By Cheryl Miller-Fitzgerald
When I get home from work at night, the only one up is my dog. And I don’t think it’s because he also has a case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
I work at a local TV news station, where I write the news from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., when the last news show airs and the anchors head home. I’m leaving my house just as my 14-year-old twin boys are finishing up their last class, and I get home long after they’ve (hopefully) done their homework, turned their iPhones off, and gone to bed.
The job seemed like the right choice after I was downsized from my last job and then spent nearly three months searching for a writing position in my field. But switching from days to nights has come at a price. When I open the door at night and see Matt’s overturned geometry book, Josh’s Language Arts essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, some empty cups, and a half-eaten family-sized bag of Fritos strewn on the kitchen table, I feel like I’m back in the fifth grade, when Janice had an ice skating party and invited everyone but me.
Adult Case of FOMO
When I first told a friend about taking the job, she freaked out. “But how’s that going to work?” she asked. “Who’s going to do the cooking?” But that was no problem because my husband was only too happy to step in, especially if it meant a reprieve from my steamed kale and baked chicken.
I figured we could all FaceTime each other every night around dinnertime and talk about our days. I’d call them on my short break during the 8 p.m. sports segment, after writing my sixth tease on rising gas prices and try not to carb-shame them as they dug into their burgers and French fries.
The first time we tried this, I heard about the band kid who couldn’t play one right note on his euphonium, the girl in homeroom who had a sneezing fit, and the biology teacher who said she had 20 cats. But that lasted for all of two days. On the third day, I called them just as I was getting ready to dig into my salad. No one picked up.
Then I got a text from Josh. “What?”
“Where are you?” I texted back. “It’s dinnertime.”
I waited. And waited. I shot him a “Huh” emoji. More waiting.
On my way back into the newsroom, I finally got a text back. “We’re not five, Mom.”
My finger lingered over the “cry baby face” emoji. There it was again, that left-out-of-the-party feeling. It was there, too, when I missed things even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and all her “leaning in” didn’t have to miss—the things that only occur at night, like back-to-school night. Why couldn’t teachers hold a back-to-school morning? And how about a soccer game under the sun instead of the stars?
There are benefits to working at night. I don’t have to wait on line at the supermarket or bank. I never hit rush-hour traffic, and I never get shut out of a spin class. But once the endorphins wear off, the left-out feeling is replaced with every working mother’s nemesis—guilt—and with a vengeance.
Would Josh ever find out that I lied to him about going to his final marching band performance because I got called into work at the last minute? Did Matt’s piece of hair that always gets hijacked by his cowlick stick up the night he was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society because I wasn’t there to slick it down? Was that bag of half-eaten Fritos all my kids had for dinner that night?
And then, six months into the job, I got home unexpectedly early one evening. The boys were in the kitchen, their textbooks laid out mid-work on the table. Josh was at the sink filling the pasta pot with water while Matt shoved a dirty plate into the dishwasher and then filled the slot with dishwashing cleaner.
He saw my quizzical look. “Dad showed me,” he said.
“And me,” said Josh, not to be outdone, waving a spatula with a flourish like a game show host. “I finished my homework,” he said. “Later I’ll play video games. If that’s okay.” He stuffed a couple of Oreos in his mouth and adjusted his ear buds.
I put away my work stuff, pushed aside yet another nearly empty bag of Fritos, and found a half-written essay on The Crucible. “It’s almost done,” he said. I could see the unspoken question in his eyes. “Will Mom jump in here?”
I glanced at the first paragraph and saw the “B” grade in my head. I opened my mouth to suggest that he start off with a stronger lead—and then I thought twice.
“Good luck,” I told him. “Let me know if you need any help.”
He smiled, a real smile instead of one for the camera, and picked up the paper. And I put the kettle on for tea, sat down, and dug into that bag of Fritos.
Cheryl Miller-Fitzgerald is a writer and journalist and the mother of twin teen boys; she is at work on her first novel.