Thursday, September 30, 2010

Toppling Plates Revisited

So the balance theme continues to permeate my posts, and sometimes, I gotta say, I find it so redundant.  I mean EVERY mom deals with this, right?  Meanwhile, maybe that's why it gets so much attention--because we all deal with it.  As an older mom, I had a lifetime of experience before I had kids.  When your life changes so dramatically, and you keep trying to have parts of the old life peppered into the new one, there's going to be some roadblocks.  I'm getting more creative in navigating roadblocks and finding detours that I didn't even know existed.

I took some actions last week to try to get past my roadblocks and find fulfillment in my varied life. (I know--this is a quality problem--sometimes I feel like I don't even have a right to complain because my life is so blessed, but here goes anyway.)

First, I wanted to try going offline for a while. No reading and commenting on blogs, no Twitter (okay--that one's easy to fit in, so I only stayed away from that for 3 days), no Facebook.  I found I was focused and productive in my job and present with my children.  I was in mono-tasking mode.  Felt very old school, but strangely rewarding--for a time.

I assessed things that are important to me.  Is it important that my kids get to every single soccer practice or dance class in the week?  Not really.  What is important to me is taking care of myself physically, emotionally, and creatively.  I have one of those unfortunate, narcissistic personality traits of wanting other people to see me as a vibrant and valuable participant in all I do.  In all the roles of my life--wife, mother, professor, blogger, crafter, writer, cook, and volunteer--I want people to see that I'm doing a good job.  And while this has always been important to me, I am starting to shift toward seeing what I do as good enough for me regardless of what anyone else thinks.

I made a schedule.  In order to fit in everything I want to do in my day, I had to come to the realization that I can't do everything everyday.  It's got to be compartmentalized.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday-- work out.  Tuesday, Thursday, Friday--writing.  Like that.  Scheduling is what I hound down my students' throats on a daily basis.  It's about time I tried it myself.

I forgave myself.  I can't be all things to all people.  I'm a perfectionist, and trying to stay the perfect everything is exhausting and demoralizing.  I downsizing my big personality.

I don't know how long this new "c'est la vie" attitude will last, but I'm going to keep working on it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

When the Spinning Plates Begin to Topple

I work at a job that I love.  After a disappointing undergraduate experience that I barely passed, I finally found my passion in my late 20s and decided to go for it.  This meant another 3 years of graduate school, teaching part-time at 3 or 4 different community colleges for a few more years as a "freeway flyer," and finally landing a tenured position teaching (as opposed to "publishing") at an institution of higher learning a full 11 years after I finished my undergraduate degree.

I remember sitting in my office in my first semester and the president of the college, a good 'ol boys' good 'ol boy, came in to see me, and, in the course of our conversation, he said, "You know, this is the best job in the world.  And even more so for a woman (as an aside, what you need to know about this guy is that he later was removed from a Chancellorship for sexual harassment and indiscretions. Not really the most tactful with the ladies).  There's a lot of flexibility when you have your children."  Well, of course I was offended.  "What?" I thought.  "Do you have any idea what I went through to land this job?  There were 120 applicants for my job.  If you think for one minute I'm going to throw it away for a life of wiping snotty noses, you've got another thing coming, buddy."  Besides, I was single--no sign of a husband or children on the horizon, so I was good, I thought. 

But I did get married, and I did have children.  And he was right.  I took off for 6 months after the babies were born.  I taught at night so I could be home with them during the day.  I taught online, logging in at night and on weekends and in snippets of time between feedings and diaper changes.  I do work outside the home now, so I use the after-school program a few days a week.  I can mold my schedule so that I can stay at work late a couple of days and still be available to drive the kids around to their throngs of extra curricular activities.

This is dreamy, is it not?  It's the ideal situation that so many working moms crave--a chance to be fulfilled and stimulated intellectually while still being able to be the nurturing, available caregiver.  I presumably have the best of both worlds.  If that's the case, then why do I feel like I'm floundering in both of these areas for which I have a huge responsibility?  The balance I'm so craving seems far outside my reach right now.

I recently read a report on the myth of multitasking. The report states that people don't technically use their brains doing more than one thing at a time, but rather, their brains are actually shifting in rapid-fire succession between things. I feel like this is what I'm doing all the time.  I mean, even in the course of writing this post, I've had to get up to let the dog out and pause to give my son some homeopathic drops for the cough that is keeping him up and in my face. Not only am I physically torn away from the moment, but my brain is rapidly moving back and forth like a schizophrenic metronome.  I am, therefore, failing a little bit at everything I do.  I don't want to be perfect, but I would like to feel a little more peace.

Recently I found myself wanting to retire from my job--not quit, not get another job--retire.  Obviously a momentary lapse in reasoning and logic, right?  I was longing for more time to read and write for my own personal fulfillment, and retirement seemed the only reasonable way that this could happen?  Clearly I've got to make some changes.  What those need to be, I don't know.

But I do know this.  I have an obligation to both my job and my family.  I have to keep the job (without it, the family would not have health insurance) and I have to raise the kids. I have a responsibility to be present and wholly focused on each one when I'm engaged with it.  I need to make space in my life for those little moments that absolutely make time race.

How can I do this?  Am I just chasing the mythological life of the Supermom?  Will my brain explode as I try to tweet about my kids' morning routine while preparing for my class while driving in the car?  Something's gotta give. 

How do you balance personal fulfillment with parenting? 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Mr. D, your house is on fire!"

"Hang up and call 911! I'm on my way" were the words I heard my husband scream as I was on the other line with his assistant last Tuesday.  "The housekeeper called," the assistant said.  "Your house is on fire."

Shock. Stumble.  No.  It can't be.  There must be some mistake.  This can't be happening.  I hung up the phone and went back in my office.  "I think I need to go home," I quietly said as my co-workers started to rally me out the door.

These are not the words that you're ever supposed to hear.  Disaster is something that befalls other people, and you sympathize, you send aid, you help them recover, but it doesn't happen to you.  In my mind's eye, as I tried coolly to drive, I could see the flames melting my children's toys, my computer, all the memories of my life in photo albums and irreplaceable heirlooms.  I imagined being homeless, trying to explain to my children when they came home from school that we'd rebuild our life, that this was a way for a fresh start.  We'd be okay.  Then I thought it can't be that bad.  Stop going to the darkest, bleakest possibility.  After all, the fire department was already on its way.  The fire would be out by the time I got home.

I called DG.  He sighed, "It's okay, the fire's out.  Just get home and we'll deal with what we have to deal with."

I pulled up to my house as the fire engine was pulling away.  I've seen this in the movies before; the main character drives down her street like she's done a million times before and sees the fire truck in front of her house.  The same pit in my stomach rose into my throat.  I tried to keep from crying.

DG and my housekeeper were in the garage.  Burned debris was all over the driveway.  Water pooled in places and trickled down into the gutter.  "Thank God you're okay," I whimpered as I threw down my things and embraced my long-time housekeeper, the woman who brings gifts for my children every new year on 3 Kings day as is the custom in her country, Mexico, the woman who has been a part of our family for 15 years.  "I tried to put it out, but when I put water on it, it got bigger."

"Thank you for saving our house," I said.

We were amazingly lucky.  The fire burned a pile of things we were storing by the side of our house.  An old dog crate, some toddler high chairs that attach to the table, boxes, potting soil, planting pots and mulch.  As the flames rose up the wall and over the roof, they only burned external items.  The electric meter was burned, the tankless water heater was fried, and a ceiling spot light in the eaves was melted, but nothing structural was damaged.  The fire was against the wall and never entered the house. 

The fire department did a thorough investigation.  They went into the attic and took temperature measurements.  Our electrician came out and checked our circuit breakers that turned off during the fire, saving the house from an electrical fire.  The house was fine.  We were fine.  In a matter of 20 minutes from the time the fire started to the time it was out, we were fine.

How could this have happened?  I wondered about all the junk I piled into that space, never once thinking that it could be dangerous.  The fire department thinks a spark might have charged from a battery we had stored there for an electric scooter (you know, the kind that's like a wheelchair we used when my mom visited when she could still walk a little).  Maybe it was from the potting soil or fertilizer.  Just a hot patch with a piece of glass that caught the sun just right on the pile of what I now know was kindling?  We'll never know.  They put the cause as "indeterminate." 

Our lives could have been irreversibly changed by an "indeterminate" cause.  The possibility of what could have happened was infinitely worse than what did.  DG and I followed nearer each other for the rest of the day.  I hugged the children a little tighter when I picked them up from school.  I thanked our housekeeper again and again for her quick thinking.  If she hadn't been there...if this had happened on a Monday or Wednesday when we were at work....

But it didn't.  The forces in the universe that make things happen when they do must have been looking out for us.  Call it God or whatever you want, something went right that day, and I am so grateful.