Balance

The very first thing I remember writing was a short story (well, a scene more than a complete story) about this kick-ass female FBI Agent who did some pretty unrealistic, but totally cool things like save the President from a dozen trained ninjas, only to have the private ceremony where she would receive a Presidential Medal interrupted because CASE (Community of Advanced Space Exploration)–look, I was only 12-yrs-old–needed her special services to help capture a renegade shipper (think trucker) who had escaped into Sector 9 (deep space).

A lot has changed about my writing since then, but the one consistent theme that I’ve been reluctant to shake is the strong female protagonist. I grew up after the first glass ceilings had been shattered. We had already won the right to vote before I was born and so this was a given for me. I was a latch-key kid to a single mom who was an Accountant working in a building so tall she had to take an elevator up to her office. She rode the metro to work, went on business trips, and earned enough to support us quite comfortably on her own. Grace Jones, Madeline Albright, and my mom were my heroes back then.

I’ve only just realized it, and I have never told my mom this, but by bringing me to her office (probably because school was out and she couldn’t find a sitter), she gifted me the ability to dream big. Seeing her attend meetings and answer questions with confidence showed me it was possible–and perhaps normal.

Ever since I began working part-time, I’ve not been able to pick up my girls from school. I was quite sad at first, but I tried to find comfort in the fact that at least I was working part-time. What about those moms who worked full-time or had jobs that required travel?

But then the most interesting thing happened. They adjusted. Sure, they can be a bit more clingy at times than they used to be, but you know what, they appreciate me more. When I come home they run to the door to greet me, and for about 30 seconds my heart fills with so much love I get choked up. Then their perpetual battle to reclaim discarded toys from one another resumes.

But you want to know the truth? The real truth that was so shocking I cried when it hit me? I’m so much happier working. Ha-ha. No, seriously! Re-engaging that part of my brain that had brought me so much joy was like finally breaking out from a tunnel into the light of day again. Sure I am fundamentally changed and my priority will always be my family, but those career traits and skills that I spent so much time developing aren’t dead, they were simply waiting until the right time to reassert themselves.

I’m learning it’s a balancing act. While I love my job and the people I work with are genuinely amazing (or their closet serial killers because it is hard to believe a group of people can be this supportive–I’ve worked in investment banking so I’ll admit I’m a bit cynical), being able to switch off and not let the work creep into my home life is a skill that I’m now having to acquire.

I’ve let my blog grow stale. I’ve gotten side-tracked and won’t finish my novel by the end of this year like I had planned. And I’ve been meaning to take the girls to the zoo, but keep allowing “other things” to get in the way.

It’s an amazing problem to have: the need to learn to balance a job you enjoy with your personal goals and the family you love. But it requires work. And discipline.

I’ve decided to set an alarm 15 minutes before my work day ends so that I can organize myself for the next. I’m going to spend that hour after work reconnecting with my novel. I owe it to myself. And I feel more happy and am a better mom when I’ve accomplished other things besides getting my children’s shoes on, and keeping them on, in under 10 minutes. (Trust me, that’s another acquired skill.)

This new chapter of my journey has been a pleasant surprise. For a while there I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, but instead, I think I’m just going to relax and trust the process.

Acceptance

Mom told me that you will always worry over one of your children more than the other. It’s not a difficult thing to understand–that one of your children will require more nurturing or perhaps more encouragement than the other. But like so many things, that comment means more to me now I’m a mom.

My eldest is sensitive in a way that is beautiful and smile-inducing, and bless her I can finally say she understands the importance of sharing. (Having a younger sibling greatly helped to reinforce this!) But the playground can be a hard place for someone with feelings like hers. The times after school and after ballet class are stressful for me because her friends go to the playground… and of course she wants to go too.

Most of my anxiety stems from the fact that I see so much of me in her: the innate desire to please and the struggle to assert herself without being overbearing. Assertion is a learned trait to someone like us. It’s an art form that takes years of practice. Some people do it effortlessly while others like me and my eldest first over- then undershoot until we learn the right balance.

I’ve learned that I can’t protect her from the truly hurtful things: I’ve taught her to hold onto the railing when going down the stairs and to keep looking as she crosses the street, but a friend’s comment about her favorite dress or an overexcited kid at the playground are things she has to figure out. All kids must learn how to cope with this, but some seem to do it with more ease than others.

My youngest is the kid I was always afraid my oldest would run into: feisty and confrontational. She’s frightened by little and has loads of personality that leaves us laughing. I spend almost no time worrying about whether her feelings will get hurt at school and most of my time hoping she doesn’t clobber anyone for invading her personal space.

They require two different approaches to parenting. I find myself explaining to my eldest why it’s okay that her friend doesn’t want to give her a hug right now and then in the next breath struggling to get my youngest to understand why we don’t hit. Or pinch or bite or snatch or kick or shout and scream.

My eldest likes to cuddle on the sofa. My youngest needs a dog.

Despite their differences, or maybe because of their differences, I’m learning about acceptance. As someone who very much likes to be in control, I’m slowly accepting just how little I actually have.

Accepting my eldest’s sensitivity is awkward because I see that as a weakness in myself. Therefore, I try to save her from the hard knocks it takes to build thicker skin. I want to spare her the hurt feelings that I had to experience. But in doing so I realized that I’m not accepting her for who she is, which begs the question how can I provide the safe haven she needs if I’m busy correcting her, coaching her… trying to change her.

Perhaps all she needs from me is acceptance. My eldest will learn how to manage playground dynamics and my youngest will grow out of the grabby-snatchy-everything-is-mine phase. Their feelings will get hurt from time-to-time, but more important than shielding them from these events is providing the support they need to get through them.

 

Seasons

Your ability to recognize the changing of seasons in life sharpens with age. It’s not that you’re inattentive when you’re younger, it’s just you haven’t witnessed enough of this phenomenon yet to discern its lessons of impermanence.

I can tell that I’m approaching autumn. I’m not sure what it will bring, but I’ve stopped worrying about that. I’m learning to be more present, to plan without becoming obsessive, and that in all things change persists.

My youngest will start school in the new year. I’m excited, but I’m also sad. It marks the end of a certain degree of reliance on me and the start of her burgeoning independence. I’m turning 40 in a couple of weeks, and while with age comes a new set of “realities”, there’s also this blossoming peace I had not anticipated. I hesitate to describe it as contented because in my 20’s and 30’s contentment was such a negative word. But now, as the season cycles through its next change, contented is exactly what I feel.

Gone is the cocky yet insecure woman-child of my 20’s and the stressed-out overachiever of my 30’s. The value I place on friendship and family has doubled and I find myself gravitating toward smaller, more tight-knit groups of women who are in the midst of their seasonal change.

I try to understand more and judge less.

This is the Age of Reevaluation. Marriages grow moldy, careers seem boring, and we yearn for the freedom and bliss of our youth. This is also when some of us finally muster the courage to make the changes we’ve been putting off. My husband recently accepted an early retirement package, then turned down a job to pursue the one he really wanted. I’m exceedingly proud to say that after a few uncomfortable months, taking the risk paid off. He’s now doing exactly what he wants in the industry he wants with a company that gets him excited.

For me, it has been starting my own business, Mosaic Writing. I yearn for the flexibility that only comes with being my own boss. But it can be scary. I question if it makes sense to leave 12+ years of experience and achievements in one industry to start again in another. But in those 12+ years I’ve learned that a key ingredient to life is happiness, and so the decision was easier than I had anticipated.

Surprisingly, it was my kids that gave me the courage to change. I want them to believe in themselves and to be brave despite their apprehensions. Having them at this age is great because it keeps me agile. They prevent me from becoming trapped in a mindset that fossilizes with age. Like why can’t you wear your favorite dress to bed? Why must you avoid the puddles or go down the slide the “proper” way? And why can’t I start my own business at 40?

Autumn feels nice.