Yesterday, for International Women’s Day, this is what I did to celebrate:
The day started when my son woke up with Pink Eye. His eyes goobered shut, and highly contagious. In that moment of looking at his pathetic little sick angel face, I was simultaneously cognizant of and weighed down by two things: 1. Nursing him to health and, 2. All of the deadlines and meetings this was going to interrupt. And then I felt guilty about number 2, but it was still there. Then I had to negotiate with my husband about who would take a sick day, and we arrived at splitting the day. Deep down inside I really wanted to be the one to nurse my poor baby back to health, and yet at some other place in my being I was also driven to be successful at what I do. So I went to a coffee shop to cram in as much work as I could until noon when I would relieve my husband, including having an online meeting while at the coffee shop (and making expert use of the “mute” function when not speaking to drown out all of the background noise and try to maintain professionalism). Since I couldn’t be nursing my son to health that morning, I resorted to texting my husband ideas to combat pink eye naturally…..and then trying desperately to focus on the task at hand. I went home at noon to two energetic, pent-up children (4.5 years and 12 months), running crazy circles in the living room. I took off the professional hat and put on the mom hat, and tried to roll up my sleeves and get to work on healing and hugging and cleaning and leave work behind. But all afternoon, as work e-mails would roll in, my phone would ding, and I’d check it because, in reality, I was also needing to roll up my professional sleeves and get to work on other work things that were always lingering in the back of my brain. Inevitably, as I was reading an e-mail on my phone, one kid would be simultaneously trying to get my attention….and I was tuning them out….then they’d yell “MOM!!!”, and I’d snap at them, but also feel guilty again. At 3:20pm we had the Doctor appointment for the pink eye, but I couldn’t get my youngest to go down for her nap ahead of time….just had to roll with it….get children loaded up in car. Realize the pediatrician we see always has a long wait and wishing I had easy snacks to bring but am all out, and wishing I had the time to bake some muffins or something like that but don’t and feel guilty about buying something in a wrapper that has to go to landfill instead of baking a simple treat…and so have no snacks. As we pull into the doctor’s office parking lot, my 12 month old daughter pukes all over herself for no apparent reason. She has never puked before, she has not acted sick all day, and wasn’t sick at all after that. Still have absolutely no idea why she puked. But it was massive. It covered her, the car seat, the seat of the car below the car seat, the door, the seat buckle. Everything. Luckily there was a change of clothes stashed in the diaper bag, so I extracted her from the mess, stripped her down in the rainy parking lot and changed her clothes, used wet wipes to clean what I could off the carseat and car, then ran the kids into the doctor’s office to not miss the appointment. Once we checked in and they brought us back into the room, we waited 45 minutes for the doctor to arrive. By that time both kids are literally rolling on the disgusting floor and screaming and throwing things, and I just don’t care anymore as long as they are entertained. And of course neither child is on their best behavior while the doctor is there because they are sick, have skipped naps, are hungry, and have tons of pent-up energy, and I am embarrassed of their behavior. But I do my best to listen to what the doctor is saying, though I’m sure I look like my brain is empty as I stare at him an nod, while the merry-go-round of other thoughts goes around in my brain (“When can I prep for that 10am meeting later tonight?” “I am so embarrassed that Cedar is picking his nose and eating it right now,” “What happens if I get pink eye?” etc.), and I cannot stop it long enough to give him my full attention, as he tells me that it is likely viral pink eye rather than bacterial pink eye, so there’s nothing he can do, we just have to wait it out. Then we go back to the car, and I try to lay down clothing on the car seat before I have to put Eliza back in it so she doesn’t have to marinate in puke the whole way home.
Get the kids home, everyone is tired and hungry, we deal with that and clothes changing and basic clean-up, then Eliza falls asleep two hours before her bedtime….and then Cedar does too. And it’s that awkward timing for a nap where you worry they will wake up at 3am and be ready to start the day if you let them sleep all night, but you know if you wake them up they will be little monsters. So I let them sleep while I make dinner in peace, and during that peace I finally look in a mirror and realize that in an area that is hard to see from above, just below my breast, I have a giant brown smear of puke that must have been there all the way through the doctor’s appointment. Gross. Remove shirt. Decide to wait to deal with cleaning all puke items until after dinner and wine. Wake children to eat dinner. Predictable, Cedar has an illogical fit about wanting cereal for dinner instead of the fish and potatoes I cooked, and we need to work through the meltdown while simultaneously feeding Eliza when she screams to get my attention to get more food. Finally, everyone has enough food in their bellies to be calm and jovial, and Sean walks in the door with a bottle of wine. Yay! I then try to whip up potions to make sure everyone heals, such as putting garlic oil drops in both kids ears to avoid escalating things into ear aches (a total miracle btw, I use one similar to this), giving Cedar water with Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar in it to drink to boost immunity, making a wash of raw honey and water for his eyes as suggested in this post, and squirting breast milk into Eliza’s eyes as a precaution to prevent Pink Eye. When everyone is successfully doctored and sleeping (including my husband who fell asleep in Cedar’s bed while putting him down), I move on to cleaning up puke. I am exhausted at this point, and desperately want to sleep, but puke must be cleaned before the car seat can be used the next day. Cleaning the puke involves totally disassembling the car seat and putting the cover in the wash, along with extracting the puke clothes from the car to put in the wash as well. Then creating a white vinegar and water mixture to spray down the car interior and try to scrub out all the puke. Then come inside and wash myself up. Then look at the dinner mess, and decide to put it all in a pile rather than actually wash it because I want to go to bed, and I have a 10am meeting the next day (online) that I really can’t miss, but I know Cedar will have to be home one more day because of school policy on Pink Eye. My husband wakes up about that time, and begrudgingly does the dishes, and there is tension between us because of the exhaustion we both feel, and the defensiveness around how much work we’ve each had to juggle that day. Then after finally falling asleep, Eliza wakes up every two hours or so all night long to nurse. She has been doing this for a few weeks, and I don’t know why, but it’s just happening. By the last time, it literally hurts to nurse because I’m not producing that much. Both kids wake up at 5am the next morning ready to go because they got that extra late nap the night before….and so then I too must arise. The usual morning chaos and bleary eyed parents ensues….Cedar is home with me….I do get in a shower, thank God……then at 9:45am I set him up with a movie so I can have my meeting. And I put my professional hat back on, and try to have an agile and creative brain to facilitate a call with a client about a software tool we are developing to enhance data visualization. The meeting goes flawlessly.
At this point, I’d like to insert a YouTube link to my friend Naomi Wachira’s haunting song called “I am a Woman” that I listened to last night and cried:
It’s really, really hard to be a working mom sometimes. (And this day I described isn’t even that out of the ordinary–maybe these specific events are, but the level of exhaustion from some other set of specific crazy events is not.) To have the biological instinct to nurture your family well. To desire to have your kids not have a disadvantage in being nurtured or focused on over their peers with full-time moms. To want to hold that space of peace and health and comfort in your home; food made from whole ingredients, cleanliness, quality time creating memories with your kids, patient instruction on how to live. And yet to also want to excel as a professional. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to work, but financially, I do. And if I do have to work, I damn well want to do something I care about with those hours of my life, and do it well. In the professional sphere, woman are already operating at a disadvantage, being overlooked for publications and promotions over their male peers when all things are equal. So engaging in the uphill battle of proving yourself enough at a professional level to overcome those biases, while doing it with no sleep and constant multi-tasking voices in your head saying “don’t forget to sign Cedar up for T-ball, make a dog grooming appointment, what should I put on the meal plan for the week and stay within the grocery budget?”….etc.
Forget self-care. That went out the window years ago.
It is totally exhausting to be a mom. And also totally exhausting to have a successful professional career. But to try to do both well is really just fairly elusive. I recently found solace in this Huffington Post blog that went viral called “Having it All Kinda Sucks“. Yes it does.
I also realized that there are a lack of working mom voices in the blogosphere. There are tons of blogs by stay at home moms, or young single women with no kids, but not many by working moms. Probably because who has the energy to write a blog after a day like yesterday?? But those voices are so important to have out in the collective conversation that is constantly happening online. That’s part of my motivation in writing this blog. Within the subject matter realm I’m in, urban farming, is it really possible to do it while being a double working family? And what is that like? For all of us who care passionately about simplicity and sustainability and health, but there is no one at home full-time to do all of these projects, is it really possible? I may only get one blog post up every two months, but I think that voice needs to be out there. And just the voice about being a working mom in general needs to be out there, let alone aspiring to be fully fed from your own garden, make your own beauty products and kombucha. So I try.
I haven’t figured out what is the right solution, have you? If “having it all kinda sucks”, then what is realistic to have? Only work if you have no family? Only be a mom if you have no career aspirations? I think part-time work is a wonderful compromise and solution, but there are not many professional-level part-time opportunities in this country, in my experience. It’s either 40-hrs a week or barista or self-employed. (Nothing wrong with being a barista, it’s really a very viable career option, especially in Portland. But if you got an MS in Environmental Science, you may want a career in that field). Would love to hear from other moms in the comments below on what kind of balance makes you happy.
Time to make lunch….and then catch up on work…..