Just the Workin' Life

photo (13)I was single-parenting it for a few days last week and came to a liberating realization:  I would have made a terrible stay-at-home mom.  (I came to this realization somewhere around the time they dropped Mardi Gras beads down the sink and terrorized the cat, who still hasn’t come out from underneath the bed.)  I don’t have the patience and I don’t think fast enough on my feet to be endlessly creative in dealing with whatever issues they throw in my face 24/7.

I shut down under chaos.  I mean, “hide under the covers quivering until it’s quiet” kind of shut down.  I don’t function when I don’t have control.  I need long, unstructured time to work.  I respond to problems best when I have time to contemplate them.  I also didn’t want to lose the foothold I had in my career if I had stayed home with them.  I would not have the same professional options in my area if I was returning to work today.

None of this reflects on my love for my kids, of course, no matter what anyone says or thinks.  If I’d ended up at home with them full time, we would have figured it out.  That doesn’t stop me from wishing there were more options for parents, though.   Job sharing, perhaps (an option I was told was “not acceptable”) or part time work with the guarantee of returning to full time work at a mutually agreed upon time.  Day care on site.  Less pressure to work full time and parent full time.

I work best when I have few obligations

I’m thinking about time a lot now that I’m on sabbatical – and now that the countdown to returning work has begun.  How do I preserve all this lovely, unstructured time when I return?  Maybe it’s unrealistic to want all this lovely time to myself – but I work best when I have few obligations, when I have lots of time to think and when I have a fair amount of control over how I spend my days.  I’m a better employee – and a better parent – when I have time to think and recharge.  My work doesn’t usually lend itself to this type of structure, unfortunately, even with the fair amount of autonomy that I have.

One of the reasons full time writing appeals to me so much is my perception that there’s a relatively large amount of unstructured time.  Sure, there are client meetings and agent meetings and all kinds of deadlines, and perhaps this post sounds optimistically naive (it is).  But it’s also the structure – from what I’ve experienced this year – that gets me to work at my best.  I will be very sad to leave that behind next fall, even as I also solicit advice and put priorities into place that will (hopefully) yield a work environment that looks more like my current one.

I’m soliciting advice from you, too.  How do you mesh your preferred work style with the demands of your job or family life, especially when there are disconnects?

(Bonus points for decoding the lyrics shout out in the title of the post.)

A Parent & Writer's Ode to Mondays

photo (6)Every day is the weekend, if you’re on sabbatical.  (I suppose every day is also Monday, but that’s not a problem for me this year.)  My actual weekends are spent chasing after little ones, who have even more energy now that it is too cold to play outside for long.  It took several years before I realized how creatively draining it is to parent, at least for this introvert.  Hence, when Mondays roll around, I am one happy camper.

I’m a bit of a puzzle to the other parents at day care; our versions of “dressing up” vary.  Most of them are in fabrics that are dry clean only and (the women at least) are wearing makeup.  I’m usually wearing my jammies underneath my jacket. (There’s a reason the blog is Cemeteries and Pajamas, after all.)  I’m also a bit of a puzzle to some of my colleagues and other people I encounter in daily life, who tell me how nice it must be to spend so much time with my kids.  I’ve finally gotten over my shame of saying, “Well, they’re in day care.”

Why the shame? I love my kids and would do just about anything for them.  Yet doing just about anything for them doesn’t translate into having them home with me full time.  After sitting with this question for a few months, I realized that deep down I wondered if my reluctance to take them out of day care sprung from some kind of cap on my love for them.  In other words, the narrative I told myself went something like this:

  • If I really loved my kids, I wouldn’t hesitate to keep them home with me full time.

I’m aware of the inherent sexism in parenting; no one’s ever asked my husband (who is also on sabbatical) if he loves having the kids home full time, while I get this question all the time.   I also can’t count the number of times I’ve had people give me a sympathetic smile when I talk about my careers (both library and writing) and say it’s too bad I have to work and can’t just stay home with the kids.

I’m not wading into the work vs. stay at home debates.  I know women who love staying home with their children.  I know others who stay home because of economic reasons just as I know some who work because of economic reasons.  I know men who stay home with the wee ones or wish they could or who would hate it.  My point: we should speak the truth of our experiences and not denigrate others for speaking the truth about theirs.

One of my goals in life, as I edge toward middle adulthood, is to be more assertive in my actions and speech.  (Note: assertive, not aggressive.)  So this is my truth:  I love my kids.  Unconditionally.  And I love my work.  Those loves aren’t mutually exclusive.  I also love the time and space sabbatical gives me to pursue my writing full time and to recharge each weekday before those little feet start pitter pattering through the house.  (Read: leaping off the furniture and chasing the cats.)

Barrier to the page: Today’s barrier is very personal – a feeling of shame that I am not with my kids full time

Solution: Examine the narratives shaping those feelings, listen, kick back with a laptop and a warm fire to spill my thoughts onto the interwebz