Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bittersweet weekends

"You're going to work?" says my three-year old daughter, taking a break from the business of a blueberry waffle and yogurt. "Why?"

("Why?" is the most repeated word in our house for the last few months.)

"Because there's a lot of sick people and I need to help them get better, " I say, as I kiss her on the top of her head and give her a hug from behind.

"Oh," she says, unfazed, her focus again on the waffle.

I slip away, blowing kisses through my lowered car window. Trading "air hugs." Just like any other day.

But today is Sunday. I also worked Saturday.

Today, it stings to drive away, as it always stings on a weekend day. You would think I'd be used to it by now, after three years. But, no.

Working on the weekend is by far, the hardest part of my job. It feels so anti-mother, leaving my babies on a day that is supposed to be time off with the family. I think of families everywhere, doing the usual weekend things. Brunch. The park. Even running errands. Do they realize how special uninterrupted weekend time is? Do they have any idea?

My job, while it does require some weekends, allows me flexibility at other times. During those other times, I really appreciate the flexibility as it relates to mothering. I can head into work a little later, after fitting in an extra nursing session with my 7-month old. I can get home earlier if I need to, to meet with my daughter's teacher. This flexibility, I often reason, makes the occasional weekend day tolerable. But, always, my reasoning and appreciation evaporate the instant a working weekend day rolls around. Poof. Like magic.

I always just want to be home. Like a "normal" mother. I always feel a twinge of guilt. Like a "bad" mother.

Yet, I love what I do. I love every other aspect of my job. I can still find joy in talking and joking with my patient's wife on a Sunday afternoon as we all talk about his progress, his recovery.

I think my daughter understands her mother is taking care of sick people and sick people need help, even on the weekend. I think she knows how much I love her, and how much I miss her when I'm away. Hopefully, my son will know this too, one day.

And when I have the luxury of an entire weekend to drench with family, it is all the more precious.

I soak it up.


  1. Working weekends is certainly tough with a young family. I remember when my husband and I (both docs) had to stagger our schedules so that one of us would be "off" on weekends. There were only a few Saturdays/Sundays when we were both there for our kids.

    Maybe this is why neither of them had any interest in Medicine (I realize it is more complex than that). We laugh with them now as 20 somethings. They both say, "wouldn't go into Medicine if it killed me..., too hard and too much time away."


  2. Working weekends is definitely a kind of torture for me. I dread them for weeks before. As if isn't agonizing enough to tear yourself away from your baby five days a week...

  3. The aftermath of working a weekend is tough on me. I don't have as much energy or vim and vigor - little more snappish - less tolerant of the normal noise - and I hate that I don't bounce back into lovable mom mode as quickly. My kids will ask me if I'm on call from time to time, too. I don't think I'm different at home - but I guess I am to them. They are very patient little people with their mom. I love them even more for that!

  4. I think your daughter does know what you do; I'm flashing back to when my children were very young and I was working weekends: one Saturday morning my mother-in-law was helping Husband with the kids (1 and 3 years at the time), and they went out for breakfast to a favorite spot. The waitress asked where I was, and my MIL replied I was working "in the hospital". The waitress inquired if I was a nurse. Eldest quickly replied "No, she's a doctor" and Youngest chimed in with "She's a BRAIN doctor".

    They know!

  5. kate- so far, my 3 year old still considers "doctor" as a possible vocation so, I suppose I'm glad it's already not off the table.

    fizzy- dread is something I do often. Usually it's not nearly as bad as the dreading beforehand.

    mwas-yes, it's physically taxing too, as well as psychically. I think back to that guest post from the daughter and hope that's generalizable.

    A- your 1 year old said that??? I know we still have some months to go before he turns one, but right now, we're at BLAAAH.

  6. My husband is a pulm/critical care doc w/ every 3rd weekend call. When we moved out here, I decided to find a job w/o call and w/o weekends, b/c I just couldn't fathom never seeing my husband and kids at the same time. How lucky are we to have such flexible careers that I even have a choice like that. I was able to find a job that had no call and no weekends. And although I gave up seeing pediatrics (it's a VA clinic), I am able to work part-time and be with my kids on the weekends w/ my husband.


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