I am a privileged woman. Thus far today, I have swept the kitchen floor twice of debris I am sure must have been caused by wild animals eating at the island instead of my young sons. I did this with a smile.
I have put away my little one’s clean clothes, lovingly folding each one, noticing how small each still is-knowing before long they’ll be a size much closer to mine and I’ll wonder where the days went.
I have created a mini-art studio on my kitchen floor and wiped up the washable (bless whoever invented it) paint from my hardwood floors at least four times. I hugged my son each time.
Lest you think I am some sort of Stepford wife, let me assure you I am far from it. I don’t resemble in the slightest Phyllis Schaffly. Nothing I’ve ever created in an oven looks remotely like what Martha Stewart pulls out of hers. And many times, I’m doing the above tasks muttering four-letter words I don’t allow my children to say.
So what gives today?
The woman standing next to me in my 20-year high school reunion photo was buried today. After years of battling breast cancer. Her four children, ranging from fourth to eighth grade, were there to see their mother laid to rest. And I am here, in the flesh. Realizing what an idiot I can be on the days I don’t see how damn lucky I am.
Trisha and I were never best friends, but we were friendly. We had not stayed in touch after high school. I moved on to Chicago and a fast-paced career. Trisha married a hometown boy and they made a good life together. When I saw her at our reunion, she looked better in a headscarf than I did with all the fussing I’d done with my hair for an hour before leaving. We chatted briefly, shared photos of our kids-and I’ll never forget the look on her face when I expressed amazement at how great she looked. I said and meant with all my heart, “You look much too young and energetic to have children of this age.” She beamed. I did not see a cancer victim. I saw a vibrant, attractive, devoted mother.
When she found out she had just a few months left, her husband asked her what she wanted to do with the time. “I just want to be a mom,” she replied. And that’s what she did. From what I hear, literally until her last breath.
I do the same thing every day. Granted, I fit in freelancing, but most of my time is devoted to my family. I made this choice willingly a few years ago and do not regret it. There are moments, hours, sometimes days, though, that I wish longingly again for flying business class, staying in five-star hotels and working dinners filled with expensive wines.
It is at times like these that I now know I will remember Trisha. And her kids. Who now don’t have what my kids do.
Do I live a life of privilege? Not the way I used to define it. My house is modest, my car a typical soccer mom minivan and my meals are interspersed with, “Don’t throw that at your brother” and “White starches are not a food group.”
But yes, I do live a privileged life. I am here. Sharing their little lives. Guiding, shepherding. Screwing it up sometimes, but here nonetheless. And when you see the faces of kids who have lost a parent, you finally “get” in the deepest sense of the word what it means to be present for your kids. I am here. And this is what I call a life of privilege.
Kristine Blenkhorn Rodriguez is a freelance journalist who has been published in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She is a mother of two and an eternal optimist.