I’ll never forget the first time I lost my balance and face-planted for one of my kids. I had just returned to work after my lengthy maternity leave. The working mom guilt was on me like permanent marker. My brain could not fathom that God had entrusted me with two perfect little beings. It had taken so much effort to get them here safely, so I was terrified that something was going to screw up my newly established first child(ren) utopia. Leaving all that preciousness for work each day left me feeling empty and sad.
I loved my work, and up until becoming a mother, it defined me. At work I was valued and useful. And after many years of busting my tail, I was actually earning a decent living. This mom gig was new and scary, but it came with an overwhelming sense of love that I had never felt before. To say that I was conflicted is an understatement.
On this particular occasion, I arrived at my mother-in-law’s house after a 10-hour day at the office. Screeching into the driveway, I threw the car in park and shimmed my high-heeled, pencil-skirted self down the front walkway. I barged through the front door. As I bent down to greet my babies, I could feel my twin tummy skin lump up. But it didn’t matter. Seeing those two-teethed grins was the highlight of my day. I snuggled each baby and asked them questions they couldn’t understand. Wide eyed and happy, they waved their arms and blinked back at me.
Someone suggested that we go outside into the sunshine for some fresh air. It was a beautiful afternoon. So out we went as the twins toddled along behind. Dakota had found his footing early, skipped the walking part, and went straight to running. He could not be trusted in open spaces. His sissy took a few steps, then fell on her bottom and giggled. Our Granny lived on a popular street in Broadmoor, and her yard sloped down to the sidewalk and then eventually to the street. In half a second, Dakota took off down the hill toward the street.
It was happening. “Danger. Danger. Disaster ahead,” rang the alarm in my brain. And like a middle-aged man in yard aerating shoes, I took off through the grass toward my escaping child. My heels only allowed for three steps before forcing me to leap forward and slide to a stop just short of the sidewalk. I may have gotten grass in my teeth. I can’t remember. However, I do remember the hysterical laughter coming from the adults standing behind me. Dakota had stopped running short of the street. There were no cars in sight.
In the last 9.5 years that I’ve been a working mother, I’ve learned that losing my balance is inevitable. Just when my work schedule can’t fit another appointment, the school nurse calls or someone wakes up with fever. You haven’t lived until you step on a Lego at 2 a.m. after scrubbing vomit chunks out of carpet. And when the stomach bug has finally cleared itself from my home and the kids are all back in school, my tummy begins to rumble. Without fail, these disasters happen when Pat is at the fire station. Every. Single. Time. Then the dog gets diarrhea.
My best put-together mom effort occurs at the start of each new school year — coordinated outfits, matching socks, labelled school supplies. I’ve had all summer to prepare. We’re prompt, well fed. Sometimes we’re even early. We come unraveled shortly thereafter. A few weeks in and debris falls out of my vehicle as the kiddos hurriedly exit in car line. And… we’re running late again. “Put together” was great while it lasted. Unfortunately, it’s not who we are.
Work is controlled. There’s a process. It’s predictable. I’m good at it. At work I can begin and finish a project in orderly fashion. And the best part is that the financial and professionally gratifying rewards are in direct proportion to my efforts. But with parenting, there is no such equation.
Take eating well for example. I’ve always valued healthy eating habits and exercise. All my life I’ve been active. Veggies and lean meat are my jam. It wasn’t as difficult feeding my family well when my children were babies. But now that they’re grown and are active in multiple activities, the challenge to provide nutritious timely meals oftentimes feels insurmountable. It takes a lot of planning. The weekly calendar coordination of work, sports, spousal shift work, volunteer activities, homework and tutoring, without fail, invokes a line of sprouting chin pimples. Oh, and we have to eat. So, I grocery shop and prep meals on Sunday. Then each morning before work, I plug in the crockpot. She died last week. Sometimes it seemed that she was my only ally. It feels appropriate to hold a memorial service.
I have filed taxes more times in the past 9 years than I have exercised. Don’t tell my cardiologist. But really? When am I supposed to find time to do that? The people that have an answer to this question are the same people that still believe in the possibility of a work/life balance. In all honesty, I just don’t think we can be friends. Because while you’re over there killing it, I’m pretty sure it’s killing me. The only thing I’m killing is my coffee pot. Please don’t tell my cardiologist that either.
The biggest argument in my house is over laundry. Its mountainous form heaped high on my formal dining table infuriates my husband. He wants me to eliminate it. I just can’t — mainly because I’m exhausted but also because I don’t want to. That does not go over well. While my house is clean, it’s messy. Dakota likes to throw his underwear onto fan blades and Dylan makes slime in her bathroom sink. Cameron’s shoes are a permanent fixture on the boot dryer. My friends know this about me and chose to love me anyway. But secretly, and more often than not, my messy house makes me feel like a failure.
One Halloween while Pat and I were hosting an adult costume party, my friend Heather disappeared. I was busy mingling with the other guests and refilling the nacho bar. My house was clean and aglow with festive candles and holiday décor. After making the rounds, I spotted Heather sitting alone in the living room. She was looking at her phone and giggling. We share the same sense of humor, so I inquired. Handing her phone to me, she said, “look at this.”
It was a picture of her sitting atop an explosion of clothes. She was in her closet—an embarrassingly disheveled excuse for a closet. I blinked a few times. Heather was staring at my face. She was waiting for me to realize that not only was she not in her closet, but she was in MINE! We both began to laugh hysterically.
She summed me up with this, “This is the perfect example of you. Everything else in this house is perfectly put together, but your closet is a disaster. The house is how you take care of your family, your friends and your clients. Your closet is how you take care of you.” She’s right. The current state of my closet is a direct reflection of my emotional health.
So what can I tell you about balance? I can’t find it. I tackle each day with everything I’ve got. I give my energy to whomever needs it most that day. I try not to worry because helicoptering over my children has not shielded them from harm. It’s just made me crazy. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about enjoying my work. Because even though I can’t have it all, I can have what matters. That’s all the balance I need.