Ambivalence=career aspirations+mommy guilt

I’m ambivalent today.  I’ve made a hard decision and I don’t feel relieved that it is made, I don’t feel resolved, I feel upset and sad and torn.  Just like the graph above, as the accompanying article states, I have “an ambivalent attitude, in which both positivity and negativity are co-activated.”

Most people think ambivalent means a lack of caring, when it means the opposite.  It’s the right word for how I’m feeling.  I remember being struck by one particular scene in “Girl, Interrupted” and I recalled that scene today.

Susanna: I’m ambivalent. In fact that’s my new favorite word.
Dr. Wick: Do you know what that means, ambivalence?
Susanna: I don’t care.
Dr. Wick: If it’s your favorite word, I would’ve thought you would…
Susanna: It *means* I don’t care. That’s what it means.
Dr. Wick: On the contrary, Susanna. Ambivalence suggests strong feelings… in opposition. The prefix, as in “ambidextrous,” means “both.” The rest of it, in Latin, means “vigor.” The word suggests that you are torn… between two opposing courses of action. — From “Girl, Interrupted” Source.

So what’s going on?  What’s the decision?

Well, Mabel’s Holiday Concert and party are happening at preschool tomorrow.  It’s been on the school calendar (and mine) since September.  I was very much looking forward to it.  We’re signed up to bring Apple Blondies.  My plan was to drop Mabel at school at 8:45am, have breakfast with Nemo and Mac at the diner down the street, and return to school in time for the concert.  We’d stay for the party and then, depending on how I felt, I would take the rest of the day off, work from home, or head into the lab.  That was my plan.  My supervisor had even given me the OK.

Then last Thursday at our scientist meeting, our Executive Director reminded us all of the Oncology Interdepartmental meeting that we’d gotten a ‘placeholder’ appointment notification for a couple of weeks ago.  I had totally forgotten the placeholder, since there had been no follow up.  Well, it was happening despite the lack of formal details.  It was schedule for 8:30am to 5:30pm on the same day as Mabel’s concert.

My heart sank.  I didn’t do or say anything right away.  I figured I would wait for the agenda to come out.  There was a chance it wouldn’t be all day, or that I’d be able to slip out/come late and still go to the concert.

No such luck.  The agenda was waiting in my inbox this morning.  The most crucial parts for me to attend overlap exactly with Mabel’s concert.  “Ducking out” wouldn’t be an option.  While my absence might not be noticeable (come on, I’m not THAT important), I would be missing out on crucial opportunities and it was the time my absence would be most noticeable.

I asked a colleague, another mom with two young kids, who is higher ranking but I do not report to.  I felt she’d understand my ambivalence and be best able to give me the bottom line of how important it was to be at the meeting.

She said while it was ultimately up to me, by January nobody would remember if I was there or not, I could probably sneak out and back in again, but I definitely shouldn’t tell my Executive Director why I wasn’t there if he noticed or asked.  He doesn’t have kids, he doesn’t understand, and while he’s not unwilling to make accommodations, he is rather unsympathetic to family concerns.  (For example, before I started maternity leave, I ordered a new microscope.  When we spoke about it, he said, “It’s good motivation for you to come back.  I’m sure you’ll be excited.”  Um. no.  A microscope will not make me excited to leave me 3 month old.)

I spoke with a couple of other colleagues I trusted to give frank and honest feedback, and the consensus was, that while it sucked, I couldn’t miss the meeting.  Further, I didn’t want to miss the meeting.  I would definitely feel I was missing some important face time with colleagues in different departments, as well as higher ups, including the CSO (Chief Science Officer).  I felt bad about missing the meeting.

I thought perhaps Mabel wouldn’t mind or notice me not being at her concert if my father (Pop) went in my place.  So, I called home to tell Mac and while I was on speaker phone, he asked her, “Do you want Pop Pop to come to your concert?”  Her response, “Noooo!  I want Mommy and Daddy!”  Knife to heart.

I don’t want to miss her concert.  I feel bad about missing it.  I want to be two places at once.

So, both positivity and negativity are co-activated.  Missing either is a bad choice.  Attending both is not possible.

I’m reluctant to even publish this post, because it feels like my decision is final if I do, and I don’t like the decision I’ve made.  I’m ambivalent.

I’ve decided.  I will miss Mabel’s concert tomorrow.  My father will go in my place.  I’m ambivalent.


ETA:  Ironically and tragically, the day of Mabel’s concert, while I was in a marathon all-day meeting, the Sandy Hook shooting took place.  During a break I checked my email and saw the news online.  I felt sick to my stomach.  If that tragedy doesn’t make you pause and take stock, nothing would.  At that moment, I wished I could be with my children, to cherish them and hold them close, knowing there were 26 families that were being devastated.  Looking back, would I make the same call again?  Yes.  There will be times in my children’s lives that I wouldn’t miss, but an annual Holiday Concert isn’t one of them.  Mabel had people who loved her in the audience- I didn’t have to be one of them.  That said, this is what I posted on Instagram later that night.


Filed under #scimom, Mabel, Mother, Scientist

4 responses to “Ambivalence=career aspirations+mommy guilt

  1. Nicky

    I’m sorry you’re feeling conflicted and torn, it’s an unpleasant feeling. But FWIW, I’m certain you made the right decision.
    Your young child will not remember whether you came to her concert in a year (or possibly, in a week). You obviously make an effort to go to her things when possible, she will remember that as an adult. It’s wonderful you have family that can take your place, so there is someone attending. It’s important for your children to realize that however much you love them, you have other commitments and obligations, too. They are wonderful and special, yet the world doesn’t revolve around them.

    • Thanks Nicky. I do know that, but it’s nice to hear/read.

      I spoke to my mom about it and she recalled a concert of mine she missed when I was in elementary school. She still felt horrible about it, and I have no recollection of the concert at all, let alone who was there.

      It was harder for me than for her.

      Of course sitting in the 7 hour meeting today and reading the news of the shooting in Connecticut didn’t help. My heart breaks for those parents.

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