Guilty Rewards

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It seems like so many of our greatest accomplishments in life go unnoticed.  Since becoming a mother I sometimes feel bitter about this, secretly wishing my family would paint me a homemade merit badge for all it takes to keep our little unit happy.  It’s not easy to simultaneously keep our children alive (I mean nurtured) and the countertops free of cereal crumbs (I mean sterilized).  And don’t even get me started on the laundry…

Being a working mom can be complicated, especially when you have Catholic guilt.  Not that I’m Catholic… but my dad was raised in the faith, so maybe I inherited it somehow?  I think I got the extreme version.  Case in point:  one time I was stopped at a red light, and the car behind me was flashing its blinker to turn right.  Even though I needed to go straight, I felt so bad about blocking that driver’s “right on red opportunity” that I turned anyway.  As I was circumnavigating myself back on course, I realized I might have a serious problem.

When I was a middle school language arts teacher, I used to be one of those people who gave 150% to my job.  I could burn the midnight oil with the best of them, and I definitely knew the night crew at my school.  Heck, I even knew their pets’ names!  Even my weekend camping trips were spent working, as I’d haul along student journals to peruse in the car or grade around the campfire.  I had about 130 kids and never enough time to read all their papers in a timely manner.  Guilt.

Enter library school.  It took a few long years, but I earned my Master’s in Library Science along with a position in a middle school library.  My job is an absolute dream:  I still get to work in a school and with kids, but I no longer haul home canvas bags full of student writing.  But guess what?  Still guilt!  Guilt that I had left the classroom, where to this day I believe the teachers are in the trenches of our education system.

And then enter motherhood.  This catapulted my guilt to an astronomical level.  Suddenly I was one of those school employees who actually (gasp!) left on time.  I felt horrible leaving the parking lot early, as if I was a comrade of those slacker teachers who entered the profession for June, July, and August.  But that mentality quickly shifted as I’d race to rescue my babies from the giant cesspool of germs we commonly refer to as daycare, and suddenly my guilt was about parenthood instead of work.  I just couldn’t win!  I felt like a pariah in both worlds!

Now that my “babies” are in elementary school, the day care guilt has alleviated itself.  (Although as they get older I fall further behind on their photo albums, which makes me feel… well, you get the idea…)

So the point?  (I feel terrible it has taken so long to get here… my apologies.)  This past weekend I won this ridiculous award.  I have been crowned Alaska’s “School Librarian of the Year.”  It was a shock and honor, but I can’t help but feel guilty about it!  There are so many amazing librarians in this state, some who read nearly every book before it hits their shelves.  Some who have waiting lists of classes to get into their libraries.  Many who serve on committees, speak in front of school boards, and participate in our local organizations.  They are all so deserving.  Guilt.

This award has me reflecting on this whole “guilt” thing.

At my recent 40th birthday celebration, one of my best friends (who is also an amazing librarian) wished me a “decade with less guilt.”  I’m not sure that is possible, but I still think there is hope.

If I am prone to guilt, maybe I should just get more selective.  Honestly, no one even noticed the day Sam wore jeans that were confiscated from the dirty clothes hamper.  But he would have noticed if we’d skipped reading Harry Potter so I could fold laundry.  Maggie wants nothing more than to sit down and color together.  Is scrubbing the toilet really that much more important?  And once they go to bed, I’m always tempted to log into Facebook.  But isn’t talking to my husband more vital?

Speaking of my husband… he comes home from work every day, and without regret wrestles with the kids.  He doesn’t rush in the door to file the mail, empty the dishwasher, or fret about dinner.  He rushes in to spend time with his children, and show his preoccupied wife a little affection.  All too often I’m cold and annoyed, wishing for help with the task of the moment instead of embracing the blessing of our togetherness.  Noted.

So my goal and mantra for the next decade of my life is not so much less guilt, but better guilt.  To focus more on what really matters.  To let the guilt in when my priorities are out of whack, but let it go for trivial things that just don’t matter.

Thankfully there is no award for “Mother of the Year” or “Wife of the Century.”  Those of us in those roles know we vacillate between Award Winner and Hall of Shame on a regular basis, whether or not we deserve either.  I guess it’s the same with the librarian award.

So here’s to a decade of focusing on the awards that truly matter.  If I succeed, I just might earn a few of those homemade merit badges after all.