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Life in the Fast Lane (AKA Our Triannual Crunch)

Posted by | August 25, 2011 | Uncategorized | 25 Comments


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 Aug 04, 11 52 32 PM 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!)


  • Nicola says:

    I appreciate this so much… my highschool girlfriends and I (all studying law/commerce/medicine, all very driven, all somehow want families too) have dinner once a month and regularly discuss whats ahead of us, and its *so* easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking everything will be perfect, because thats generally the image we are fed. (not even going to get started on that word; perfect)

    I’m very grateful to be able to read your blog and feel like decisions I make will be made with ‘eyes wide open’. I’ll probably still make them, but at least when I hit a crunch, I’ll see it coming and won’t feel like its a personal failure.

    Thinking of you in your crunch,

  • Tenecia says:

    Wow, could you be any more full of yourself?! Newsflash: you are NOT the only working mother out there. But, of course, your career is always bigger, your kids are always more spirited than anyone elses, and you always deal with much much more than any other working mom in this whole wide world! Oh, and most working moms do not have the luxury of hired help. They actually, gasp, clean their own homes, do their own laundry and cook! :shaking my head: Spoiled white suburban lady that you are. You have no clue about the real world outside of your sweet suburban bubble.

    • Heather says:

      This comment is a great example of the kinds of comments that make me seriously question blogging about anything real, honest, or vulnerability-producing (and make me seriously question blogging in general). I know whenever I write a ‘real’ post (that isn’t cutesy or funny or entirely self-deprecating) that I open myself up to this sort of thing. But still, every single time that a comment like this comes it hurts and sends me into a spiral of self-doubt. I feel like I want to try to defend myself (i.e., yes, we have a great woman who comes and cleans our house for us one morning a week, but we do all of our own laundry, cooking, and lots and lots of cleaning., etc., etc., etc.), but it seems like a waste of energy. If the intent is to hurt my feelings, then I can assure that it was very much achieved.

      • Lindsey says:

        Thank you for sharing your experiences as a (successful :))working mom. You are truly an inspiration. Please don’t let thoughtless comments taint your tenacity!!!

        Wishing you and your family the best,

  • Megan says:

    Hang in there. I know that I’ve commented on this before on your blog, but I’ll say it again. As a stay-at-home mom, I am so grateful for career moms like you. I’m so appreciative that you show our young women that they have options and choices. That both (career and non-career) ways are great and hard and beautiful and painful and that you can do whichever one you choose with grace! Thanks for sharing your heart, Heather :-)

  • Carol says:

    I am very grateful that you publish posts like these. This is my life, and you describe it so well. I try to remind myself that it is *important* that my daughter know I value my own career, and why. It’s equally important that your sons get this. When you talk about how you wish it could be different, and easier, I am right there with you. But here’s your truth: every individual has the right to have their personal potential unconstrained. That’s it. hang in there. And so sorry for the unsupportive comments. I know you’re doubting yourself plenty as it is – comments like those would bring me to my knees.

  • Kate says:

    Heather, you are amazing! Thank you for continuing to blog through the tough times and about the tough times. Women like you are my role model and I don’t know yet if I will lead the same route but thank you, thank you, thank you for paving the way and writing openly and honestly about it!!! I want my future daughters and sons to have role models like you around them to see that there are many, many ways to raise a family and pursue a dual career household. My cousin and his wife have a 13 year old and 8 year old, ever since their children were born they both work as journalism lecturers or magazine editors job-sharing with other people, working alternate halves of the week so each day one of them can be the “at-home” parent and now was their careers are getting more intense they are fortunate to have the grandparents nearby to fill in when necessary. I totally believe that it is so so important for a person to feel they can strive for their potential without constraints – like you said and I hope to find a partner that shares my feminist egalitarian values. But in life there’s always a trade off, it is not possible to have it all and you’ve written here and before so eloquently about how this is a real struggle. I’m sorry you’re getting more hateful messages; just know there is a heck of a lot of people who support you too! And let me just say, I am also grateful that you and Braydon continuously acknowledge your privilege and voice your gratitude.

    Love that piano photo…glad it was erasable marker!! And Meera’s art work is so sweet!

    All the best and wishing you all a relaxing weekend!
    – Kate

  • aly says:

    As a 30 year old who is currently living with her boyfriend and who is just starting to think about marriage and starting a family, and who also loves her very challenging career as the director of development and marketing for a nonprofit, I VERY MUCH appreciate your postings and your honesty. Thank you so much for sharing your raw feelings and putting it all out there. I give you, and all women who balance their careers with raising happy and healthy children SO MUCH CREDIT. I love hearing about your everyday life and how you do this. By reading your post, I feel like I can see a glimpse of myself and my boyfriend in ten years from now. Please keep on sharing. And good luck!

  • Stacey says:

    As a working mother with a partner who also works and has a career (not just a 9-5 you leave at the office), I totally get where you’re coming from. Don’t let one person’s comment get you down. Living without family or good friends close by is hard. I know because we do it. We both commute, get home at 6 and are expected to quickly serve up dinner to our 2 and 4 year old who are starving by this point. How can we cook healthy meals? And then there is the yard, housework, dogs, etc. It IS hard. I don’t care if someone wants to say that we are well enough off. That doesn’t make it easy trying to be good at both work and life. You want time with your kids but how do you balance with being an exceptional employee? I find myself caring less and less about work these days but the money is necessary so what do I do? It is not an easy position, no matter what income bracket you have or what nice-to-haves you are surrounded with. Being a working mother is HARD. Having a job with high expectations is HARD. We all hit those hard places at different times. I’ve cried while working through the night on a project, thinking how on earth can I do EVERYTHING? The laundry doesn’t end. The kids always go to sleep so late (9:30) so I rarely have time to do anything for myself. I’m up until midnight finishing chores. I try to give myself to my kids while they’re up because I don’t see them during the day and I miss them. I want to be there for them, not busy washing the floor. It isn’t easy and I think today’s model of working families is not a good one. I think, honestly, that a 4 day work week would be better. Or hours that are 10-3 so we can be HOME when our kids are done school or have time to prep a good meal. I find myself drowning in the suburban life. I might have a good income but at what price? I don’t know, something’s gotta give, right?

  • MorMor says:

    Thanks for yiur blog post and for putting that negative comment up also because it is a part of what your kids may read someday when they’ve grown up and read the blog. It will help them understand how strong their mama is and how she was able to juggle being a great mom and super career woman at the same time. They will know from having you as a role model how having someone clean and therefore not buying a new outfit for herself or going out to dinner allows you to spend more time with them. How prioritizing having a nanny a few days a week allows them a fun summer of playing outdoors rather than inside. Yes you may have a few more financial resources than some but you also make donations and gifts to charity and help others when they need it. You are unbelievable and I admire and respect you so much.

  • Mor Far says:

    Dear Heather,
    The grass always looks greener, and I’m sure the grass in your yard can look really green sometimes. Just because you talk about the weeds once in awhile doesn’t mean that you disavow your life as you experience it The fact is that you are having an incredibly positive impact on many people, most notably your won family, and that’s not always easy. Nor does it mean you’d trade your life with somebody else. Thanks for sharing the green grass and the weeds.
    Love, Dad

  • Kendall says:

    Heather, I can’t pretend to relate to what you’re going through (AT ALL), since I’m just 20 years old and having my own family is definitely not something that is soon to become a reality. I can’t really grasp how extremely challenging your life is, because my whole life I’ve been watching you and mothers like you soaring through life so beautifully that you make it seem easy. I admire you for your deep strength and sense of purpose. My mother works and has my whole life. Her having a job has contributed SO MUCH to my view of life and of women. I know someday thoughtful Kyle, lively Owen, and sweet Meera will feel so much gratitude for what you’re doing now, and what you’ve been doing their whole lives. Though your life is physically more hectic with your career, I truly believe your positive example is adding so much to the mentality of your kids in the long run. As they watch you and Braydon doing what you’re passionate about, they will feel much more confidence in pursuing their own passions and goals.

    I know I’m not saying anything that you don’t already know, I just want to show my support for your life and family. As the child of a working mother, I thought I’d voice the positive thoughts that I’m sure K, O, and M will have someday. You are such a strong beautiful lady and I love reading your blog. Thank you so, so much for continuing to write, even in the face of extremely hurtful criticisms. Your words constantly give insight and inspiration to those who read it. (And just as a side note, I’m living in Argentina right now and lived in China last semester, so your readership is international!) We’re all rooting for you as you make your way through the beginning-of-the-fall funk. :)

  • Elizabeth says:

    I am so frustrated by that comment. It’s as if she’s thrown out the entire body of writing that you’ve produced on this blog, and judged you on one entry alone. Having read most of your blog, it’s very apparent to me that you are all quite aware of just how privileged your life is, quite aware of the opportunities that have been afforded to you, and aware of how many opportunities you can give to yourself and your children as a result of just how hard you and Braydon work. It’s unfortunate that a reader (even if a first time reader) would not give you the benefit of the doubt, and try and find the tone in which this was written. We all have hard times. I think everyone should be allowed to admit that some things are hard, without someone else taking the leap and assuming that they are entirely negative in their outlook. If anything, this blog is a testament to just how positive and joy-filled Heather and Braydon choose to view and live their life.
    I am one of those medical students of which Heather writes. I am so grateful to her and her entire family for living (parts of) their life in front of all of us. I am so grateful for entries like these, because I am certain that days like these will come for me too. If I only had vacation, and birthday blog posts to live up to, I’m certain I would feel completely inadequate. Instead, I know that even someone who balances (so well) the commitments of motherhood and a huge career, struggles. And when those days come for me, I will be reassured in the knowledge that it just is what it is (and has very little to do with me).

    Heather, thank you for writing. I know that no number of positive comments can make up for even one negative comment, but I certainly wanted to try :) Best wishes for this crunch time.

  • Amanda says:

    I am appreciative of posts like these not only because they illustrate how freaking Supermom-ish you are, and not only because they show people that it is possible to do two careers simultaneously and parent, but also because these posts drive home, for many of us, the reality that we’re not willing to both parent and pursue a career. Kudos and hats off to you for pulling it all off – your kids seem so happy and well-adjusted…I often feel so much less-than when I am reading your blog (in a totally admiring sense!!) but I am also so, so glad that my hubby and I have chosen to have one of us at home full-time. I can’t handle that much stress!! Sacrificing one of our careers was more than worth it.

    I think Tanecia was rude and judgy, but a few of her points I found myself kinda sorta nodding my head at, too. I have a feeling MOST dual-career (or really, just two working parents in any sense) experience much of the stress and headache and heartache you guys do – I have no doubt that you did NOT mean to minimize those people, but you did sound sort of dismissive of those whose careers may not be as ‘all that’ as yours.

    Stay calm and keep on keepin’ on…you are doing a TERRIFIC job. No wonder you guys do so many vacations, though – I would too! 😀

  • anne says:

    Heather- Keep posting this kind of thing. It was so timely for me that I almost cried. I have a tough career and have made that choice. I also have a supportive husband and a wonderful infant son. But every day I go off to work feeling like I could have made the morning just a bit better for my family. And then I go to work and try to focus on getting ahead in my career. It is HARD, and hearing you say that means so much to me, and many other working moms.

    I started reading your blog when I was just out of law school I think, single and not really having much of a career. Your style of intentional parenting has inspired me and give me something to strive for. Please take the ignorant comment above as a life lesson in not pleasing everyone. Obviously the person does not know you now, and never will have the pleasure of knowing you! I feel like I do, and I will defend you and your choices, and this blog, each time I can!

    Keep your head up 😉

  • Tracy R says:

    I think Heather, that if you were to give up your career tomorrow and stay home with your children you’d find life every bit as challenging and crazy and wonderful as you do now. It’s not the career (I’ve got one, too!) or the spirited kids (I’ve got adopted twins, too!) or even the lack of family to spell you once in a while (I’m in that boat, too!) it’s the kind of person you are. You want to make things better; you want to have meaning in your life; you want to be there for your partner; you want to make a difference in the world and in your family. Most of the time you succeed brilliantly and sometimes, not so much. I think that’s part of of womanhood no matter what path you take. Every choice moms (and maybe dads, too, but I’m a mom so that’s my frame of reference) make are at the expense of other choices. That’s life. It’s also something a lot of moms don’t talk about, but I think nearly all of us feel. I’m glad you do talk about it occasionally, and I’m sorry not everyone gets it. But you know, that’s life, too.

  • Oh I was so glad to read your post! I’ve recently been struggling with work/home/kids and am trying to figure out the best thing for everyone. What no one talks about is once you have a kid you can no longer just work, its not simple anymore. I took a trip to NYC in the spring for work and as I left thought, I could just not go, just stay home with my sweet kid. But it was fine, I left and returned and we moved on. Its just always so hard to value the need for a satisfying career with the desire to be the best mom possible. Can you take a break next year? A sabbatical? Maybe in a few years? If you had something like that (a big long break) to look forward to maybe it would lesson the guilt/stress your feeling now. There a lot of women out here who are struggling with these feelings and issues and we all are so grateful for you for sharing. Thank you!!!!!

  • Yve says:

    Funny that both myself and my daughter have commented on this, now she gets it, but every time I heard ‘I don’t like (our nanny) days, I like mummy days’ I wondered whether I was doing the right thing…

    While it doesn’t completley become a blur in the past, the yuck does fade, and your kids (Meera particularly) will understand and value having a ‘career mummy’ and a great role model in her life, even more so if she could see all the people you’ve affected with this one post. Don’t let one negative comment outweigh that

  • Anna says:

    Heather, we’re a dual-working family, no big careers in our life but jobs that allow us to bring the bacon home and have a good life. We also do not have family nearby; my family lives in Canada, and my husband’s family is dispersed in Northern Italy. We get help from our neighbours who babysit when we need them, our son’s playmates’ parents and when needed, I take vacation days to stay home with our very-rarely sick son. My husband gave up his 2 hour lunch break so he could leave work at 4:00 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. and be able to pick up our son at school every day and drive our son to soccer and swim lessons.

    I get to see my son 1/2 hour in the a.m. before I drive him to pre-school and from 6 p.m. on when I get home from work.

    It’s hard meeting the needs of one kid, multiply that by 3 and it gets mind boggling. It’s great you have help and I think everyone needs to create a network around them if they don’t have family or reliable friends nearby, all kids need to learn that there are other adults they can trust and turn to if their parents or immediate family are not available and this network of caretakers does just that.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re kids won’t remember the stressful times, they will only remember the good times. They all seem happy and self-confident kids, what more can you want? I wish I could boost my guy’s self-esteem a little more, am working on it, it’s not an easy job to be a parent and it is sometimes more difficult if your child is adopted and issues keep coming up and have to be dealt with gently so as to allow all your child to feel comfortable enough to talk and work out whatever is going on in their lives at the time.

    Trolls will always find negative things to say, you never said you are not privileged, just that it’s tough being a full-time career woman and making time for your children and family. Keep up the blogging, you’re a lovely family and you wouldn’t have so many readers if they didn’t think you write intelligent and a read-worthy blog.

  • Kristie says:

    Hi Heather,
    I have no real idea what these three times of year are for you but as staff at a small campus of a big U, I have come to despite the fall semester. I’m always busy (12 mos.) but right when my kids are going back to school, I’m slammed. When I was self-employed (and doing well at it), I had flexibility and could work it all out. But since taking this full-time, 12 mos. position, I struggle constantly with missing athletic contests, special parent days at the school, etc. I, too, thought I could do it all but instead I survive the hard parts of being a working mom (outside the home) while cherishing the wonderful parts. I know–because I actually know you in person a bit–that you are an amazing mama and an amazingly young tenured professor…and you are just amazing as a person. Hang in there. A few more weeks and you’ll be through this part of your tri-annual mayhem.
    Love and peace!
    Kristie (pssst….she’s a girl!)

  • M3 says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake, that commenter T (I’m not going to bother reading that nastiness again to get the full spelling of her name) is quite an angry person, isn’t she? I think the real question is, why is she reading your blog if it makes her so angry? Look away T, you can do it, there are 8 million other blogs to spend your time on…

    Hugs Heather. Keep on keeping on you awesome lady.

  • Ourprivatequarters says:

    You’ve written precisely what I’ve been thinking and feeling these past few months. Thank you for this very surreal and raw post.

    From one dual career family to another : there IS light at the end of the tunnel; we just have to go through it to see it! Much love to you and yours!

  • Carol Ruel says:

    I’m sure you are aware of this new book, but I just saw it yesterday in the *speed read* section of my library. It is entitled, “Professor Mommy,” and was published in July of this year. I’ve just put a ‘hold’ on it.

    Carol in Ottawa

    • Heather says:

      Hi Carol in Ottawa!
      Yes, I knew this book was coming out. I haven’t read it yet, but it is already sitting in my Amazon wishlist!
      Thanks for thinking of me,

  • NJTed says:

    HAHAHAHA, sorry, I just saw that picture of the piano in the “See also” section, that’s so funny. Me and my cousin once did the exact same thing to our grandparents’ piano, and my mom was ready to KILL US!!!
    Yea, that wasn’t a nice thing for that reader to say.

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