Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ex Ante Separation Anxiety

(I did all the girls' hair.)

So I don't actually have kids of my own, although I frequently refer to my 8 nephews and nieces as "my kids." They're not my kids, although by God I have helped raise them. They're my sibling's kids, and only the three oldest siblings. The three youngest siblings (myself included) are unmarried and childless, and at this point I think my parents don't particularly care anymore whether or not they get more grandchildren.

I've been an aunt since the age of 11, and when I wasn't taking care of kids for free I was getting paid (very poorly by they way, day care workers are exploited) to do so by a licensed family day care. I have changed so many diapers I think I have the modern day version of white lung disease (only this time with baby powder and not flour). I am the one that teaches them manners and how to read, and so I worry that when I leave, they'll suddenly become rude and dumb. I have one 14 year old, one 12 year old, two 5 year olds, two 3 year olds, one 2 year old, and an 8 month old. A lot of kids. Many of them still in diapers or potty training which is oh-so-fun for me, their daytime nanny 3 days a week. My weekends are not spent living it up at pharm parties or shopping at trendy boutiques. I live in the REAL OC--in a mixed income and mixed-race suburban track home community (although two of my siblings live in those gated McMansion communities and I don't see them at coke filled swinger parties either), and yes, it's all about the chain restaurant. (See you at the Cheesecake Factory. I'll be the one with the sensible haircut in a a boatneck, capri pants, and back-less loafers with a child at my waist).

So, months before I am to leave for my LLM progam, I'm already worrying about when to apply/how to get in/who to ask to be my faculty dissertation advisor. I figure, this is not good, productive use of my over-planner, prone-to-anxiety energy. So I'm planning my vacations. I have week breaks in both Fall and Spring. This, I think, is calming, constructive use of planner energy. I am fantasizing about taking a vacation to Montreal, Canada, or any other country with a good exchange rate. Then I am thinking, maybe I'll take one of my breaks to go home and visit the kids, since I'll probably miss not seeing them everyday so much it hurts like 8 of my fingers have been ripped off. Then I think, I should probably stay at Liberal College Town and work on my master's thesis, since I can never get any work done at home. The kids pretty much demand that I be with them every hour of the day, such that I look so forward to nap time (when I can do a little bit of work) I consider putting a thimble full of rum in their milk to drug them to sleep. (Just kidding! Don't call Child Services!) Then I think, man, it sucks, deciding whether or not to visit your kids or work on your thesis.

But this is the exact same decision I should have thought seriously about all throughout law school, when I sacrificed personal freedom, my social life, and yes, my grades to be with these kids. Taking an extra hour to sit in freeway traffic on Friday afternoons just to give them their baths and feed them dinner. Not studying all of Friday (spent in traffic) or Saturdy (spent changing diapers) or half of Sunday (spent driving back up) so as not to miss these moments of growing up. I don't regret it. But it was a sacrifice--one that I have to seriously think about making again.

I have the choice, the option, for the first time in a lifetime, to put myself first. And I feel regret even before I make the choice. There will always be regret for every decision. But this truly is a quandary. I used to look with envy at those law students who could take each weekend for him or herself, and use breaks to relax or catch up on work. I should probably take my breaks and work on my masters, or take a real vacation. But I feel guilty for even thinking about not seeing my kids if I had the option to do so. What if they died in a horrible car crash and I never got to see them because I was joie de vivring in Montreal?

I don't know what I'll do with my breaks. I'm just doing some ex ante worrying. See my over-planner tendency? I want to give myself the option to do whatever I want, but I want to remind myself that the time could be best spent two ways, both compelling: 1) finish thesis, rock the LLM, get into the JSD or 2) sing songs about Rollie Pollies with the kids. Is this maturity? Realizing that the choices one makes shouldn't be between hedonism and responsibility, but rather between two different and similarly compelling responsibilities?

Maybe I'll save Montreal for Summer 2007.