Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guest Post: Balancing in the Bay Area

Stock Image: BayBridge_5910_b Picture. Image: 130981
© Photographer: Joesparks | Dreamstime.com 

Please welcome our latest guest post on work-life balance from a mom of two and a lawyer from the Bay Area. "Not Nora", her nom de plume, is like a sister to me and is gifted in countless ways; writing is one of them.

I persuaded Not Nora to write a post for See Mom Work, speaking on how she attempts to achieve work-life balance. I didn't expect such a beautiful account capturing the rawness of emotion and guilt, common to working moms. I welled up several times and felt the familiar pangs of melancholy from my own struggle for balance.

***

I love San Francisco - so much it makes me cry. The enormity of the buildings. The historic skyscrapers crowded by newer, glossier models. My memories are embedded in the dirt - some ancient, some filth fresh from this morning. It infiltrates my clothes, my eyes, leaves a coating on my skin and briefcase. I’ll have to shower tonight when I get home to get it out of my hair. I dare not wheel my bag into the house - who knows what I’ll bring in? The doors of the hotel open and I recognize the air freshener - it smells like Bounce dryer sheets - the smell of chores and weekends. The people bustle by. Even the homeless have somewhere they are headed, though perhaps a little less quickly. The street musicians, the iPhones, the constant chatter and rumble of trolleys, honking taxis and clanging cable cars muffle my thoughts. 
 
There is the apartment where I lived when I was here in trial with my law firm. For six months when my son was a baby. For six months when my daughter was a baby. For six months when she was three. And really it’s just like any other of the many nondescript towns where I've been - working - for the last dozen years. Away from home, I have the strictest routine. Diet, exercise, sleep, work - they are the whole of my being. The times when I've strayed from this mantra or dared to enjoy any happiness are memories I treat like an illicit affair. Yoga on the beach. A glass of wine at a restaurant or dinners after a victorious day at trial. A walk outside enjoying the breeze off the Bay, laughing with co-workers at the craziness of the workday. These can’t be treasured because they were time away. Away from my babies and my sweetheart.
 
I’m waiting for the bus by the Ferry Building. The scents are different here. Food from the restaurants, the briny smell of the ocean and whatever the seagulls leave on every horizontal surface. The tourists are everywhere, headed onto the Ferry or the bus, exploring the waterfront buildings and craft fair across the street. They know I’m local. They ask me for directions. And though I want to tell them I’m not from here, I’m a visitor too, I can’t. I know the way to Fisherman’s Wharf from here and the best way to get there. 
 
Most of my working life has been this - being a visitor in my home and a resident of a city away from home. Diet, exercise, sleep, work. And it tears me up - tear like torn and tear like drops. From the time my son was an infant, sitting in his bouncy seat at my office while I juggled phone calls and discovery, I knew I was a failure. A failure at being a mother because what the hell is a baby doing on your desk?! And a failure at being an employee because 10 days was much too long to be away on maternity leave. So I did what any new mother would do - I called my mother, who dropped everything and came to do what I couldn't - be a mother to my baby. Five years later it was second verse, same as the first, as my mother came with me to the city to be a nanny to my daughter while I was in trial; my husband and son back at home. 
 
Just over a decade later, I faced some cold realities. The reality that I had missed - literally not been there - for a third of my son’s ten years. And that even though I loved what I did, living away from what I loved most was physically becoming a problem for me. My regimen of diet, exercise, sleep and work wasn't enough to counter the effects of sustained stress. I left my job. This looks so trite as I write it. How hard could that have been? How could it not be obvious that I needed a change? How could a mother so neglect her family for so long? But there was always an excuse - no, a good reason. A valid reason. Many valid reasons. I loved my job, loved my clients, loved the people I worked with. And I was good at it too. I had gotten so comfortable, so skilled; my days flew by in a busy blur. How could I have ever left that for a job where I knew nothing and was paid almost as little? In facing all of these quandaries, I have confronted what every mother faces - balance and choices. 
 
Years ago in law school, I met with a career counselor and told her, "My parents were both doctors and I never saw them. What job can I do in the legal profession that will allow me to be successful and spend time with my husband and kids?" I still remember the dumb silence, the blank look, confusion, total ignorance. Because, you see, there is no one right answer. There are many answers. And oftentimes they don’t feel right at the time. What took me so long to learn, what I wish the career counselor would have told me, is that many of our choices are our choices. It seemed like I worked for a firm that wouldn't understand the burdens and time constraints of being a mother. But after my second child, I did take three months off, and then came back to work part time for several years after that. There was flexibility in that environment and we could survive without my full-time paycheck. This brought up other challenges like not enough hours in the day for the work to be done, but that wasn't exactly new - that had always been the case. Leaving that job seemed impossible. We could never live on less money. And why would I want to start over in something new? I might as well study for the Bar again - it was so unappealing. 
 
The bus is pulling up now. I know what it will smell like before I get on. Antiseptic cleanser of some kind. It still makes me nauseous. Then transfer to the train, which I can already hear in my mind. The horn that is just too loud to be so close and the sound of the wheels on the tracks - more shrieking than the adorable squeaks of Thomas the Train. My daughter’s laughter is woven in that memory - she loved the train and the thrill of the big bus, looking out over the Bay on our way over the big bridge. And my mother’s tense anxiety is in that memory too. Will we make it to the train on time? (Though we always did.) Will we remember all the bags and stroller and toys and snacks? What if the stroller wheels get stuck on the tracks or the baby lets go of my hand for a single second? 
 
I bid farewell to the city and feel the depth of the memories locked up in this town, untold experiences together and just a bit nostalgic - old friends meeting up for lunch. It’s just a day trip to the city and I’ll be home in time for dinner, bath, story and bed, just like every other day now. My bag is just a briefcase. No suitcase, no gear. And it’s not just my baggage that is lighter - my heart is too. I tell more jokes. (I’m the funniest person I know.) I laugh and it feels so good and free - and a bit naughty to be so frivolous! I’m the meanest mom ever - not just a visitor. And I’m there to kiss my sweetheart goodnight and save my babies from monsters in their dreams. My adrenaline rush is no longer deadline-based, but derived from planning school fundraisers and trying to get from soccer to a birthday party across town in 10 minutes - oh, and stop for a gift on the way. It may not be the right choice forever, but it’s the right one for now. A new regimen: dinner, bath, story and bed. And it seems to be working out just fine. 

-- Not Nora

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1 comment:

  1. Nora, your story is inspirational and eerily familiar. I am living exactly what you did. I am faced with the decision of moving from the adrenaline rush of deadlines, but am frozen with fear. Thank you for sharing your story, it helps to know your not alone out there.

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