Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hats Off to the Working Parents


Just got a call from the Girl Scout leader from my daughter’s school.  
“Our meeting is over and your (4th grade) daughter is here and says she’s supposed to walk home, but it’s dark outside.  Did you want her to walk home?”

I hadn’t thought about that.  Of course it’s dark in the late afternoon in the early winter in Chicago, even though I can't see that as I sit inside the windowless cubicle of an office.

"She's fine" I tell the troop leader, hoping the extra confidence in my voice quelches my own feeling of unease about the situation.

After that it was the piano teacher calling me from my own front door step telling me he’s ringing the bell and no one’s home.  He’s partially right.  I’m not home but my kids and the babysitter are and they probably can’t hear the bell.  With a phone cradled under each ear, we arranged for his entrance.

Last week it was opening the fridge door to make lunches before school to find no food.  The after-work market stop just didn’t happen as it wasn’t in position 1, 2, or 3 of my priority list.
Any of these things could happen to anyone.   But these things aren't supposed to happen to me.  You see, I like to think of myself as relatively in control of most situations.  But that was then as a stay-at-home mom.  This is now.  I recently took on a temporary part-time job.  I knew I had bit off more than I can chew in the time department.  The hours were more than I wanted.  The hours were more than I could afford to give. The hours are ones that I now borrow from other people and things.

I knew that taking on the role of working outside of the home would have a price attached to it.  I honestly thought the price would just affect me, though.  I assumed that the hours I would work would take away from my much-needed free time, my time alone to write or spend time with friends or create new kickboxing playlists.

I also knew subconsciously that the job would mean less time with my family, as I'd need to spend more time getting daily chores done when I'd normally be hanging out with my partner or kids.  What I hadn't considered at all, though, was the absolute crippling effect me working would have on my self-esteem,as I started to feel like I was screwing up all the things outside of the workplace, the things that really matter to me.

It started with little things, like not having enough time to make the girls' lunches for school, so my partner began stepping in to help.  Then it moved on to not being able to help out at my daughter's school or on field trips, or even make it to the school for drop-off or pickup.  I then hit the plateau of picking up my younger daughter late from preschool, as in the-only-kid-left-in-the-class-late.

Although overwhelming if one has time to ponder these things, I instead laughed off those warning signals as being temporary setbacks, since the job would be over in few months.  Then the shit hit the fan.  We moved to a new home.  Something that should have been so exciting and fun, instead pushed me into official overload.  With no time to unpack and even less time to help the girls, much less my girlfriend and I, adjust to our new surrounding, I realized I was digging myself a hole.  With work hours borrowing from home hours, my attention has started to wane from important things, like quality time with my partner.  Doing or thinking so many things while I'm talking to her, as I constantly feel "in the weeds," I sometimes forget what was even said.  Where a few months ago I would have taken a few minutes to explain a viewpoint on something we disagreed on, I find myself today just losing my patience and temper and stomping off with the issue unresolved.  Today I feel myself starting to unravel. 

Then there's my health, or general well-being.  I'm giving no reverence to my body whatsoever.  A cold turned into a month-long infection, which led to lack of exercise and loss of strength.  In turn, I've grown constantly tired while running and thinking at warped speed.  The headaches I've developed while constantly multi-tasking play second-fiddle to the numerous accidents and injuries I've had due to falling.

Falling down a lot is a part of who I am.  I'm a clutz, without a lot of grace on my feet on a good day.  Add to that me physically running from place to place trying to finish tasks at home and at work, and I'm an accident waiting to happen.  Falling up the stairs, tripping on the sidewalk, and falling asleep at the computer while holding a steaming hot cup of tea all leave marks.  Marks on my body, one, and marks on my psyche, two.  I feel like an absolute crazy person, spinning my wheels without actually getting anywhere.    

Maybe I’ve just been out of the working parent scene so long that I’m having a hard time adjusting getting back into it.  Maybe my once-stellar multi-tasking skills have dried up as I’ve gotten older.  Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill.  Or maybe it truly is difficult to juggle working and family life.

I’ve run the gamet in the last decade with work.  I’ve done it from home, I’ve done it in an office, I’ve done it on the road, and I’ve done it with both traditional and non-traditional hours.  What I’ve found is that it’s plain-out tough to do, as you’re always sacrificing one thing for another.  If it’s not the kids, it's the work performance.  If it’s not the sex, it's the PTA meeting.  If it’s not the laundry, then it's the friendships.  Something always suffers.

Lucky for me, I’m in a temporary work situation that will end soon and I will go back to being at home with my kids and my partner, where I truly believe I belong, not because that's what anyone should be doing, but because that's what works best for us.   

Most of the working parents I know have jobs that are permanent, though, making their juggling acts a regular routine.  Kudos to those parents.  I applaud your ability to hold it together.  I admire the way you balance your priorities and your demands.  I respect that way you let things bounce off of your back and just roll with it.  I wish I possessed more of those traits.

But I don't.  And I'm too tired from working to hone that skill set.  So instead I salute you working parents for all that you do, for the balance you initiate, and for the superman cape you hide in your lower left office drawer.