I have this theory that each kid added to your family shows up to teach you something huge. This is not an idea that I acquired from the Hallmark card aisle—though it sure sounds like it—but one that I formulated from having two kids in the last three years.
When I first got pregnant, all of the messages that I was absorbing were negative ones. Kids would ruin your life; kids would make you crazy. And you know, I suppose I see people’s points, however in-artfully delivered. Kids can be stressful. (We just went through two child hospitalizations plus the terrible twos with an emotional kid, so, stress, I know it.) But the baby that arrived on my lap the first time didn’t make me hate my life or myself. Instead he did the very opposite. He was so much like me that he made me re-envision all the parts of myself which I’d been carrying around as horrible shameful flaws instead as amazing gifts.
Then this year, our daughter showed up with entirely new things to teach. And in just five months, she’s worked on one important lesson: slow the fuck down. All you could possibly need to live a joyful life is right here on this floor. Possibly inside this Lego! So just shove it in your mouth, and kick your feet, and see how it goes.
Our son brought explosive joy into our lives, but he was not the baby that you read about in books, or fantasize about spending your days with. He screamed (a lot), and threw up (a lot), and refused to sleep (a lot). He also laughed a lot, and made us grin a lot… but nothing about him has ever said, “Slow down.” (In fact, his message was more, “Leave me in daycare with my baby friends, and go back to work.”)
Any I fears I had about motherhood making me give up on my work, were unfounded. He pushed me to work harder, and work smarter (so I could go back to spending time with him). He had the same high-strung intensity that I do, and he showed me how to love that, and lean into it. To hustle, and then go home.
Even Beyoncé Needs to Chill Out and Cuddle
And then our daughter pushed her way into this world on the Fourth of July, after one power hour of contractions, and three and a half grinding hours of pushing… which pretty much sums her up. She is, in fact, a joyful little firework, and she does things fast and with seeming ease. But if she has as many hours in the day as Beyoncé, she probably grinds just as hard. She just makes you feel like you’ve got all the time in the world, while she’s doing it.
And that is how, thanks to our daughter, 2015 became the first year I’ve ever managed any semblance of work-life balance.
I’ve always been a high strung over achiever. It started as achievement with a really clear purpose: working twelve hours on homework every weekend in high school to get a scholarship to a good college and get out of my hometown. Start a blog when I was working sixty hours a week at an investment bank to give me the shot of working for myself in a creative profession. And on, and on. And over time, that level of obsessive, desperate achievement became my normal. I always worked like the wolves were at my back, or like we wouldn’t be able to pay rent if I didn’t hustle every penny out of the month.
And then our chill out baby arrived. Instead of screaming and throwing up, she’d lie on the floor, happily staring up at the ceiling like she was stoned. As she got a little older, she started inchworm crawling around the living room (crazy early), and grinning and squealing constantly. All she wants is for whoever is with her to be in the moment. And when in her presence, that’s all anyone seems to want to do.
She arrived at just the right time, because shortly after her birth, the sadness started coming in waves. David’s dad died of cancer, much more suddenly than anyone expected. Eleven days later my beloved grandmother died, also very rapidly. Then my son took a terrible fall and knocked out two teeth. And just when we thought we were recovering, there was a mass shooting in our little-known hometown, and someone in our extended community was killed. And, then, of course, those shootings became the focus of every single national news story and political campaign, making it hard to think about anything else.
It was a lot. It was too much, really. As I write this, my family is still only barely holding it together most days. (Thanks anti-anxiety medications! You are seriously the best.)
But there was our daughter. And even in the worst of it, all she wanted us to do was chill out, cuddle her and her brother, and lie on the floor.
Lean In… To Life
And that is how, somehow, 2015 became the first year I ever really understood work-life balance.
God knows, my current balance is far from perfect, and there never seem to be enough hours in the day to do all the things I want. But for the first time, I understand what it means to try to lean into my life, and why, exactly I should.
I totally missed my deadline writing this post. And let’s be honest, I experienced some anxiety about that. But in the meantime I spent one of my (new!) regular mornings at home, giggling with a baby and decorating the Christmas tree. I played dreidel with my son, and we organized menorah candles by color. I watched some TV with my husband. And everyone on the APW staff lived their own lives too. (Maddie beat us all, by swimming in the ocean in Nicaragua like an otter.)
And you know what? Everything was fine.
Because sure. I’m behind on a zillion deadlines. I’m feeling crazed by my new book I need to promote (IT ARRIVED LAST NIGHT Y’ALL!). I wish I’d spent more time with my kids this week. I for sure wish I’d exercised more. And I wish I’d had more one-on-one time with my (grieving) partner. But I had a little of all of those things. And instead of thinking that “I’m doing everything, but badly,” I’m choosing to think of it as “I’m doing everything, the best I can.”
Or just, “I get to do everything.”
Because if there is one thing this year taught us, it’s that life is too short. And you might as well spend some of it lying on the floor and giggling with people you love.
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