About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
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« Dancing into the middle of the gap | Main | A runner is one who runs »
Wednesday
Apr092014

Is there such a thing as a work/life balance?

I went on a long run again last Saturday.

This time, my entire family accompanied me on the run.  

If you were driving down the street, you would see me, running at you on one side of the street, and on the other side, you would see a man peddling a bike with a trailer attached, a tiny boy and a tiny girl inside the trailer, and two little boys on bikes behind the man.

You might, like many of the people who passed me that day, look at the woman quizzically, trying to figure out what she was doing that was causing the people on the other side of the street to heckle her.  If you slowed down enough, you would see the little girl in the trailer trying to stand up even though she was buckled in. You would hear the little girl yelling, "You are going to WIN!!! You are going to WIN the RACE!!!"  You would see the two year old with his face squished against the plastic trailer window. You would hear the two little boys screaming, "Go faster!  You can DO IT!"  You would notice the man grinning like a goofball, calmly leading the train of heckling bikers.

You might, like some of the people who passed me that day, realize that the runner was a mother, running on the opposite side of the road from her family.  

You might think this was slightly irresponsible. Or perhaps neglectful.

Or you might visualize the string stretched from her heart, across the span of two lanes, and tied around the hearts of the five people on the other side of the road.

And you might smile.

 

In many ways, I am an accidental mother.

In college, my vague life plan was to consider getting married in my early 30's, and maybe to think about having one or two children around my mid 30's.  

I, like everyone else I knew, intended to get all my living out of the way before I settled down.  

I was a music and theatre major, and my #1 goal was to move to New York City. Obviously, any sort of domestic life would have to wait until I'd gotten New York City out of my system. Until I'd fully indulged my creative self.  Until I'd spent myself in pursuit of my dreams.  Then, and only then, would I think about settling down.  

Because you can't pursue your passion and have a family at the same time.  

Those two lives can't co-exist.  I saw no precedent for it.  

Nor was I encouraged to think about it any differently.  

At twenty-two, when I called my extended family to tell them I was engaged to get married, they all thought I was calling to tell them I'd landed a starring role in a show in D.C. or New York.  I'm sure they were excited for me, but what I remember was them saying, "Are you sure?  You are so young.  You have so many dreams.  Are you sure you want to give those up to settle down?"  

The answer, of course, was NO. I was not SURE.  I was twenty-two.  I wanted to be an actress. But I also loved this man. And I didn't want to lose him.  So I made a choice.  

Nobody told me I had to give up my dreams to get married, but I assumed as much was true.  I assumed the creative stage of my life was over, that I'd peaked at twenty-two, that my audition for The Glass Menagerie with Sally Field at The Kennedy Center was as close as I was ever going to get to the Great White Way.

It had to be all or nothing. I could pursue my dreams, OR I could have a family.  

Choose.  

I chose my husband, hoping I could still find a way to pursue some version of my passions on the side. It certainly wasn't Broadway, but I did head up a high school theatre department for a year, taught acting classes, and directed a few shows for our fledgling drama troupe.  I started a drama group at my church, and wrote and directed little pieces for performance on Sunday mornings.  I was the creative director for the kid's church musical, and choreographed cute dances to songs about David and Goliath.

 

I'd been married eight months when I decided to pursue a Master's Degree in Directing.

Michael's only request was to avoid New York City at all costs.  I agreed to the compromise even though it felt like the final death of that particular dream, and applied for schools out West. Our plan was to move wherever I got in to school: Montana, California, or Colorado.  We were both unhappy, and praying for direction.  I spent all day on Christmas Eve holed up at a Borders bookstore, working on my application essay on why I thought theatre was important, and why I was applying for the School of Theatre at UCSD to get a Master's Degree in Directing.  I still have that essay. 

In it, I wrote, "I want to pursue acting because I want to pursue truth and community and human honesty. And because I feel like I am at the best center of my gravity when I am on stage.  Like I am doing what I am made to do and participating in something much bigger than myself."  

On my drive home from that bookstore session, I took a pregnancy test. I hadn't even missed my period. My boobs hurt. That was all.  The test was positive.

Michael wasn't home yet. I called the 800 number on the box. A man answered. I held my plastic pee stick and described to him what it looked like. He told me I was pregnant. Then he said, "Is this a good thing?"

I didn't answer at first.  I mean, yes, of course it was a good thing.  It was a miraculous thing, an incredible thing.  I just didn't think it was my thing.

I said, "Yes. It's a good thing."

"Congratulations, then," he said.

Nine months later, Malachi Emmanuel made me a mother.

 

I woudn't change it for the world. I wouldn't change having four kids.  ( I might change having four kids in five years. But then again, it's been such a wild adventure, such a crucible for growth. It's made me who I am, and I like who I am. It's made our marriage what it is. And I like my marriage. It's made my kids who they are. And I don't just love my kids, I really like my kids).

But I am still baffled. How can I love my role as wife and mother so much, how can I love my kids SO MUCH, and yet still long for something else?  Still long to create art, to tell stories, to give voice to the human condition in some forum outside of my home?

Living in the tension of dreams and domesticity has felt like a torment.

I've considered it a lose/lose situation: I can't fully invest in my dreams, therefore they get executed half-assedly.  (half-assedly?)  I can't fully invest in being a wife and mom because I still long to do something other at the same time.  I've got one foot in one world, and one foot in the other; I am always off-balance. Everybody suffers.  

I've longed for the release from ambition. I've asked God to just take away my dreams so I can BE CONTENT.  

I still haven't found a precedent for women who see the one-legged hop from one passion to another as a beautiful rhythm rather than that dance cowboys do when somebody is shooting at their boots.  I'm sure they are out there, but I haven't heard the stories, and it's felt very isolating.

But then I talk to single women who express a longing to have kids, but a certainty that they have to get all their ambition and creativity out of the way first, and I realize that my struggle might be many women's struggle.

 

I don't really have a take away. 

I have my struggle to share.

I have my hunch that most women feel the tension of never being enough, of always letting someone down- whether it's the boss or the husband or the kids or the family or the friends- of feeling torn between (what seem to be) competing longings.

We struggle with the elusive work/life balance, laboring, as the writer Ellen Galinsky suggests, "under the guilt induced by the suggestion that there's some nirvana you must achieve where everything is equal and you're feeling like it's all working. Angels should be singing; bells should be ringing."  

 

Galinsky uses the term, "work-life fit," coined by the flexible workplace strategist, Cali Williams Yost.  "It means that you're putting everything together in a way that works for you right now. There's no ideal 50-50. Moment by moment, we're figuring it all out, and what works is constantly changing." 

Case in point, my idea of what it looks to pursue my passions used to fit in this paradigm: I sit down to write this blog, uninterrupted in my designated writing room, inspiration quotations on the walls, candle lit, drinking tea, and working to craft my ideas for a blog on work/life balance while I watch the rhythm of neighborhood life go by outside my windows. I write until I am satisfied that I have said what I set out to say. Then, I go read some new books to get more grist for the writing mill.

My new paradigm: I sit down to write this blog.  My 4 year old and 2 year old refuse to nap. I have to get up from my desk chair multiple times to put them back in their beds.  I get about thirty minutes of writing before I have to leave mid-thought to put both kids in a stroller and walk three blocks to the elementary school to pick up my 7 and 6 year old, plus two of their friends who come back to play at my house until I get all four boys in their gear and ready for soccer practice at 5 pm. I pour six bowls of cereal for an after-school snack. Rice Chex spills on the couch.  They all leave their half-eaten bowls on the table and run outside in the backyard to play. Then, I sit back down to write, listening to them bicker and laugh and create general chaos.

I write until my 6 year old interrupts me to ask me to button his pants, and to tell on his brother for excluding him from whatever game they're playing. I yell at my 7 year old to come see me at the computer so I can talk to him about how to be kind to his brother.  I write until my 4 year old falls off a Little Tikes playhouse onto the driveway and I run out into the backyard to pray for her. I write until my 2 year old brings a princess scooter into the house, and I have to help him take the scooter back outside where it belongs.  I write until my 7 year old brings me a light saber and asks me to find the right batteries to make it work.  I sit back down, light saber still standing at attention on my writing desk, and I write until I am satisfied that what I've said is good enough, while I watch my boys and their friends run laps around the house outside my windows.  I write for about another twenty-ish minutes until my husband gets home, and I choose to leave what I'm doing to talk to him about his day.

It's not as simple as I thought I wanted, but it's so much richer than I ever knew.


What I do know is that when I went running on Saturday, I felt the exhilaration of my own body moving through space and time, intent to achieve something beautiful I could only do on my own.

And when I went running on Saturday, my run mattered because I had my family to witness it, cheering me on, from parallel sides of the same street.