I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “It’s all about balance” in the context of a conversation about being a successful parent. If I am like most moms, which I think I am, what “balance” means is that I fling myself head first into the tornado that is parenthood and spin and spin until it dumps me out. Then I stand there, disoriented, wondering if the feet sticking out from underneath the house belong to me or to someone else. I don’t often realize I am in danger of being sucked into the vortex until I find myself either a) for the third time that week crying to a co-worker while she stares at me, wide-eyed with thinly veiled horror or b) crying over a bathtub full of kid poop at 9 at night wondering how this could be my life. Then and only then do I realize I have to jump out before I twist right out of Kansas.
I have long thought that there is something inherently wrong with the phrase “working mother”. I have my work, I have my family and somewhere deep in the middle is also that little part of me that isn’t reflected in my work or identified by “mommy”. That is the part of me that sometimes seems to get swept up and carried off to some unknown land.
I found myself several months ago crying over a tub of poop. Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t a pretty picture. For too long I had been ignoring the fact that I hadn’t had a hair cut in over 6 months, that I had not made that necessary doctor’s appointment or that dentist appointment, that I had not renewed the gym membership that had expired two months previously, or that I had not done anything for myself in several months.
My mornings are waking kids, dressing kids, feeding kids, rushing kids, buckling kids, driving kids, dropping kids and turning around and rushing to work. I eat a breakfast in the car that had been hastily wrapped in a paper towel with a mug of strong overly sugared coffee in one hand. My days are phone calls, meetings, court appearances, hurried trips to the grocery store on my lunch break and then the rush home at 5:00. My evenings are playing, making dinner, getting baths, getting jammies, bedtime for the baby, story times for the twins, bedtime for the twins, clean up, laundry, packing school bags and lunches. Basically, all the things that a moms do. Don’t get me wrong, there is also a lot of beauty in the everyday minutia of being a mom but sometimes it can start to feel like a hamster wheel. Sometimes the result is crying over poop.
If I let it go on too long, as I inevitably do, I become the mom and wife I don’t want to be, harried, flustered and sometimes, resentful. I become the employee I don’t want to be, late, emotional and distracted. I begin to imagine how my children and husband picture me, crazed, wild-eyed with my hair matted. I begin to imagine people saying at work “She was really good until she had kids. Then she just kinda went off the deep end.”
The bigger issue is that I become the me I don’t want to be. It isn’t necessarily how my kids picture me or the potential gossip at the office but how I see myself and what part of me is left. It isn’t really my kids, my husband or my job that make me into that unrecognizable mess scooping poop out of the tub. It is me.
I am the one who lets it get to that point. Somewhere along the line I have to decide that I matter, that my appointments are just as important, that my interests are as important, that I do need a haircut or a massage or exercise. Naturally, if I am a better me I am going to be a better parent, wife, friend and employee. I can spin in that twister for a really long time before there are really any consequences but as any parent knows there are always consequences to our actions. The problem is that once you get too far down that yellow brick road it is not as easy as clicking your heels to get back home to where you belong. The key is seeing that tornado in the distance and making it to shelter before it hits.