The clothes on the floor

There are some mornings that require me to leave the house early–maybe while the girls are still at the breakfast table. Harder yet, maybe while they’re just waking, brushing that first bit of sleep out of their eyes, coming to me all heavy-lidded and ratty-haired, warm and dreamy, searching for long morning cuddles when all I can offer is a quick kiss before I snatch my laptop bag and race out the door.

Sometimes, those are the same days where I come home when the kids are already scrubbed, fed, ready for a story and sleep.

We make the most of that time before bed, of course, and then I send them to sleep. Those days are hard, but not unmanageable.

And then I see the pile on the floor–the worn, crumpled, clothes of the day that haven’t made it to the hamper (surprise).

It strikes me profoundly: I never saw them in these outfits. I didn’t know Sage was wearing the Pavement tee that Nate loves to put her in over a long-sleeved white tee. I didn’t know Thalia was in her favorite dress over jeans. Did she tie the tie at the front? The back? Did she get the buttons done by herself? Did she have her socks under her jeans? Did she do a little twirl in the mirror, cocking her head in that cute way she does when she likes how she looks?

I fight back the tears.

Anyone else would just see a pile of clothes on the floor. I see a strange and tangible reminder of a whole day of their lives I missed.


49 thoughts on “The clothes on the floor”

  1. This is the story of my life too and it often makes me feel the same way you are feeling.

  2. Yes.
    I had days like that. So many days like that….until there were just too many tears.
    Their tears.
    My tears.
    So now I have a different job.
    But yes. I was there. Too many times to count.

  3. I hate that your heart is torn up. For me it's not the piles of clothes, but the sharing of the day that may come innocently weeks later. The conversation that starts with “Mommy, can you tell me about/did you know that…” and end with “Sweetie, we'll have to ask your Daddy/Teacher about that one.” That's when it hits me that that they have a life I'm not always a part of.

    In those times I catch myself wondering if what I'm doing away from my kids is everlasting worth it. And usually come around to the conclusion that it is for my family, for our future, for their benefit that I am not the only one they interact with. They will have experiences that someone else can also share and help them grow from different perspective.

    But still, it sucks not being there. I sometimes wish we Mom's had magic powers, like beaming ourselves in seconds to be somewhere, we'd be the best at using them responsibly!

  4. Absolutely. I often feel the same way about breakfast dishes. When I get home at night with them and the dishes are still sitting there and I realize I had no idea what they ate. It's hard this whole business, it it.

  5. Oh my god you said what I couldn't articulate. I had that day yesterday. It's not everyday but it's really hard. I pick out my son's outfits for the week every weekend, choosing my favorites, the cute ones, the almost grown out of ones, the comfy ones. It is hard when the next time I see them is on the floor when I sneak in for a peek at him (already asleep by the time I get back on my late days). Covered in the food I didn't get to see him eat. makes me appreciate the days I get to be the one to wrestle the clothes on him and clean the peanut butter or tomato sauce out of his hair!

  6. The least amount of time I spend with my girl during the week is 3 or 4 hours a day, but I still get that twinge when I pick her up and see she's gotten something (food, paint, etc.) on her clothes at daycare, and I wasn't there to see her playing and getting grubby.

    I want and desperately need my work time as much as I want and desperately need to be with her, but we simply can't do both. Ugh.

    I just watched this TED video this week, and never nodded so hard as I did at the discussion of massive highs and lows, sometimes simultaneous, that make up parenthood.

  7. My job creates such days. My girls are 12 and 14, and it still drives me nuts if I didn't get to see what they chose for the day. I had one run in September where there was at least a week of those days, and it was horrible. To make it worse, it was right around the time my older daughter started her freshman year of high school, and I was devastated that when people asked me how it was going, I had to say “I really don't know.”

    Fortunately, it's not the norm. So powering through the tough days is something I can do.

  8. I look and wonder where my little baby went – and then I realize other people see her more than I do… And sometimes to be honest, I can't fight the tears.

  9. Beautifully put, as always.

    We're lucky in that between the hours we usually work, the fact that my girls both get up at the crack of dawn, and the fact that we live a 15-30 minute commute from where we work, both my husband and I are usually involved in getting the girls ready and we're both home in time for dinner most days.

    It is hard when I have an evening networking event to go to and I miss the baby's bedtime. She's still nursing, and she doesn't understand. She does OK, but she wakes up earlier in the night on nights where I'm not home to nurse her before bed. The older girl handles those days really well, but I find that for the most part I just don't go to those events anymore, which isn't the best career move.

    Right now I'm looking for a new job, because I was laid off. I've got two strong leads right now. One of them sounds like a lot of fun, but would involve some travel. The other one sounds fun, but maybe not quite as much fun- but involves no travel. I'll be thinking long and hard about that choice, if I get to make it. Everything is a trade off, right?

    Wishing you fewer early mornings and late nights!

  10. I feel the same way. My girl goes to daycare. This morning she was screaming when I left because she doesn't feel good. Now two hours later, I'm still fighting back the tears. These are the days I want to scream 'It's not fair'. Because it's not.
    Hugs for you and your girls. Hugs to all of us who struggle with this one.

  11. I have those days too. I don't know what's worse: mornings when the baby wails when I walk out the door, or mornings when I don't even see her because I leave while she's sleeping.

  12. I've been having a rough motherhood week this week too. Feel like the balance is further away and that I am just not focusing enough. Maybe adjusting to two that are now both mobile and talking and needy? I don't know. I need to work, but I want to kiss those precious cheeks and just dance in the living room. So hard. So glad we're all in it together.

  13. Yes. But trade your girl clothes for my boy clothes of football jerseys, windpants and under armour apparel.
    Just yes.

  14. I remember a similar time during the summer when my daughter was . I had a grueling schedule (ex account person), I would leave as she was waking up and I would come home and she was freshly bathed and fed. Our very sweet nanny saw that I was sad about missing so much of the summer and she made me a CD with all the pics and videos of their outings. I cried so much because there were so many outfits, hair dos, experiences that I missed. Months later I had my son and decided to become a stay at home mom, I don't miss a thing now, but I still get a little emotional when I see those pictures.

  15. *sob* Yes.
    I've been thinking hard about quitting my job to be home with my daughter. Hubby works evenings/nights so he's home with her through the day and I just wish so hard, and so often that it was me at home. I'm this close (holds thumb and forefinger a hair's breadth apart) to saying to hell with it and staying home.
    Problem is that this isn't a job that I can walk away from and return to later (self employed and would close business to leave) and although sometimes it beats the crap out of me, most days I have enough flexibility to come home early or take partial days off for doc appts, nursery school field trips etc.
    What to do, what to do?
    (And I may be just a tad emotional as I had to miss the nursery school tobogganing field trip this week, and left to sobs of “mommy, no go to work…please, no go to work, stay home with me…no go to work please” this morning. The 'please' especially broke my heart.)

  16. Oh, yes, I hear you. And sometimes even when I see them dressed for the day, I don't really SEE them, which leads to this morning's realization that my 9-year-old has worn the same pair of leggings three days in a row.

    I'm not negligent, not really; I just wish I had a little more time to LOOK.

  17. I just thought about this when looking at pictures of my dear friends that have moved away. I didn't even KNOW they had those outfits! When did she get new shoes? Can she tie them herself now? She hates headbands, when did she change her mind? I miss them…

  18. I absolutely relate to this. If I didn't take my son to daycare in the morning, I'd barely see him during the week. It's really hard.

  19. See what I did there? I ignore all sad feelings and opportunities to commiserate and instead look for a solution to “fix” things.

    That's just how I roll.

  20. I can imagine this would be hard, although I'm a stay at home mother right now so I don't experience this first hand. But what I can tell you is that in order to be a stay at home mother you have to make sacrifices too. I get tons of time with my children but we can't exactly afford to go on a family vacation this year either.

    So don't beat yourself up. You work so hard mainly to give them as much as you can.

    You're doing a great job.

  21. Not sure if this is of comfort or not, but they will probably just remember the times in between – the hugs, the bed time stories you read them, the weekends, etc. My mother worked throughout most of my childhood and I remember how amazing I thought she was, not what I missed out on.

  22. Can I just say … O know that one.
    Well, I do see what my son is dressed in in the morning as I have to drop him off, but I do know the feeling you are talking about a lot. Worst thing is in the evening,just like Sarah, when I ask him how his day was “Mom, I don't want to talk about that AGAIN. I already told that to so many other people before I got to see you.” Sigh.

  23. Oh Liz, I so, so understand this, some days are just like that.

    Last night after an especially nutty day, I climbed to the top of my daughter's bunk bed and hugged her in her sleep while trying to fight back tears (to no avail).


  24. I totally understand.

    We just completely changed our professional lives to better suit our home life – and our girls are 11 and 15. Too much time away, not being there when they need you.

    It wasn't the clothes on the floor. It was the time I came home after 8 pm and my 15 year old followed me down the hall as I put down the laptop bag. I turned around and stopped dead at the look on her face. “Mom, I need to talk to you.”

    We went into my room, she opened up, there were tears. It involved HS drama and teacher frustration. My fiercely independent teenager became a sobbing mess. I listened, hugged, advised, listened some more.

    Once alone, I shed tears too. She held all that in for more than 8 hours while I did… what? I don't have any idea now what kept me at the office so late.

    She needed her mom. I wasn't there. It stays with you.

    It wasn't just one incident. There were others. We were all hurting.

    I am BLESSED that my manager understands and I can work at home now. Hubby was BLESSED to leave a job that required 100% travel (yes, really) and move to one that lets him sleep at home almost every night.

  25. Thank you for posting this. Up until 2 months ago, I worked a full-time second shift job. My children are just 3 and 1, so by the time I was home (usually anywhere between 9:30 pm – 11:00 pm) they were asleep.

    While I am grateful I got some morning time with them, I hated missing bedtime. Every single work day, since my kids were born, I missed bedtime.

    Also, my husband worked a 9-5 job, so I rarely saw him either, especially since I worked weekends.

    Thank you again for posting this and all the comments. It's good to know we're not alone.

  26. What is wrong with me that I don't feel bad about missing huge parts of my children's days? Of course they're older than yours, but they have lives that I only get tiny peeks into. And I think it's ok.

    Maybe it is because they're older and I'm used to it? But I take solace in that they can have a great, exciting day and can be okay without me.

  27. Heartbreaking. For what it is worth (admitedly not very much,) I truly believe your kids are having an easier time with this than you are. It seems that parenting is a constant emotional struggle to balance what we need, what they need and what we actually can do. I presume that most days when you aren't physically around for them, they do not feel less loved or less secure because it sounds like when you are there you have built all that love and security in them from the beginning of their lives. You are doing a good job. This is a tough role…and like anything else you can only do the best you can. Take care!

  28. Oh, this is sweet and touching and sad all at once. So wonderfully written. Your heart is all over this.

    As a WAHM, any piles of clothes on the floor mean “time to do laundry—again!”

  29. I'm just sad. Sad for you, and sad for so many of the moms who commented. And sad for the little ones, who no doubt are getting the very best their parents can offer them, both in ways they can see and ways they can't possibly understand.

    Also, thanks for the perspective this gave me. I fled the house tonight right after dinner to hide out in a local coffee shop and get some work done without the din of my life — two toddler boys always always ALWAYS underfoot — to distract and annoy me. As a WAHM sometimes I focus on that lump of laundry as an annoyance, yet another thing I HAVE to take care of — instead of seeing the memories from the day I was able to experience with them. I know every stain on their shirts (and mine), and that is a blessing. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that fact.

    Here's hoping there are more days in your future when the laundry just looks like a chore, and not like something you missed.

  30. @BackpackingDad You're such a man. (heh).

    As always Liz, you provide many of us who, admittedly, would love to have someone else dress our children just to give us a little break, a reason to be thankful for the arguments, goofy outfits, and everything else that might seem small and frustrating about dressing our kids.

    You know how much I love reading your perspective on this.

  31. If only moms who work outside the home and mom who stay at home could read each others' posts like this one and be reminded of the positives of their own lives instead of pointing out the negatives of the others' lives. I love that in this comment thread, your readers have done the former.

  32. sigh. i've been at home with my son since he was born, but i'm about to send him to daycare next month for the first time (in preparation for returning to the workforce). i know i'm in denial about it because i know that if i even thought about it seriously for one second, i would lose my nerve. unfortunately financial realities being what they are, it has to be done, but i'm glad i'm in good company.

  33. oh, yes, I have often felt the same way. And I have no idea how my girls' day was…I ask – did you have a good day?, but by the time I get home, the kids are ready for baths and bed, and school is a distant memory. Hopefully I'll get a glimmer of how their day was…if my daughter feels like talking. All this for an early morning meeting..

  34. I chose the middle ground: went for part time. This way when I am just about to go crazy running after them I get to go to work, and when I start missing them I get to go back (ok, so it's not that perfect, but… somewhat)

  35. I give new moms returning to work just two pieces of advice (well, unless they ask) 1) bring a photo for your desk, though you may be too emotional to set it out, you'll know it is there; 2) dress your child, or lay out clothes, before you head to work – at least you can picture him in your head (though chances are the outfit won't last the day).

  36. I rarely know what my kids are dressed in because I leave first thing in the morning before they wake up…picking my kids up at daycare is always an adventure since my colorblind husband gets them dressed in the morning. The daycare providers are always watching my reaction as my daughter will occasionally flounce up to me in the flower girl dress she wore two years ago or my 2 year old son is wearing his rash guard swim shirt with a pair of sweatpants.

  37. I have often felt that way. She is usually still asleep when I leave, but I'm fortunate that I usually have time with her before she goes to sleep. There have been days, though, when she's so tired from her day of adventure without me, that she sleeps the evening away and all I caught were a few moments of wakefullness. Those days are hard.

  38. I can imagine that is hard. I work part-time from home (not as perfect as it sounds I SWEAR) and please just trust me that I would bet you that as many times as you feel this way – there are as many times that I crave to be out in the real world feeling like a functional, intelligent person who accomplishes more than passing out juice and goldfish crackers. Of course I DO do more than that. I just doesn't always FEEL like it!

  39. I so hear you on this. The very best part of starting my own company is how few of these days happen now that I'm working at home (it used to happen multiple times per week). My heart goes out to all the moms (and dads) who still live this – some of them more than you and I ever have.

  40. In my home this pile of clothes is something much different; like clothes they tried on sifting through the “what to wear” stage of the morning. Failing to hang them back up it's thrown in the dirty clothes. I wish it were the later 🙂

  41. Aww, that's the sadest thing I've read in a while. I can relate in a way because whenever I have to be away from my kids I like to know EVERYTHING about their day. Like what was snack at school? Even down do the dirty details like when did he poop and what was it like? I have to know these things.

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