Champagne and little girls

I was invited to attend a concert given by Diana Damrau and Nicolas Testé at Smetana Hall, my first time at this sumptuous ‘Art Nouveau’ Municipal Hall in the centre of town. I dressed in velvet and picked my way over cobblestoned streets, glided up red-carpeted stairs and through bevelled glass doors. It didn’t matter that I was alone that night, for all the world and all the beauty was enough to keep me company.

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I’ll never forget the sound of Diana’s voice as she began to sing. Clear and uninhibited, there were no modern sound pads to kill the ring; she was wonderful. The hall was made for her.

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But as I held my glass of champagne at intermission – in a room full of well-heeled guests and music aesthetes – a message lit up my phone. It was my daughter, and her message sounded like a fire alarm.

I clamped my flute of bubbly under my elbow and punched in the home number, trying – in vain – to hear her anxiety over the din of chatty people. Her voice was low and quiet.

“I’m afraid to go to school tomorrow, mom, the other girls don’t like me.”

What do you say to a little girl two countries away when you have just five minutes? Guilt washed over me, but I pushed it aside. There’s no time for self-reproach when work needs to be done.

“Listen, my sweet,” I said. “I know how you feel – it’s happened to me, and you know all about that. But you’ve got this. We’ve got it! You just walk in there and hold your head up high, and tomorrow after school, we’ll have a chat in the kitchen when I’m home.”

I gulped down my champagne. The bell was ringing to return to our seats.

“I love you,” I called into the phone. And clicked off.

Diana sang pieces from ‘La Traviata’ after that, and while I’ll never forget that moment – really never – I couldn’t forget my daughter’s words over the line, either: “I’m afraid…the other girls don’t like me.”

There is a struggle for the working mom, and it isn’t only guilt. It’s anguish. And I wondered, as I walked back to the hotel that night, whether I could really fix it better from home. I don’t have an answer, just a question.

Good night, working moms.

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