The other day, as I rushed past the piano on my way out of the house headed for work, I noticed this (above). I wish I had thought to get a photo of the whole thing (every white key was labeled on the entire piano), but I wasn’t thinking straight and only got this one close-up photo before I went to work cleaning it. To be honest, I am amazed that I had the wherewithal to grab the camera at all… all things considered. And I take great pride in the fact that I didn’t lose my mind completely upon discovering it in the first place. It turned out – lucky for all involved – that the marker was not permanent, and was, in fact, one of those white-board-erasable markers (thank God!). With a little Windex it was easily removed and Owen was given a good de-briefing as to why it is not okay to write on pianos… even if you are in the process of trying to teach your twin brother how to play the 1812 Overture on the piano. Our housecleaner Pat (God bless her), and our summer babysitter Ryan (God bless her), both happened to be here at the time that this all went down. They both laughed and told me that their own impression of the situation was that Owen was “brilliant” for coming up with this idea. My impression was that he should know better than to act on this stroke of brilliance. But I was still able to laugh it off with the help of two strong women I trust (who each have a lot of experience with children, and in particular, with brash boys).
The reason I tell this story is this: I consider it probably my greatest asset as a Working Mother of three young kids that I am able to laugh such things off.
Because if I couldn’t laugh about it, I’d surely go crazy.
And I’m close to going crazy as is.
Life is just really crazy-making around here. I don’t just work, I have a fairly hefty career. And I don’t just have three young kids, I have three huge-personality-kids (two of which are wild-and-crazy-spirited-very-high-energy twin boys). And three times per year, like clockwork, the craziness rises to full tilt and comes very, very close to boiling over. There is an obvious pattern to the triannual insanity: the start of the fall semester, the end of the fall semester, and the end of the spring semester. These three crunch times in my own professional life just so happen to coincide perfectly with: the kids’ major transition from summer to the start of school, Christmas (i.e., the kids’ most intensely excitable time of year), and the kids’ major transition from the end of school to the start of summer (and, adding insult to injury, in our case, icing on the cake, also all three of our kids’ birthdays). Nice.
It isn’t pretty.
It is hard and gritty and downright ugly during these three times of year. Not that the rest of the year is easy by any stretch of the imagination. It isn’t. But these three times of year are gruesome. And right now we’re smack dab in the middle of one of them.
I think that unless you’ve been a working mother – and I mean, especially a mother who also has a demanding pressure-cooker competitive high-stakes self-driven sort of a career – that you really cannot even imagine what it is like to live this life. It is richer and more gratifying that I ever could have imagined. And it is harder and more painful than I ever, ever, ever expected.
I was led to believe that I could do it all. And yet I had no good role models of it being done in a way that I truly respected. I was told to go for it. And yet nobody I knew was really able to mentor me through it in any real way. I feel like I was mislead. I wish I had known the reality. I still probably would have made the same choices that I did (I don’t regret being a working mother), but I wish I could have gone into it with my eyes more wide open.
Which is a big part of why I keep blogging here… because I know for a fact (I receive the emails) that many, many young women (and men) are reading this right now and that many of them are graduate students, medical students, and law students and that many of them have absolutely no other real insight to the inside of lives like mine other than through crazy little blogs like this one. When I feel like I should quit the blog, I keep going in large part for those younger-versions-of-myself out there who I hope will go into their careers with a better sense of the truth of it.
Last week I had to go on a work trip to a conference in Las Vegas. Because of the timing of things, it just so happened that the same morning that I needed to catch an early flight, Braydon also had to be out of the house at the crack of dawn for an important meeting a couple hours away. If my mom lived nearby, I’d just call her in for this little challenge and she would have been there in a heartbeat. But… like many MWCs (Moms With Careers), I have absolutely no family or really-oldie-but-goodie-type friends anywhere near me (I have them in my life, they just live far away). We decided our first choice strategy would be to ask Zahir to help us. Swallowing our pride (it is hard for us to ask for help), we asked (via text message because that’s how he rolls). And he, being the incredible person that he is, texted back in two seconds flats: “I’ve got you covered.” We’ve worked hard to develop relationships like ours with Zahir, but still we thank our lucky stars for him in our life. So, on Friday morning, Braydon left the house at 5:45am, Zahir arrived at 6:30, and I was headed to the airport before 7am. Technically, this all sounds well and good. Except that I had to jet off, leaving my kids for four days, for a work trip in Nevada, while a babysitter got them their waffles and tried to reassure them that everything was going to be o.k. I had a lump in my throat the entire morning, and could have cried at any moment if I let myself (but I couldn’t let myself – FYI: mascara running and work meetings don’t mix), just thinking of the scene in my home that morning. Meera, her sweet 3-year-old-self, being a brave big girl about Mommy’s “work trip”; Kyle and Owen, sleepy eyed and bed-headed, drowsy and cuddly, telling me that they wish I didn’t have to go; Zahir calmly telling me “It’s under control” and me knowing that it was, but wishing that the whole thing could have been different. In what way different? I don’t exactly know… just different. Just easier.
There are strategies that we have in place to try to buffer this as much as possible, things we have learned to do that help us through these times, and ways of coping that we’re using for the sake of our whole family. (For example, during these times we go even more out of our way than usual to rely extra heavily on other, saner, less affected people to keep our kids as contented as possible – such as having Ryan work a few more hours; we do things we know are centering and calming for our family – such as purposefully schedule time for activities that soothe us – such as pool time and bike rides and time reading books; we plan meals of comfort food – macaroni and cheese!; we work even harder than usual to ensure our kids get enough sleep; etc.). Still—no matter how hard we try—it just plain sucks each and every time that we go through these phases.
It is so hard. It is so tempting to quit. It is daunting to think of keeping going. But the work – both the work at work, and the work at home – is too important to just throw in the towel. And so, I keep chugging along at trying to do the work really well (both the work at work, and the work at home), and hoping for the best.
About three times a year I get really down about it. And right about now I’m really struggling. It feels like we’re in the fast lane moving way too fast (especially with three young kids buckled into the back). And the crunch is one thing for us to take upon ourselves, but it is another when the sweat of it (inevitably, unavoidably) seeps onto our kids – kids who never asked for this or made the decisions that led to this.
Don’t worry, I’m not throwing any pity party for my kids. I know they are, and will be, fine (I really, really do know that – and if you knew them you’d know that too). And I’m not feeling sorry for myself (I’m really not!). I’m just saying: this is our reality. Especially three times a year.
I don’t think that sharing this will discourage young people from pursuing lives that involve dual-career families. I really do believe that people with a deep passion for the work they want to do will do it, regardless of the struggles and challenges it entails. And so I share this in part to give what I didn’t get: a little glimpse into what it is really like. And there is a part of me that wonders if 20 or 30 years from now I’ll even remember all this (will lots of it be just a big blur?), and so… I also share this in part just in case one of my three are wondering for themselves and reading this someday.
Even (especially?) during the crunch times I try to remember something near and dear to my heart, something that really keeps me going: that every individual has the right to have their personal potential unconstrained. And so, we speed on in the far left lane, looking for that slower stretch on the horizon. It will come soon, and then I’ll catch my breath. In the meantime… onward! (and yowzas!)
photo of Meera taken the other day by Ryan when they went to a paint-your-own-pottery-place (and by the way— the piggy bank princess crown that she chose to paint came home yesterday and it is just BEAUTY-full!)