without me. That they would act out, have nightmares and cry for me every day. But perhaps worse than my unnecessary guilt is the feeling that they are actually good without me. They seem to be happy and well adjusted. They have been going to baseball games and camp, birthday parties and play dates. They are doing just fine. Now, instead of feeling guilty, I’m worried that they don’t miss me or need me as much as I miss and need them. What if I get home and they are too busy to play with me? What if they don’t seem excited to see me or lavish me with big enough hugs?
And so now, beyond feeling guilty and neglected, I also feel dumb. Why shouldn’t I advance my education? Why shouldn’t I do something for myself? Have fun? Eat oysters on the east coast? Hang out with new friends?
I should be thrilled that they are growing up to be confident little boys who have learned that I am important and that I will always come home. And I am.
Perhaps more than learning to write a book here in Halifax, I’m learning to respect myself. I’m learning that guilt is a waste of energy , energy better spent carrying home a bag weighted with presents and running to hug my kids.
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