Smoke and Mirrors



“Okay guys, it’s time for me to go!”


I kiss their silky hair. I take a moment to breathe them in. I used to be doing this for me. And then I was doing it for them. But now, I’m not sure why I’m doing it.


A Friday night. Most of the city is driving home, ready to relax. Conversely, my anxiety has steadily risen since this morning. I’m dressed in scrubs, simple earrings, and a watch. Heading to work, I’ll be on my feet all night while my husband plays with and reads to and tucks in our sweet little angel-monster kids. Later, he’ll lay next to an empty space and sleep till the morning when I return.


I’m home during the week, and I realize I have nothing to complain about. Not all stay at home moms get to keep their foot in the door so easily. But while I used to enjoy leaving my family to take care of strangers, it’s wearing on me now.  


After a long week, when we are finally all together, it’s tough for me to get up and go. In part, I simply don’t want to leave my kids and husband.


The other part is the actual work. It’s a critical care unit and weekend nights tend to bring in the kind of people who make poor choices after a few too many drinks following a tough week.


I could be assigned the sweet family with the mom who was walking across the street at just the wrong time. Or, I could have the drugged out twenty-something who is well enough to swear and kick at me for twelve hours straight, but too sick to understand he almost killed himself and his friends. More likely, I could get both of those patients on the same night.


After my daughter was born, I was thankful to become a stay-at-home mom. Eventually though, I wanted to see if I could work just a little. In nursing, you can do this. It was the best of both worlds; a stay at home mom with a very part-time job.    


That was nearly a decade ago. Weekends are no longer filled with block towers and play dough. There is more to miss when I sleep through their days. Not to mention my children are getting older and getting suspicious. They seems to see how it wears on me and how I’m no longer confident as I leave for work, but nervous.


My oldest gives me one too many hugs goodbye when I leave—the kind that are for me, not for her. Lately, she even says, “I’ll pray for you tonight, mom.”


I grab my bag, head out the door, and wave goodbye as I drive away. All three of them are waving back from our front window. I honk and I see the little one start laughing.


Going to work shouldn’t feel like drinking a cocktail mixed with anxiety and guilt, should it?


In the morning, I greet my kids’ sleepy heads and shuffling feet. They haven’t missed a beat.


My daughter’s concerns from the previous evening vanished with the sunset and all she wants now is to know if I stopped at the bakery for fresh bread and breakfast treats.


The day starts for my family as I kiss them “goodnight.” My husband appreciates the time with them and makes even the most mundane tasks delightful when they do them together. The kids love Dad Days.  


As I settle into sleep it strikes me how childhood, like a magic show, is enchanting because our kids only see what’s catching their attention at the moment. They don’t care about the why and the how—they simply experience the moment.  


My children don’t—and shouldn’t—know the depth of how I feel to leave or miss part of their weekend. And they don’t—and shouldn’t—know the tension I feel between stress of the job and the extra income, which makes their new shoes or a special gift a little easier to buy.


~ ~ ~


All parents have their own unique brand of magic. Each of us finds, through years of practice, experience, and those last ditch “I’ll try anything” efforts, the bag of tricks which works for us.


Children aren’t aware of the angled mirrors we sometimes use to show the illusion of our smiling faces—when the truth is that we are scared, sad, disappointed, or in pain. In strained marriages, seasons of stress or sickness—our kids see the puffs of smoke we use to distract them. They Oooh and Aaah when we guess their cards or read their minds, never realizing the deck is stacked in our favor.


As our kids get older, they will figure it—us—out.


The magic of childhood only lasts so long.


Sonya Spillmann


  1. Sonya, I know how hard this is. You are so fortunate you only have to work those few hours from the week. And the children learning to read us….that’s hard to take in some ways, but infinitely rewarding in others. When we had the most difficult experience of our lives, our youngest was 16….and he was virtually an adult. It was wonderful to be able to be transparent with him and know our hearts could be open and honest with him, as opposed to having to shelter him as we would a child.

    Every season of their lives, and yours, have these things, good and bad. Savor each one. And thank the Lord that your once a week shift is possible, for the financial benefits and for the Daddy time your children need.

  2. oh man…”Going to work shouldn’t feel like drinking a cocktail mixed with anxiety and guilt, should it?”

    that’s how i feel everyday when i drop my little one off at daycare to go to work. i look forward to when i can quit, not because my job isn’t awesome (because it is) but because i miss my child and want to be with him more than i want money and more than i want my job. and managing the guilt is a day-long struggle until i pick him up.

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