New day

Looking southeast from the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge, traveling westbound over the San Francisco Bay, CA.

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.


8 thoughts on “New day”

  1. I so appreciate your thoughtfulness here. I am realizing that I’ve tried to balance home and work by just not being fully present at work … saving my energy for home … and this approach is not working anymore! I do have a job I like. It’s for an organization that does good work. But the thing I’ve celebrated the most, so far, is that I don’t ever ever have to bring work home with me. As my little one gets older (5 and counting) I’m realizing the value of modeling truly valuable work and find myself wanting to pour just a bit more of myself into the work I do outside our home – both for her sake and my own. The balance is always shifting.

    • I think that’s a helpful way to see it: always shifting. That, at least, is kind to oneself, and acknowledges that the demands of each (work, home) will themselves be in perpetual flux, so no one tack is going to do it.

      A metaphor I’ve frequently appreciated, along these lines, is that of a cross-country plane flight. The route from New York to LA is always going to be basically the same, but every time a plane takes it, there will be hundreds of minor course corrections, sometimes more major ones, to account for the inevitable shifting winds and traffic. And that’s not just okay, it’s exactly as to be expected.

      I’d love to carry this on, since I swear it’s a biggie and I have not met ONE parent who works full time who feels like they have made their peace. It’s a 21st c. Holy Grail, (you know, right behind a cooled planet and universal human rights).

  2. You’ve simultaneously brought me back to my childhood, as well as given incredible, emotional insight into what my future likely holds. The way you write about your children and your observations of the world around you and them reminds me of my Dad, and letters (long before The Blog) he used to (and still does) write when the mood struck him. I don’t have children yet, and likely won’t for at least a few years, but this being my 30th year, suddenly my opinions, thoughts, etc. have shifted, and I find myself more and more thinking about how it will be for my children, in the world today…and how I can instill the values & innocence that I feel my generation was able to hold onto much longer than today’s, for many reasons, including, but not limited to, more working parents than ever before and, of course, social media. Not to mention the geographic & cultural differences, as my children will probably grow up in urban Venice, while I grew up in the sticks of MA…but I digress. Anyway, just know, as few and far between as your posting may be, I appreciate the quality & depth when you do.

  3. “I do feel strongly that such balance is, like a good relationship, something you simply do not get without regular, hard work.”

    Oh. It makes so much sense when you say it.


  4. Welcome back! It’s great to read a post after such a long time.

    Wifey returned to full time employment 9 months ago. Watching this return from full-time employ myself, it has been a hard transition.

    I observe, with arresting sadness, change in the relationship wifey, as main care giver, has with our four children. Yet returning to work, for her became an imperative, and has also served to secure our family in other ways. What we all need has moved on.

    • Ah, ol Chum(py). So very nice to see you again! And ah: change. More bitter than sweet? Though as much out of our hands (the fact that it will happen, and usually must, even if we like to think that we can nudge its course a bit from time to time) as the heavenly circumgyrations.

  5. damn it. Now I’m choked up at work.
    You’ve touched on some really sore spots, touched in a sweet way as always, but they’re sore nonetheless. I don’t want to be mature or balanced about this. i want to be free of financial pressure and the need for health insurance and tuitions etc. And bringing the stress home and squandering the time I do have with my kids. Damn it. today i am pissed about this. F work/life balance- I want life!

    • Amen, is all I can say.

      As with so much that’s as complex as this, I feel like we have a great deal to do to make what we envision possible. What to do, how, I haven’t figured out yet. Seems like usually big change comes in the wake of a breaking point of some sort. We tolerate what we’re capable of tolerating, and change what we absolutely have to when we absolutely have to.

      : \

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