Friday, November 29, 2013

The Having It All Project: Kate Lair

I'm so thrilled to feature Kate here on The Having It All Project. Kate and I attended high school together--we even posed for prom photos together at our friend Marti's house--but we didn't know each other all that well. Now, reading about all that she was going through then, I'm a bit sad for the time lost, but honored that she's sharing it all here now. Here's how Kate is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I'm a married, work out of the house mom with one awesome 8 year old daughter, Maya.  I always want to say that I'm just your "typical" work out of the house mom.  But, the truth is I'm not typical.  I have a progressive, degenerative neuromuscular disease called Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT).  Most people have never heard of it (in spite of the fact that it is actually the most common inherited neurological disease) but the bottom line is that my nerves are dysfunctional and thus messages from my brain can't get to my muscles.  As a result, I have significant muscle wasting.  It makes everyday things like walking, climbing stairs, opening bottles etc. much more challenging for me.  It is an inherited disorder, so I've had it my whole life.  It is progressive and does get worse as I get older. On top of CMT I have been plagued with various orthopedic problems and other minor health conditions like obstructive sleep apnea and hypothyroidism.  I've had 5 orthopedic surgeries since 2001.  I have arthritis in my knees hips and shoulders.  In many ways, my life is very similar to many other working parents with decent professional jobs.  I work a normal 40 hour week with occasional overtime, my daughter does after school activities, have to keep up with housework, yadda, yadda, yadda. I just have added physical impairments which make trying to live a "normal" 35 year old person's life more exhausting, painful, and challenging.  

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I'm very much a one moment at a time kind of person.  I can get easily overwhelmed when I think of all that needs to get done at any given moment.  I try very hard to break things down into steps and take things one step at a time.  I love lists.  Few things are as satisfying as crossing something off the to do list.  I also refuse to do it all alone.  I try very hard to not take on more than I can handle and if I am overwhelmed I try to force myself to ask for help.  I'm not all that good at that to be honest, but I'm trying to get better.  My 8 year old daughter is very capable and we have been trying to instill a sense of responsibility and competence from a young age.  I give reminders, but some things are her job and she has to suffer the consequences if they are not done.  My husband is also a true partner and helps minimize the chaos because he does his fair share.  When I'm acutely recovering from an injury or surgery he actually does way more than his fair share and doesn't complain about it.  Plus, he can always make me laugh so just when I am at the end of my rope he will say or do something that cracks me up.  Any amount of chaos is bearable when you have plenty of laughter and love. 

Please share a moment  where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I find it hard to pinpoint a "moment."  I am pretty good at coping in the moment, but cumulative stress and exhaustion really takes a toll.  I suspect I'm not alone.  Usually, the point where I lose my ever loving mind is not about whatever is going on in that moment.  It is a cumulative effect of small pressures building until finally, I reach a boiling point.  At that point, get out of the way because it is likely there will be collateral damage.  

For example, this spring and summer were extremely challenging.  I had been having problems with my right shoulder for about a year.  In January of 2013 I finally started going to the doctor to get relief.  I tried rest, physical therapy, I went round and round with the orthopedic surgeon and finally in April, I got an MRI.  It looked like my rotator cuff was torn and I elected to have surgery.  This was done in late May.  Did I mention that my job had just moved locations and we were in the beginning of a huge project to restructure the way we do business?  Also, my husband and I planned on moving in the summer of 2013 because of the office location move, searching for a better commute and better schools, etc.  We had to find a new place, pack up the old one, move, unpack, etc.  We didn't have the luxury of hiring packers and movers.  We planned to do it all ourselves.  

So, I scheduled the surgery for the end of May, tentatively planned the move for sometime in August hoping I would be recovered enough to at least be able to pack and unpack boxes.  I worked my tail off at work trying to get as much done and in good shape because I had been told I would be out of work for 6 weeks.  The surgery was uneventful (which is a very good thing.  I once had a severe reaction to anesthesia that almost killed me, so anytime I have surgery I get nervous).  Turns out the rotator cuff was not actually torn, just some impingement and damaged tendon tissues.  I had my follow up with the surgeon and he said I could go back to work with restrictions after just 10 days from surgery.  So, I went back to work.  I was exhausted.  The night after my first full 8 hour day I tripped and twisted my foot.  My husband was away on a business trip.  I managed to get my daughter off to school the following morning with the help of a friend and got myself in for an x-ray. Not broken!  Yay!  Just a severe sprain!  So, I kept working.

Meanwhile, at work, I had been selected for a pilot team to test a bunch of new ways of doing business, one of which was the development of a brand new role.  I was told I would be testing out this new role (which was not yet defined).  It was a great opportunity for me.  The kind of opportunity which may not lead to immediate promotion, but certainly had potential for me to impress people.  

So, in spite of the chaos of my physical issues and attempting to find a place to live, pack the house and do all the moving transitions, I approached the challenge with enthusiasm, a sense of humor and gave it my all.  I put in extra hours, undergoing enormous change and stress to try to create a new role and make it successful.  Based on the feedback I received at work, it seemed like I was doing well.  

In the midst of all this, we have to clean and pack the house.  At one point, I was helping my daughter get her room organized.  It was an absolute pig sty.  There were toys everywhere, clothing everywhere, you could barely walk through the room.  She is 8, I was still recovering from the shoulder surgery and sprained foot.  I was tired, in pain, crabby and really really stressed out.  She and I were in there, and like any typical 8 year old kid she was "cleaning" but getting distracted by every toy she came across and, ahem, not moving very fast.  As in, a sloth changing positions to find its next prime napping spot would probably have moved faster.  I  I started throwing all of her toys into a pile so I could clear a path to walk.  I'm yelling things like, "if you can't be bothered to take care of your things, then you will have no more things, I will simply throw everything away." My little hoarder starts sobbing and screaming because I'm throwing her toys and honestly, I probably scared her a little because at that point, Rational Mommy who understands what can reasonably be expected from an 8 year old and how to communicate with said 8 year old had left the building. Dragon Mom with eyes that shoot daggers and steam coming out of her ears and fire from her mouth had taken over.  We went on like that for a good ten minutes.  Screaming, shouting, crying, oh my!  I finally had to leave the room and physically and metaphorically cool off.  I went downstairs.  I had a glass of water.  My husband is all "what the heck is going on?" we talk.  I calm down, cool off and head back up the stairs to her room.  Like I said, I wasn't very proud of how I behaved.  

Once I got upstairs, we sat down on her bed and I apologized.  I told her that I was sorry I yelled and that even though I was really upset, and had good reason to be upset, it wasn't ok for me to yell at her like that.  I explained that while it was ok for me to feel frustrated that she wasn't taking cleaning seriously, that she had allowed it get to the point it was in, and that she was not treating her things with respect, how I dealt with that frustration was inappropriate.  We talked about other strategies I could have used (i.e. i should have left the room a lot sooner than I did).  We talked about why keeping her room neat on a regular basis is important, etc.  I again apologized sincerely, hugs and kisses were had and then we continued to clean her room with no further incident.

Although I still cringe whenever Dragon Mom makes an appearance, I can thankfully say it doesn't happen all that often.  Though I don't like it, I do think it is important for our kids to see that parents aren't perfect.  Also, they learn a lot from watching what we do in those moments.  The truth is, we all make mistakes.  I believe the true measure of your character is how you handle yourself after you've screwed up.  

Regardless, had all the other stress I was under at the time-recovering from injury and surgery, work stress, and moving stress not been smoldering, it is unlikely Dragon Mom would have made an appearance over something so minor as a messy room.  But, that is how it happens.  Again, not very proud of myself, but eventually, I reach a point where I just can't take any more and something small and stupid will just make me come unglued.  I think everyone has a boiling point.  I'm trying to learn from that though and keep things from getting too overwhelming again.  

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I can't think of any specific balance role models. I do try to learn from my mother. Sadly, she passed away when I was pregnant with Maya, but she was such an incredible mother. I miss her everyday. She was not perfect, and I try to learn from her "mistakes" as much as her successes.

I still marvel at all she managed to accomplish with 4 daughters to raise.  One lesson I've learned from her is to get my priorities right.  Her house (and now mine) was never spic and span perfect.  It was lived in, could almost always benefit from a thorough dusting, or mopping of the floors, but we had plenty of time with her.  She spent time making things for us (she was an extremely talented seamstress), helped with homework, always encouraged us, etc.  At this point, I recognize that I can't do it all.  I don't have the physical stamina to work all day and keep up with the amount of housework necessary to have a spotless house.  I'm not saying I live in a pig sty or anything, but my house could use a good dusting.  The floors need to be mopped, etc.  However, it is just not a major priority.  I would rather spend quality time with my daughter after work than mop the floors.  I've accepted certain limitations and try to focus my energies where I need them, my family and my job.

One of the "mistakes" I am trying to learn from her life is that she did not take very good care of herself.  She never made the time to make her health and well being a priority.  As a busy working mom, I completely understand how easy it is to brush my own health and welfare under the rug.  But, I'm really trying hard not to do that because I remember how devastating it was to watch as a child and I don't want that for my daughter.  I'm also motivated because if I'm not well, I'm less effective in everything I do at home and at work.   

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
In many ways, I'm living a life I barely dared to hope to have.  I think I assumed I would make more money and be more financially "ahead," but I had lead a relatively sheltered upper middle class life, so most of that was just naivety.  Plus, the economy bottomed out and I think most of us are not where we thought we would be.  But, beyond that, I knew I would want to be married with children and working out of the house.  Ironically enough, I never questioned that I would be a "working mom."  I just assumed I would never be happy as a stay-at-home mom.  Of course, once motherhood actually arrived there have been numerous times where I have wished I could be a stay-at-home mom. Even now, with just one school aged child I would very much prefer to work part time (25-30 hours per week would be ideal for me), but that is mostly a function of the advancement of CMT and less about motherhood per se.  I don't have the stamina to work full time and give what I want to my family and take care of myself as much as I should.  But, like many other families out there, me staying home, or even working part time is not feasible for us.  I do like my job, and I think I personally need to have some focus outside my family to feel like the best me (my 18 year old self got that much right), I just wish I could do it for fewer hours of the week.   

As much as I hoped this would be my life, I didn't actually believe it would happen.  I got the message very clearly from my father growing up that because I was "damaged goods" it was unlikely any man would want me, and that if I did miraculously manage to snare a man, I should definitely not have children for fear of passing on this "dreaded disease" (there's a 50/50 chance with each pregnancy of passing on CMT)  That, coupled with my awkwardness with boys in high school had me convinced I was basically untouchable.  I never believed I was totally worthless (thanks in large part to my mother), but I definitely spent the better part of my adolescence and young adulthood feeling undesirable and unwanted.  Thankfully, I managed to develop some self confidence in college and graduate school.  When my husband and I started dating I really believed for the first time that the "happily ever after" I always wanted was possible.  It is not always sunshine and roses around here, but truthfully the reality of my marriage and family life are far better than I ever could have believed possible.

Relate to what Kate is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at

photo credit: mrp photography 

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