Monday, August 13, 2012

When Having It All Requires Risking A Lot (A Post for E)

On Friday I had the pleasure of eating lunch away from my desk, which happens way too infrequently. My colleague E had discovered this blog from my profile on LinkedIn, and arranged the lunch to get to know me better after reading all about my life on here. E had a lot of questions on this whole working mom gig, which if you've been reading here for a while, is something I have a lot to say about.

And if you've been reading here for a while, you know that I'm very fortunate to have a damn good life...particularly if you only know me from the blog. I don't post about the difficult stuff very often. Honestly, that's not what I want to look back on and remember. Sometimes it's there, lurking under the surface, but I'm not writing here to air my dirty laundry. I share this space with my family, I post it on my facebook page, it is far from anonymous. But in talking to E, I realized that maybe that's a bit unfair to skip posting some of the bad stuff.

E doesn't have children yet, but she's concerned about that awful feeling that she might not be able to do it all as well as she would like to do it. The feeling that though she would give 100% of herself to her child, her husband, her job, that 100% still wouldn't cover it all. Something would slip through the cracks. She might not be perfect.

I'm not perfect. I try really hard to be, to not miss anything, to be perfectly organized, on time, with a clean house and clean children. Keeping up with that level of perfection is tiring, I'll admit, and I don't always succeed. But I also don't fail.

There are bad moments in my eight-plus years of parenting. Max having pneumonia. Hannah breaking her wrist. Everything with my back. Bad moments aren't failures.

The closest I've come to a failure happened in December 2008. Max was about to turn one, Hannah was halfway through her last year of full-time daycare, and the world was just over a year into what has become known as the Global Financial Crisis. With double daycare bills eating up my salary, I had worked that year with a few goals in mind, but making much money wasn't one of them. We had run ourselves ragged, taking the kids to daycare in opposite directions, dealing with Max's helmet, and the general chaos of life with two little kids. I can't remember the specific nature of the chaos from work now, but it had been a difficult year. Tension was thick in the world of finance, and I wasn't sure I'd made the right decision working that year. I came home one Friday night and went straight to bed, leaving Marc to have Shabbat dinner with the kids, but without me. I fell asleep crying over how foolish I'd been to work and put my family through so much.

A few hours later, Marc came upstairs and asked me if I wanted to go to Disney World. He knew I needed a lifeboat - something to distract me and look forward to. It totally worked, as I researched and planned the heck out of that trip. A trip we wouldn't have been able to afford if I hadn't worked that year.

I'll never forget seeing Max on the big screen at a Monsters, Inc. interactive show, or hearing Hannah tell me, "it was a really good four days, Mommy."

So in the end, what felt like an epic fail at the time, worked out. Not only did we take that trip, but I've maintained an amazing trajectory at work and continue to be praised for all of my efforts there. I know how incredibly lucky I've been to make it work so far. And I was also quick to assure E that just because it's what worked for me, doesn't mean what anyone else chooses, or is forced by circumstance to choose, is worth any less. There are so many ways to live a life, and you can't possibly know how yours is going to turn out. I honestly don't think I could have predicted the course of my own life - whoever heard of someone working in bank loans? - and E is just going to have to start living hers in the direction she wants, and see what happens.

But E, you won't fail. And I'll be along to help make sure you succeed, in any way I can.

And now, some Disney World 2009 pictures, since I didn't post them on the blog back then.
Hannah with her "Wishing Star" from lunch at Cinderella's Castle
Max with a kiss from Sleeping Beauty


  1. I firmly believe a person can't give 100% of herself to anything or anyone. It's just not possible. Or, in my humble opinion, a healthy thing to aim for.

    Hoping to be perfect is a recipe for a major breakdown when you're a mom to a newborn and realizing that it takes everything in you just to keep this new little person alive and healthy - let alone do all the laundry, make dinner, pay bills, and keep the house clean. And that's while on maternity leave and before going back to work!

    So, E, please don't try to be perfect. Do the best you can. Aim for a healthy, happy family. You most certainly won't "be able to do it all as well as [you] would like to do it." But you'll find ways to do what needs to be done. And you'll find ways to do what you truly want to do. Everything else doesn't matter. At least, that's my philosophy.

    BTW - it took a bout of postpartum depression and some visits with a great therapist for me to be able to let go of "trying to be perfect." I am a perfectionist at heart. But I've learned that sometimes (often, lately) "good enough" is what's needed. ;-)

    1. Thanks to you both. I am trying to push out of my comfort zone, push the fear of failure aside, and be okay with good enough is good enough. For me, it really helps to hear about other people's experiences and consider different perspectives, so thanks again for sharing.

    2. Ha, E, was wondering if you'd read or if I'd need to send it to you! I'm glad you got to see it.

      And JD, thanks, as always, for your honesty.

  2. I think every has a different definition of "having it all." Cheryl, you've found a way to be extremely successful at work and still make time to be an active parent. This is hugely difficult, because as moms we are pulled in so many different directions. For me, I realized a few years ago that I needed to adjust my idea of "having it all" to a version a could actually accomplish - and this came with learning how to ask for help. We have three sets of grandparents and a handful of siblings in town - and it took until my daughter was four for me to get comfortable with admitting that it was ok to send her to dinner with grandma if I needed to work late, or to her cousins for the weekend if I needed to reconnect with my husband. I hired a cleaning lady and let her take swimming through her after school program. It really came down to the realization that I couldn't do everything myself, And once I got ok with that I could finally see how awesome my life really is.

    1. Jill, it's so funny, I still don't think of myself as "extremely successful." I'm definitely in a strange situation here. My bosses have grown very reliant on me, which is a good thing as it allows me to call the shots to some degree. If I have to leave for the camp play, I have to leave. But then I got on the phone for 15 minutes to talk to an Australian colleague at 9:15 pm.

      We are also lucky that my in laws are willing to help out with the kids. They live 1.5 hours away, so the random dinner or sick day doesn't work out, but they do take the kids for significant periods of time when there are childcare gaps. Knowing they will help with that is a huge burden lifted for me.

      And I *love* our cleaning service (2x/month) and after school program!

  3. The advice I always give to new parents is "be kind to yourself." By that, I mean give yourself space to not have all of the answers and to sometimes make mistakes. Everything works out--though, of course, we never know that when we're in the middle of it all. So, E, be kind to yourself and good luck on the journey ahead!