Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brief Notes on the Balancing Act

I've been back at work now for five weeks. While I was on maternity leave I never forgot for a single moment just how tough the whole balancing act is-- getting a break from it was so nice. But now, for better or for worse, I'm right back in the thick of it.

  • I've been a Mother-With-A-Career for four years now and I still feel like I'm just barely getting by with this whole work-family balancing act. Balancing act?! I don't personally know anyone who is actually *balancing* it. And that (lack of models of it) is a big problem in and of itself. I have no clue how to do this well. And so it goes.
  • I will say, though, that the past five weeks have been the best yet of the past four. And there is one reason why. One word: MARGIE. Oh. My. God. It is sooooo goooooood. Granted, we're surly still in some sort of honeymoon period -- and I have no illusions that it will last forever (flaws in the whole thing will surely be revealed down the road). But right now... Oh. My. God. She has single-handedly changed my life for the much, much better. In fact, I am sorta starting to think of it as life "Pre Margie" vs. life "With Margie." Dear Lord, please don't ever let her leave us. #1 all three kids are bonding with her so nicely and coming to love her so much, and vice versa. Meera has yet to cry when I leave her to go to work. And when Margie goes home at the end of the day Kyle and Owen hug and kiss her like they aren't going to see her ever again (even though she'll be back the next day). We do "high/low" at dinner each night (going around the table, every person has to say a 'high' and a 'low' of their day), and each day this week at least one of the boys have said that their 'high' was "When Margie was here" and their 'low' was "When Margie went home." #2 she holds the homestead together while we're away each day. And she holds it together much, much better than when/if we are actually home without her (i.e., the weekends)! We come home after work to a clean, happy, centered household. She has taken over our life. In a good way. And she runs the house like a finely tuned, well oiled, smoothly functioning machine (which is a lot more than I can say for my own house-running abilities). I cannot get over it. Seriously. Braydon and I both admitted to each other last night that we feel like we're going to cry if we think about it too much. It is a deep deep deep sense of relief. #3 somehow, miraculously I believe, we're on the same wavelength. She 'gets' what we're tying to do, and she's right on board. My only concern is that it just continues to send up red flags because it feel too good to be true. #4 Yet again, that old lesson has been re-learned by me, like it has been over and over and over again. I shoulda listened to my mother. She told me years ago, before we even brought the boys home, that we needed a Nanny (with a capital "N"). She knew we needed a Margie and she has brought it up with me repeatedly over the years. Did I listen? No. Bad girl I am. I should have listened. And now I have listened, and of course, MY MOTHER WAS RIGHT. #5 Still, though... I am glad to have had four years "Pre Margie" because it helps me to appreciate this now, and it helps me to know what other kinds of arrangements actually feel like. There are pro's and con's to them all. And I'm glad to know, first-hand, the in's and out's of some of them. Plus, wonderful people like Alex would not have been in the boys' life had we done the full blown Nanny route years ago.
  • By far the hardest part of the whole equation continues to be getting dinner on the table at the end of the day. When I get home after work K & O are happy to see me. But M is thrilled to see me. She jumps, squeals, laughs, claps, smiles-smiles-smiles, rubs her face all over mine, and squeezes me tight. She wants to be held by me. And only me. Braydon will not do. She'll cry if I give her to him. She wants to be held by me. Understandably. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love it. There's nothing better in the world than coming home to that. And I want to hold her. But it is very hard to hold her and make dinner -- especially since dinner needs to be on the table in 30 minutes or less from the time I walk in the door. Getting dinner made, at all, is a major feat. But getting dinner made, while trying to hold a bouncing baby girl (literally, bouncing in delight), is nearly impossible. Somehow we're eating, but it is crazy-hard. That is the hardest part. And yet, I wouldn't change it for the world either... because there is nothing like coming home to that baby girl jumping to get into my arms. Thank heaven for this little girl.
  • This morning, while we were all getting ready for work/school, I found Kyle sucking his thumb and staring out the window. I got down on my knees next to him and whispered, "What are you thinking Ky Ky?" He looked at me, and said, with his thumb still partially in his mouth, "I don't like Margie days." Trying to appear calm and relaxed (while my heart started to BLEED), I said, "Why not?" He said, "Because I just like Mommy days." O.k. then. 1,000 daggers through the heart would be preferable. Just go ahead and rip my heart right out of my chest. Heaven help me.
  • Valentines Day. O.k., that is a whole other holiday when you've got young kids in school. It takes the romance right out of it, that's for sure. At least for a working mom. Let me tell you. This week, on top of everything else, I needed to somehow accomplish the whole V-Day thing. Which includes making valentines for all their classmates. Given that they are in separate classrooms, and teachers need valentines too, we're talking 34 valentines right there. Plus a few to put in the mail to their non-school friends (who they expressed a sincere need to send valentines to this year). And yes, we choose to send them to a Waldorf school. Yes, that is our choice. Yes. But... it means handmade valentines. Nothing less will do. So it goes. And then there's the note sent home on Monday: "Please remember that on Friday we'll be having our party, and each child should bring a treat to share." Again, yes, Waldorf is our choice. So, I shouldn't complain about the work involved. And I try not to. But that translates to: Mama Baking Goodies From Scratch. Store-bought cookies are not an option. Per Kyle's request (read: begging and pleading), I agreed to make muffins. So, I just took 4 dozen mini muffins out of the oven. Blueberry Muffins for Kyle's class. Chocolate Chip Muffins for Owen's class. From scratch made from ingredients even a Waldorf school will appreciate. Most importantly, though, K & O will appreciate it. Much more than most 4 year olds would. It is so worth it. And so... call me crazy... but, I do it. I will admit, though, that at the end of a long work day... it is just a lot.
  • At the end of the day, I'm happy. And I'm also exhausted. EXHAUSTED.
Anyhoo... What's posted here is just the very tippity tip tip tip of the iceberg. But like all good working mothers, I don't have nearly enough time to do this subject justice. And that, my friends, is a big part of the problem-- those of us actually doing it (in particular, I believe, the career&mommy gig ~~ building-maintaining-strategizing-a-full-blown-long-term-career while also being a real-intimately-involved-emotionally-connected-truly-present Mom), well, those of us actually doing it simply don't have the time or energy to give this subject the time and energy it would require to convey its true complexities to others. And so it goes.


gloria said...

Oh, do I hear you ... Exhausted? Yes. Perpetually overwhelmed? Absolutely. Experiencing guilt when told, "I like Mommy days. I don't like Avril days." Yup again.

I have come to the conclusion that there is NO such thing as balance when you are trying to be a full-on Mommy with a full-on career. I think I'm a great mom. I think I'm great at my work. I just have no time (read NO time) for me. And the hubbie gets what little bit of energy is left.

But you know what? It's ok. 'Cause one day (sooner than I'd like to think) the kids won't need me quite so much, and there will be time for me then (or at least I hope so!)

Just my two cents worth. Great post!

Fireballbrady said...

Please don't take this wrong, but reading about kyle not liking margie days, but liked mommy days.

It seems that margie was hired as more of a replacement.

Do you have to work? Is it more important to have a career than to be a mom?

I know that in today's society that many families can't make it with out 2 incomes, but many can.

Congrats on your boys and your daughter.

I hope and pray that you are able to spend more time as a mommy and less time as a career woman. As the the title "Mommy" has much greater ramifications than anything else you could ever do.

take care

God bless.

Holli said...

I am tired just reading this post!;) and wish I went Waldorf so I could get a homemade muffin!
Happy Valentines Day!

Anonymous said...

Heather My Darling Dearest. Your post has hit my heart to the core. Reading it has hit home with me. You have been doing so wonderfully in my opinion. I am amazed how you do it.

I am in a similar situation. Currently right now I am taking college courses two evenings a week, working 40+ hours a week, cooking/cleaning/taking care of two teenagers/quality time with hubby in between all of that and still don't know I how I keep my sanity.

Keep up all you do.

Love and Hugs,

Mark and Sarah said...

Supermama-woman, you rock! I am *only* a SAHM and that is HARD by itself! At a honking career in there, whew, I too am thrilled you have Margie. She sounds like a literal God-send.

My hope is that you and your brilliant soul-mate, are able to keep very connected and close through this balancing act. I hope he pampers you a little (lot) too :)
Happy Valentines Day!


p.s. GORGEOUS shot of Meera in the sunlight. Love it!

Patricia said...

With all due respect, I had to reply to the person who posted above who implied that it's more important to be a "mommy" than a "career woman." Why is that even posed as a dichotomy? No one ever says that men should stop their careers in order to be better daddies. It's high time that we got rid of that sexist double standard. Heather is a wonderful mother AND a wonderful sociologist: the two are not mutually exclusive. Enough said.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm just gonna say what a lot of people out there want to say but don't have the guts too. We can't stop people from having babies but people like you should not be allowed to adopt them because if your not going to take care of them yourself then you shouldnt be allowed to have them. and if your going to go ahead and have them anyway than at LEAST dont complain about it. Sorry but somebody had to say it. I know you wont publish this because your probly like all the bloggers (only put on there the good stuff and you just reject the bad stuff) but I had to say it anyway because I know you will read this.

em and pete said...

I just had to post after reading this post and some people's comments. I'm de-lurking. :) I LOVE your blog, because I too have a career and am a mommy, and I love what you have to say about why it is important that you work. You're making a difference in the world by raising your kids AND being in your career field! Way to go! I know it's so hard to balance, but I can tell just reading your posts how very much you love your family and what a great job you're doing as a mom...I'm sure it's the same where you work. I hope you don't let people's negative comments get to you. Way to go. And, by the way, I agree with all your hubby posted, and I think that your kids will be better for having seen you make a mark on this crazy world we all live in. Honestly, if moms didn't work, I'm sure all those people out there complaining that we have kids and still continue in our careers would be really missing some of the valuable things we contribute! Keep up the good work!

Tricia V. said...

I just don't get how people can still believe being a good mother is exclusive of being a good career person??

As Patricia stated already, why don't we question men about this? Why only women?

Furthermore, "taking care of children" does not mandate being their exclusive caregiver. Many stay-at-home-parents (mostly mothers) love their role, but many do not. They feel pushed into it by partners, friends, family, and social norms.

My mother worked outside the home. She always said that it made her a better mother, because it gave her time away from the kids, independence and financial autonomy, and gave us a great role model of a woman with a career (in the 1970s, in the midst of a conservative community).

Thank you, Heather, for your transparency about the difficult in your choice. Keep on blazing the path. You inspire me, someone who is starting her career in academia, hoping to have children someday, and who will also try to manage the delicate balancing act.

[On a side note: my 18-20 year olds students often dismiss feminism as 'unnecessary' and 'irrelevant' in our current era. These blog comments just reinforce how important it is to continue to unpack and exposes gendered stereotypes and expectations.]

Tricia V. said...

I'm climbing back on the soapbox to make one more comment:

To the Anonymous poster who suggested that "people like you should not be allowed to adopt":

Your statement is callous. It is heartless. It is cruel.

I invite you to visit the General Maternity ward in Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince. I've stood in that giant room as women labored in pain and isolation, without even a sheet to cover the metal carts they labored on. I've seen new mothers, barely cleaned up and stitched up, sent back to their squalid living quarters with infants vulnerable to disease, malnutrition, and probable death within the next 12 months.

I have friends whose adopted children bear permanent scars from being attacked by rats, in the Abandoned Babies ward of the General Hospital in Haiti. The babies were left alone, helpless to fend off their savage predators.

So, I invite you to witness all of this. I CHALLENGE you to witness this. And then to reconsider your statement. Because EVERY TIME I read this blog, I celebrate that two boys were plucked from certain misery and into a home of love, laughter, and joy. Every child should be so fortunate.

Anonymous said...

I just have to say thank you to Heather for being the professor that she is. It is because of her career that I am the person I am today. She has inspired me more than anyone in my life.
From a former student who needs to remain anonymous

Kristen said...

"Is it more important to have a career than to be a mom?"

This comment makes my blood boil. Is this supposed to imply that while we are working we are not mothers? That we can only be one or the other at any given time? We are both professionals and mothers ALL the time - there is no time clock to start and stop our daily mothering, just as there is no time clock to stop and start the intellectual energy required to keep these careers in forward motion.

The world would be a much better place if we could all stop judging other families' choices. For some families, the best thing for everyone is for mom to stay home; for others, the best thing for everyone is for mom to work. It's not always a black-and-white choice - it comes down to finances, lifestyle goals, professional goals, children's specific developmental issues and needs, etc. The MOST important thing, though, is the health and happiness of our children - I think most mothers, working or not, agree with this. We ALL want our children to thrive, to know they are loved, to feel safe, to feel cherished. If our children are suffering, we make changes and sacrifices and do whatever we can to fix the situation. Heather, I know you've made lifestyle changes and career sacrifices for your children. You make them a priority. Your children are the very definition of thriving - and if they weren't, I know you - you would do what you had to do to help them thrive. It is ignorance on the part of those who judge you to imply that by maintaining your career, you are somehow choosing that over your children.

And thank you, Tricia, for such a great response to the cowardly anonymous commenter. I couldn't have said it any better.

Katie said...

Yourlast couple of posts on career Moms are of particular interest to me because I recently made the decision (after many in-depth discussions with my husband) to go back to work and continue pursuing my career as a pharmaceutical market researcher. I chose to be a stay at home Mom with our son for most of 2008. We are very fortunate to be in a position where this is a *choice*.

While I enjoyed staying at home with my son, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed being back at work. I am excited to go to work every day, and excited to come home and spend time with my family every night. It's a win-win, because as my husband often points out, as long as I am happy, our family is happy :) On top of going back to work FT, I am training for an Ironman triathlon which requires a fairly committed training schedule.

It has been an enormous transition for us, and everyone has adjusted amazingly. My son is so excited to go to his sitter's house in the morning that my husband sometimes has to leave early to drop him off. When I pick him up after work, he is happily playing with other kids, the sitter, or various toys. He is always happy to see me as well.

I believe we are doing what is best for our family at this time. I also believe there is more than one situation that would serve a family well. We just need to be open minded and willing to consider options and possibilities. I am deeply hurt by the ignorant comments from "anonymous" attacking your decisions. Your family is truly inspirational.

Best Wishes,
Katie from Newtown

Anonymous said...

As an avid reader of this blog, I had to de-lurk for a moment. It is not only a testament to the Johnson-McCormick family's strength that Heather has allowed these comments to be viewed by us all, but to her intellect and and commitment to her profession as well. These are challenging issues, which she has opened up about willingly, and which obviously cause many conflicting opinions. While I am DUMBFOUNDED by some of the comments on this post, and am truly appalled by how hurtful some are, I commend Heather for putting it out there. All of it.

Simply put: you rock. You are my go-to read every day for great stories, interesting insights, a laugh or two, and some heartbreaking truths about what it means to make a family. Keep up the great, great work.


Anonymous said...

I was so glad to see the last comment but wish it could be the first on the list. Heather is not only a wonderful mother and wife, she is making a very important contribution to society in general. Her students will be better people as a result of her work.

There aren't enough of us devoting our lives to making the world a helthier, saner place. Go, Heather!


Jenn said...

I love your blog and your family. What is wrong with people. I am an attorney, I love my job, I love my kids, I love making dinner when I get home. I don't know why anyone thought your were complaining, you were voicing what we all feel, a little conflict about our lives. We all have that whether it is about our kids or whatever. I also hear about the days when they want me to stay home and not have our wonderful nanny, but they adore her and she gives them so much.

I think you are an awesome mom and a wonderful family.

Stacey said...

Thank you for the honest portrayal of what life is like!

As a close friend, you already know I feel this way - but for those naysayers - you are an amzaing mom. You and Braydon are amazing parents.

I still remember arriving at K and O's 2nd birthday with tears in my eyes. Tears of pure amazement of how much they had THRIVED given the circumstances and how they were when they came home. I remember the pictures of them from Haiti. I remember a picture of kyle, with a tear in his eye - looking at the camera - ready to come home...and then I remember that 2nd birthday. They GREW so much both physically, emotionally, cognitively. This was not by chance - it was from AMAZING parenting by two amazing people.

Thank heaven for you! People have no idea how hard you work both in your career and as a mom. Thanks for being my role model in the balancing act HBJ...xoxo SRU

Cindy from central NC said...

I work full-time and have a "big" job. My husband does the same. We have 3.5 year old twins we adopted 2 years ago. Our girls are thriving-thriving even though I work full-time and I travel a fair amount internationally. Yep, it is a big daily balance/struggle that we work at trying to improve and tweak every single day but we are a happy thriving family. I would not be happy not having a challenging and exciting career where I know I offer a huge contribution outside my family life. I know I would be (for me) dissatisfied and restless if I had any job that required less of me... I know my girls would feel the impact if I did not pursue my beloved career. But it does not make me one whit of a lesser parent and I think the reason my girls ARE so happy and thriving is because I'm happy and thriving. Am I tired and stressed and constantly striving to balance? Of course! But, oh just deal and you just continue figuring out how to adjust as you can....

I find it insufferable that today's full-time career Moms are looked at with disdain from so many fronts in our society. I am appalled that some Moms feel like they have to almost "apologize" for working full-time. I find the Mommy-Wars between SAHMs and career-Moms tiresome. And you know what....? I see these Mommy-Wars at their worst with adopted families. I've had APs come up to me and actually say, "Oh, how can you work full-time after you waited all these years for your girls? Don't you want to spend every minute of your life with them now that you have them?" Well, actually, no I don't. I want just what I have. A rich fulfilled life both with my children and my family and a part of my life without my children and my family. Good grief, I'm not judging you, SAHMs, so don't judge me!!

BTW, for the dinner-bewitching hour, the sous-chef resource still works pretty well for us. We have someone come in once a week and prep (with fresh food) for dinner (and sometimes even cook the casseroles) that allow me to just pop it in the oven when I come home. We prep for the menus 2 weeks in advance, I shop for the food, and lay it out for the chef to come in and prep/cook for us. I swear...and can prove...that using a sous-chef literally saves us 300-350 dollars a month in grocery kidding!!


Jenn said...

I can honestly say that I am still wondering why this debate still exists. We as parents make the decisions we think are best suited for OUR families. I attended university and worked while my first two were small, and they attended daycare. When our third was born I decided that daycare for us was no longer an option and was able to have a flexible work schedule that allowed myself, my husband, or my sister to be the ones caring for our kids. When number 4 came along I decided to stop working and stay at home full time. It was not a decision made lightly or without thought. I lost countless hours of sleep trying to decide what to do. I loved my career, it was fulfiliing and challanging and hugely rewarding. I knew i would miss it...and I do!

Now with five kids I have come to realize that going to work was probably easier than staying at home but the balancing act is by far the most difficult of all scenarios. I can remember numerous times getting home at 7 am after working a 12 hour shift only to be told that the kids needed a treat for class that day. Or coming home and feeling like death only to quickly shower to volunteer in the kids class. I was constantly struggling with doing what I thought was best for my kids and for myself.

I have now been home for four years and I long to go back to work. I miss it tremendously. I don't think this makes me a bad mother. I also don't think that when I return to work my kids will be worse off. I will do my best to balance it all. I will fail miserably somedays and other days I will exceed my own high expectations.

mayhem said...

Heather, I missed reading the comments here until you linked back today. I want to add my support and appreciation for writing about the things that are hard as well as the joys. So refreshing and affirming, especially for others (like me) who make similar choices. I read an article recently about "the myth of balance." Ah-ha! I'd never thought of it that way before, but it makes sense to me. There is no balance! That's why I can't find it-- it's because balance doesn't really exist! Thank goodness, because I wondered if I was the only one who couldn't quite manage to find that lovely balance. Now my little mantra is, "There is no balance, there is only the choice you make for this moment..."

Keep it up, wonderwoman!

Candis said...

I, too, linked back to this from the same blog. I can't figure out what the self-righteous hoopla is all about from those who think working mothers are paving their respective roads to pathological child hell. Working outside the home is nothing new. Women have ALWAYS worked outside their homes. Whether it was gathering berries to make dyes to trade, traveling to market to sell eggs, or wet nursing some wealthy person's baby, women worked
You holier-than-thou dilettantes need to shut it, and take the motes out of your own eyes... You make me crazy with this Leave-It-To-Beaver flavored Kool-Aid-induced dream state you occupy. Go make some bread from scratch and leave the rest of us alone.