So why did I stop writing? Mostly because I had no time.
But there was also the issue of what I’d inevitably write about: either my experiences in my work day, which I deemed off limits, or the work/family tension that seemed so as well. It was too personal. Not too personal to reveal but too personal to feel universal.
That surprised me. So many moms work outside the home and I had done so myself on a part time schedule for years after my first child was born. This was different and I thought about my new situation in two contrasting themes.
First there was the Big Picture. Mayor Julián Castro described generational progress in the United States last week as a relay race and, although my context is far different, I might borrow part of the idea. If I’d been given a hard-earned baton of opportunity and education, I had a concern for what condition I left it in when I handed it off to my daughters.
There are many issues that relate to this Big view of things, but I didn’t have much steam to write about them. I was too busy speed packing lunches and wishing I could order milk from Amazon.
And that brought me to the second theme; one about the specific and the ordinary that I’ll call The Small Stuff.
After weeks of consideration, I can report that we’ve decided to run the dishwasher at 7am instead of 11pm. Blog post to follow.
Help: My children’s spring break schedules do not align.
These were the details that seemed too personal to write about because they were trivial or boring or out of touch with the larger idea that being a grown up is just hard work—for everyone. And yet, you can’t leave a three year old home alone for 10 hours and assuming someone’s made dinner, it’s often useful to have a clean plate on which to eat it. The small stuff is not inconsequential.
But I couldn’t say which theme had the bigger influence on my thoughts or on our lives. It reminded me of the word my youngest invented when she was two years old. Instead of “No” or “Yes” she’d say ne--yes. It sounded Russian and she expressed it with emphatic indecision.
Eventually, I talked to a friend about it.
“What does it mean,” I asked, “if I encourage my girls to love school, and find a vocation they believe in, but don’t show them it’s possible to actually do it?”
“This is just one situation,” she said.
I had no idea what she meant but I trusted her. She’d calmly helped me assemble my breast pump seven years before. I knew she understood complicated things at times when I was most perplexed.
After a few months, and the decision to not work full time this year, I have come to see her statement as the answer to my ne-yes.
It does not reconcile what I see as the Big and Small issues related to working outside the home, but it’s a link between them. It goes back to my concern for the baton: what next? If not for me, then for my girls and the people with whom they will one day, I imagine, form a partnership.
They might find themselves in situations that feel singular, despite their prevalence. They will have their one situations.
Their paths for career and family could depend on what balls they toss into the air for their particular juggling acts. It is a juggling, rather than a balancing act, as Lisa Belkin suggests. The Big and the Small make up the act and I might name some of the balls: money, spouses, nature of work, incomes, desires, proximity to grandma’s house, luck, personalities, the economy, children’s ages, and perhaps my dream invention of a personal robot named Fred who has an indefatigable love of folding laundry.
I had been confused and unable to put my finger or my words on something because of a paradox. Working moms may be everywhere but no two situations are the same. If you swap out one ball, after all, the whole routine is different.
But that, according to my wise friend, is the good news.
PS- I am not sure I can contribute anything useful to the work/family discussion, but I wrote this to explain why writing seemed impossible. As a side note, because a reader asked, I’ll say that Ava’s sleep remarkably improved with our family’s new schedule last year. In fact, no surprise to many of you with the right routine, the kids thrived.