I’m taking the day off today to take care of a few things. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, this working mom thing, in case you haven’t heard, is not easy. And before you warm up your fingers to compose your strongly worded comment about how dare I complain, what with my good job and my supportive husband and my healthy children. Let me beat you to it. You’re right. I’m incredibly fortunate.
I have an amazing job that I love mostly because I get to work with really smart, really sensitive, really creative people every day. When I worked at Arthur Andersen right out of college I knew I worked with the smartest people I ever had before that. But working at a startup — a technology startup in Arkansas, no less — is different. My colleagues at Andersen were primarily corporate, family pedigree, fancy school smart. Now my days are spent with entrepreneurial problem solvers who are also next-level smart. And some of those days these individuals also drive me to drink. That’s part of the fun. My job is incredibly dynamic, fulfilling, and hard.
I have an awesome husband who cooks and cleans and also takes care of the manly things. Mostly cars and ducts and the printer I think. That’s the beauty of him taking care of things. I don’t have to think about them. He is the best partner I could have hoped to end up with. He’s a great father, a patient spouse, and a pretty damn good friend. But, news flash– marriage? That’s hard, too.
My children? Well, they recently informed me that “no one wants to hear about other people’s kids” so I won’t bore you with the brag. But they are 16 and 14, so, no matter how wonderfully above average they happen to be, you can use your imagination about how hard they are right now.
Being a working mom is difficult for me, with all my advantages. And yes, of course I understand that others have it a lot harder. All the more reason for me to assure you that despite my calendars and lists, my walking, my yoga, my on-and-off again affair with juicing, and my borderline pathologic love of spreadsheets, I am most certainly not the picture of work-life balance. Whatever that is. I’m faking it. And I’m cool with that because mine is the good kind of fake. It’s the kind of fake where you smile even though you’re pretty sure the world is going to hell in a hand basket, the kind of fake you need to get comfortable with if you’re going to accomplish much of substance in this life.
Because most things worth doing or having are hard: Education, relationships, homemade cheesecake with Nutella sauce and strawberries.
Don’t worry, there’s no big breakdown coming. I tell small stories. God willing, that’s all I’ll ever have to tell. One of my writer friends dreamt of writing for years, but she didn’t have anything to write about. Then her daughter died and she started writing. Like I said, God willing my stories stay small. Because small stories are important too.
So here I sit on a Friday afternoon at my favorite Starbucks, working the day job a little, working the publishing world a little, eavesdropping a lot, and generally taking a few hours to catch up on all those carefully laid plans outlined in my planner. But before I got here, I spent a few hours shopping for party supplies, making a casserole, and mapping out a plan for a big project at work.
Why did I take the day off to do these things? Because I’m so on top of it all? Because I’m practicing work-life balance? Because it was in my planner? Not exactly. The things I’m taking care of today are the things causing me to wake in a sweat, sick to my stomach, sure that I’ll end in ruin if I don’t get them done. Because, napkins got to match, you know?
Last fall I decided to be intentional about big personal projects, to be really honest with myself about what a big project really was, and how, you know, you can’t just keep adding on and adding on. I limited myself to three big projects. One of them is my husband’s 50th birthday party, which is next weekend. I want it to be nice, like Southern girl nice, not like the casual get-togethers I usually throw where I might be asked, “You do realize you’re hosting this thing, right?” (Actual quote.) So, I’ve been in a bit of a panic about candles, cheese, dip, punch, balloons, tiered cakes, and also napkins.
At the same time, a friend has been in the hospital with sick newborn and I’ve been wondering if I was going to be the friend who shows up with the casserole, or just the friend who sends quippy texts because she’s uncomfortable about sick babies and other scary things. So, I made some food.
I got cranky at work this week because I was mad at myself for failing to get in front of a project that needed my attention. So I took some time for that, because I spend a lot of time at work and I don’t need to be mad at myself while I’m there, or when I’m home but still there.
And then there’s this book I’ve been working on since before the launch of the last one, the final edit of which is sitting in my inbox because I’m afraid of something. I’m not sure what yet. Maybe that the third time will not in fact be a charm. Maybe that my editor was just being nice all these months and this is the edit where she finally tells me what an idiot I’ve been, and oh by the way, “No one wants to hear about other peoples kids.” Maybe just because once the writing is done, and it really is done already, all the marketing begins and I know there’s just. So. Much.
So yes, I am lucky to be in a position to take a day off so I can take care of all these things, and therefore keep my mental health in check. And yes, it’s all very wonderfully hard and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And yes, my time management skills would be strengthened by a stronger “no” reflex. But damn it, life is short and I want to do all the things.
You can have your life hacks, I’ll keep managing by panic attack*. And faking my balance.
*I reserve the right to use this term however I please. No offense intended to those who suffer actual, verifiable, medical, panic attacks.
Lela Davidson’s forthcoming book, Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life, will be released in September 2015.
Lela Davidson’s award-winning, best-selling essay collections. Short reads for busy moms who smile and smirk. Available on Amazon, Nook, iTunes and every other place books are sold. But probably not at your neighbor’s garage sale.