Each morning that I’ve commuted to work, since I started my job a little over a year ago, I have taken a picture to send (via text message) back to my kids, to lessen the sting of my distance. By now, I’m sure the sting is mostly mine. But initially, when I started working (far more than) full time, it was tough on them, too. I had been their primary caregiver: I used to read them stories at school; tend and volunteer in the school vegetable garden; know all the school staff and their friends’ parents by name. I would pick each of them up after school and slowly walk them home. It was not uncommon for us to take detours and follow our whimsies en route: this park, that bakery.
Now, in place of abundant time caring for them during the weekdays, we have full health care and financial security. The first month after I started the job, we enrolled not one but two of them in a six-week Saturday gymnastics class. Just because we could.
We’ve stumbled into something of a routine now, even if we never go more than a few months before having to re-vamp some key element of their after-school childcare. I work from home several days a week, so my commute–two hours in each direction, via BART and transbay bus–now simply averages out to the number of miles and minutes spent by most working Americans going to and fro each day. By now, the days I do go into the office, the kids have seen enough of the sun peeking up over the Diablo Range off to the southeast, shiny tidal flats in the foreground. When I tuck them in the night before (I’m gone long before they wake the next morning), I solicit photo assignments: an object of this or that color, or starting with this or that letter of the alphabet. Still, I can’t help but look at the sunrise and the bay view for myself.
Overnight this blog became a mute document of working parenthood, as my discretionary time shrunk to near-nonexistence. Current events continue to break; matters of great consequence emerge and pass unremarked upon here, never without regret. The long, slow dialog this space affords hasn’t diminished in value one whit for me, even though how (and how frequently) I nurture it has had to adapt. I think about many a blog post that never even makes it to draft form, much less a post. This was woefully the case when I was self-employed and comparatively fancy-free, but now the ratio of posts “circling the airport” to those “actually published” is not even funny anymore. Still, I count it as one of the many salutary effects of blogging, for the nonfiction personal narrative blog writer: a habit of introspection and analysis, developed from years of culling for worthy material. For now, most of the insights circulate back internally, usually with a twinge of regret that, of necessity, they’ll not make it this far.
To a certain degree, it could be just as well. The older my kids get, and the more I observe and understand how media such as this participate in our lives (the internet never forgets; privacy as we knew it in the late 20th c. is a thing of the past), the more I am inclined to filter what makes it to public view. The older they get, the better I can imagine how it may feel to read any of this, ten years hence, with a friend peeping over the shoulder. As with so much about this parenting path, all I can do is pay close attention, think about them in the long view, and make the best judgements I can any given day. But there’s no doubt, if there’s a drift in any direction, it is of them (or their specificity) from foreground to background.
A little over a year in to my job, I am still a distance from feeling as if I’ve mastered it, but at least now I am familiar with the culture and pace in which it takes place. I’m fishtailing less, anticipating more. Among the most practical realizations–helped along by senior colleague’s pronouncing this with bracing certainty–is that there will never be a moment at which I’ll feel as if the work is done. What I am searching for now is the capacity to identify when it is enough.
I will be the last to say I have any insight (I’m looking for even a grip) on work-life balance. But I do feel strongly that such balance is, like a good relationship, something you simply do not get without regular, hard work. It’s not a foregone conclusion that it awaits me on the road ahead. In fact, it’s clear that work-life balance, particularly with a big job I value highly, and while my children are so so young, and draw so very very much from their home life, needing me seemingly as much as I need them–it’s clear that any balance I get will be as a result of wrestling it to the ground with my bare hands. And always at a cost to either work, or life, or a bit of both.
The kids still fit into my lap right now, even though my daughter feels more like a colt there, hardly a snug fit. They still slip their hands into mine as we walk. I can kiss them–both–at just about any time in public, and they’ll not flinch. I carried my son from the car into his preschool this morning, and he thanked me as I did, and nestled his head in my neck the whole way. The sun’s going to set on this period of their youth and my parenthood, that I know. Not least because now, whenever I do drop him off (as I did this morning; a once-weekly gift to myself and him, baby steps toward balance), it’s me who lingers on the sidewalk looking back at the empty window where once, not even six months ago, he would blow kisses, gesture hugs, and bravely wave goodbye.