Ever since my son Noah, was born over seven years ago, I have discovered the many challenges of what most refer to as “work/life balance.” It is a delicate balancing act to be sure – and some days, I feel more like a jack of all trades and master of none. There are days when my work day is full of challenges and defeats – and I can’t seem to drive fast enough to see those rumply crazy boys of mine. They can always be counted on to remind me that while I may not feel at the top of my game at work, to them, I am the center of the universe. That’s pretty great. Exhilarating, actually.
There are other days – like when the youngest goes into full tantrum mode because I asked him to brush his teeth or put his pants on – that my Monday morning return to the office just can’t come soon enough. While my husband Kevin and I are great partners in this dance of being both full-time employees and full-time mommy and daddy, there are some days when I feel more like a clown corralling a giant billy-goat rodeo than a success. Bad employee who can’t stay late because the kids need to get fed and get to soccer practice on time. Bad mommy because I can’t go on all the school field trips because I save my vacation time for their inevitable sick days. Bad wife because by the time the work day is done and the kids are finally asleep, all I have left is a snarky and rather grumpy version of myself. Bad friend because all those catch-up phone calls and girls night outs are put off to tomorrow so I can go to bed and start the dance again tomorrow. Sound familiar?
The September transition from the somewhat laid-back pace of summer, where the only non-work obligations are getting the boys to and from camp or daycare – to the hustle and bustle that the back to school season brings, has made my own personal work-life balance pendulum go from slightly slippery to swinging in complete disarray. Homework. Soccer. Tennis lessons. Playtime. Back to School. Meet the Teacher. PTO Meetings. Housekeeping, Work. Sleep. Life itself just begins to seem overwhelming and completely out of control and out of balance.
There’s a slightly cliched saying that states “When you trip, make it part of your dance.” While I’m still trying to gain my footing, I’ve spent some time recently, reflecting on ways to make MY dance a little more like a cool cha-cha and less like a cartoon version of myself walking across a patch of ice (carrying a baby and three bags of groceries)! I’ve come up with a couple small calibrations to the scale that I hope help us make our entire family’s life a little more organized, a little less hectic and a lot more fun (i.e more fun disco party, less goat rodeo!) In full disclosure, some of these revelations have come after a couple glasses of my favorite Merlot so I might suggest pouring your own glass before you read any further.
Pick your battles: Some of the battles I engage with my kids about take just about every brain cell I have in the morning – so by the time I get to the office, I am already mentally exhausted by the day’s clothing battle/sibling war/lunch conflict. Monday morning I woke up my youngest fashionista and per usual, he rejected every shirt I selected for him, opting for what was probably my least favorite shirt in his dresser. I shut my mouth, reminded myself I personally won’t see the shirt all day and thanked him for getting dressed like a good boy. You know what happened on Tuesday? “Mommy, will you pick out my shirt for me?” Wow. Just. Wow.
Know your limits: In our family’s continuous effort to save money, we decided to forgo before-care for Noah so that I could get him to the bus stop each morning. It would save us a decent amount of money each week, give Noah extra sleep time and in a perfect world, give us both some great one on one to have a nice breakfast together before heading off to our respective work and school days. That was the intended result. The reality? I rush to finish getting myself ready while he watches TV. He rushes through his cereal or bagel so he can race to the bus-stop to get in a game of foursquare with the neighborhood kids before the bus’s arrival. So after some reflection, Kevin and I put up the before-care funds and everyone is on a new, far more streamlined routine. I get to work almost a full hour earlier – a good faith response on my part in anticipation of any of the possible kid/school/family related distractions that might come up during the workday. Noah eats breakfast with his brother and the other before-care kids – an important part of his own routine. I miss our morning time together but am already seeing the increased productivity that an extra hour at the beginning of the workday can provide – a priceless commodity for the mommy’s who have mouths to feed and nurture at the end of that workday. Noah’s response to the new morning arrangements floored me. “Mom, I know there is only so much of you to go around. The thinner you spread yourself, the less of the happy Mommy we have at the end of the day.” Pretty wise words coming from a seven-year-old.
Forgiveness is bliss: I’m always apologizing for my words and actions – not necessarily because I’ve done anything malicious but usually in response to something that just didn’t fit into today’s plan. Not volunteering to chair this event at school because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Forgetting to defrost the next evening’s dinner so relying on fast food meals that aren’t in the budget. Neglecting my daily call to my mom because I can barely keep my eyes open. Sending the boys with their dad to the soccer game so I can sleep in for just 10 more minutes. I could go on for many more words but the reality is that there are many ways that I fail daily as a wife, mother, employee and friend. I know that. I also know that there are plenty of things that those same people I have disappointed countless times love about me anyway. For example, thanks to my early arrival at work, I was able to hop over to school today for an impromptu lunch-date with my blue-eyed boy. He was over the moon excited and it was the best (albeit noisy!) 25 minutes of my day. I went back to work fully refreshed and with a happy heart – and when I kissed him goodnight this evening, his words to me were “That was so cool showing my Mom off to my class. Thank you for coming to lunch today.”
It is moments like this that remind me that no matter how slippery that slope becomes in our family’s daily balancing dance, the people in this crazy disco with me make every single misstep part of the coolest dance ever. Let’s cha cha.