“Why can’t you come to the bus stop to pick me up?”
DQ asked me this question everyday when she was eight. It would be followed by a list of names of friends whose moms dropped them off in the mornings and waited for the school bus to arrive each afternoon. The children would hand over their backpacks to the obliging mothers and walk home safely.
I listened but didn’t act on her unspoken request. I had returned to work six weeks after DQ’s birth, leaving her in my mother’s care as I rushed out and back again to nurse her during the early days of infancy. I cleaned up the drool on my shoulder with a Kleenex and attended 9 a.m. meetings. As DQ grew older, she got used to the fact that both her parents went off to work each day. She didn’t know any different. I dropped her to daycare and picked her up. I drove her to swimming lessons and took her trick or treating. I showed up for the Easter egg hunt and Christmas performances at her preschool. It wasn’t easy but it was necessary.
I thrived at work –intellectual stimulation, interactions, goals, deadlines, and meetings! My work took me to Switzerland, my salary meant unrestricted shopping and a holiday in Hawaii. I had a life beyond the dishes and laundry. I got great feedback from bosses and coworkers and most importantly, I found value in my work. In a small way, I felt that my work made a difference to people.
Work also meant dealing with diapers, daycare and daily dilemmas. Every time I took DQ to the doctor for an ear infection, I cringed with guilt when she cried out from pain.
“My son didn’t have any infections until he was three, ” claimed a catty mom who stayed home.
“I am so glad I was home to see my daughter take her first step.”
“I make my own baby food.”
I took all comments personally. Every lapse was my fault. Every milestone was marred by the possibility that I had missed “the first” moment my child had uttered a word or mastered a skill.
My mother, the quintessential stay at home mom wasn’t very supportive. She expected me to quit my job after DQ’s birth. Her philosophy was simple, time away from home meant missing out on the best years of your child’s life.
I was physically exhausted and mentally depleted with my hectic life. All I wanted was “balance”. I talked to other women who walked the tightrope between office and home, calls and homework, travel and school events. I found tips like hire a cleaning service or find a daycare on the way to work very useful. Other advice like take an afternoon off and go to the spa, I chose to ignore. I read books with titles like “Downshifting”, books targeted towards working women.
At a seminar on work-life balance, one woman expressed the view that striving for balance was not the right approach. Cutting down on what you like to do, in order to reduce stress was what most women did. She conversely suggested that we find things that add meaning to our life. Put more on my already full plate? My first thought was – how ridiculous! In hindsight, I think that was the best advice I have received.
I signed up for lunchtime yoga classes. I started writing at night after DQ went to bed. I hired someone to clean my home on a regular basis. I read a book while DQ splashed in the pool. I went for an early morning walk on weekends. I found time to take courses in the evenings after work. Some of my writing got published in local print publications. Not surprisingly, the most well received article was one on motherhood!
In a self-help book titled “Find your strongest life” by Marcus Buckingham the author argues that women should look into their life and relive those moments that reinforce your strongest tendencies; instead of balance, he says, reach for fullness. I understand the concept now. The word balance implies a sense of equilibrium, but also conveys stillness, stagnation. One needs to move to feel alive, so move in the direction of what makes you feel good. Even if that means adding one more item to your to-do list!
For me, work fills me with enthusiasm and meaning. When a worthwhile pursuit energizes me, I am a happier person, a better mother. It was no wonder for me when a year later, without provocation, DQ said “It’s OK if you can’t pick me up from the bus stop. You do so many other things.”
For a mom who works, life can’t get better than this.