Confession: I missed my youngest son’s first day of preschool because I was out of state working on a film production. Yep, me and Chelsea Clinton have that in common. She missed her child’s first day of preschool because she was campaigning for her mother’s presidency, something perhaps more important than my film shoot. In her case, her husband took their child to school. In my case, though, my husband wasn’t there for the big day either. He was with me — working on said film production. My mom took our son to his first day and wiped his tears and calmed his nerves and told him how proud we all were of him. He was fine.
Was this an easy decision for me to make? No. Do I regret it? No. Am I grateful that I did not have to also contend with an entire slew of media attention regarding my decision? Yes. Parenting is hard enough without outsiders scrutinizing everything you do. Do I stand by the decision, even if I wish the circumstances had been different? Absolutely.
Many months before, my husband and I finalized a script for “THE wHOLE,” a short film about solitary confinement, which we were inspired to make in the wake of the Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strikes that raised our awareness about the torture and inhumanity of isolation in prisons across the United States.
Shooting this short film on a very limited budget (we self-financed it, so it was micro, micro-budget) required a lot of creative thinking, copious amounts of research, and travel. All of the prison locations suitable in the Los Angeles area were way out of our price range, but there was a facility in Portland, Oregon that we could afford, even taking into account travel. We needed to work around the schedule availability of that location and of our key crew (our cinematographer was shooting the short pro bono) and our actors. We finalized all of these details well before the school calendar was available for either of our sons’ schools.
When we learned that we would be missing our youngest son’s first day of preschool, we contemplated shifting the dates, but realized that wouldn’t be possible. I considered flying up later and missing the first day of shooting, but we also realized that wasn’t feasible. I was the sole producer on the project. We didn’t even have any production assistants for the shoot or the funds for craft services or catering. I was it. Missing a day was not possible. I was already joining the crew late in their pre-production process so that I could be with our children. My husband and I would both have to miss his first day of preschool. We would trust my mother with this important task. We would honor our commitment to this film project, to highlighting a human rights injustice, to honoring the time and energy that key cast and crew members were offering to this project.
We made a choice, and it’s a choice I stand by. It’s a choice that countless mothers (and fathers) across the nation make everyday. Working parents often miss important events because of financial realities, and it sucks, but it is the reality.
I’ve sat with other women filmmakers and heard them share about the challenges that come with doing work that involves long days (average is 12 hours) and high emotional and mental commitments while also doing another “job” with long hours (24/7) and even higher levels of emotional commitment.
Every parent I know questions a decision (or several). Every parent I know struggles as they seek a balance in meeting the needs of their children and family and meeting their own needs. These are not tasks or challenges that any of us take lightly. These are not tasks that we need others to stand on the outside and judge. No one else can tell you what decision is right for your family. As parents, we have to do that for ourselves. But, we can help each other out. We can foster communities and societal structures that support our abilities to make the right decisions for our families and for our own mental health. We can and we must.
Most of the time, I feel like I’m not able to do all I should be doing to move my professional work and career as a filmmaker forward…
…and I feel like I’m not able to do all I should and want to be doing as a mother.
But, I’ve learned that the important thing is to maintain a firm commitment to doing the best I can. Everyday, I do the best I can to move my film work forward, and I do the best I can to support other filmmakers. Everyday, I do the best I can to parent my sons, and I do the best I can to support other parents.
This is all I can do, and sometimes doing the best I can means missing my son’s first day of preschool. At other times, it means wrapping up an article or email, so that I can answer the call to play Legos and read books, which I’m off to do right now!