The dark side

It’s been a while since I’ve written, again.  I’m so fucking sick of winter I could scream, literally. It’s making me so cranky I haven’t even wanted to write for weeks.  And it certainly hasn’t made being home easy.  Note to readers considering leaving work to stay home: don’t do it in the winter unless you live in Florida or are on at least one medication for depression, anxiety, or both. I’m an old-fashioned gal and prefer to self-medicate with wine. But like most over-the-counter remedies, this one falls short, especially when you haven’t experienced daylight touching more than the 1% of your body that a ski mask doesn’t cover.  I’ve had almost-skin-cancer removed from my body on more than one occasion and yet I’m tempted to get in a tanning bed just to keep my depleted vitamin D level out of the coma range. It may sound like a case of the winter doldrums, or spring fever lurking near the circled, starred, exclamation-point-streaked day on my calendar that the time change is scheduled to happen. And that’d be partially accurate.  I hate winter. And I don’t live in an area that often gets snow, so I can’t even slide down my driveway on an old cookie sheet and pretend to like winter. Not to mention I’m not positive my ass would fit on a cookie sheet anymore, since said cookie sheet is still frequently in use around my house.  But I digress.

Winter-enforced marathons of Bob the Builder and Sesame Street have led me to some much needed soul-searching.  I’ve decided to go back to work.  The consulting project I was gearing up for was put on hold, which made me realize that, much to my repeated disappointment, I’m an all-or-nothing person.  I’m too type-A for here-and-there and maybe-sometimes and we’ll-see.  With flexibility comes a lot of uncertainty, and I don’t do uncertainty. It’s not that I don’t do it well, I just don’t do it. The pro-naturale moms would say I brought my first c-section on myself because I accepted it was a likely possibility. Not sure what their point would be.

It feels weird saying it, thinking it, certainly typing it where I can’t take it back. I can feel something physically happen to me when I say “I’m going back to work.” Not sure what it is or if it’s good or bad. Just different. And it changes with each day.

The first time I said it, I said it with gusto, maybe some anger and/or frustration too. It may have been something like ‘Fuck this, I’m not cut out for this, I’m going back to work.’  I’m not totally sure when it happened, but I’m sure my husband is.  I know it would have been on a day that wasn’t going especially well; maybe the 5th straight day of rain that had us stuck in the house with no new Pins to try; maybe a day where I looked at myself and realized I wasn’t wearing one item of clothing without food on it.  It may have been the day of the great Star Wars shoe debacle of 2013. Long story and I don’t want to talk about it. After I said it, I felt sick and relieved all at the same time, like I’d recognized the truth in that same reflection where I’d seen the spaghetti on my sweater. It was hard to take, but liberating at the same time.  Maybe I’m just not the stay-at-home type.

I tried on this revelation for a bit, wore it around like a new, unstained blouse that had some magical stain-proof powers impregnating the fibers, which also had the extra bonus of making everything under it look 4 years and 2 kids younger. It felt kinda good, so I started to accessorize it, as one would, with fantasies of sushi lunches and shoe shopping, workouts at the corporate gym, and approving nods from C-level execs while I presented the ground-breaking results of my latest project. The sickness started to fade a little, and I kept saying it as if exercising some new muscle I’d just discovered that would transform my whole body like Crossfit, without the vomiting .

The feeling got stronger and pushed down that sick feeling, so that when I said I was going back to work, I thought about a new house, private school, Euro Disney, and brimming college funds, instead of the guilt of leaving my children again.  I convinced myself, enough to fire up the laptop during nap time and, instead of coming here to write, browse LinkedIn for jobs. It was then that the sick feeling returned.

As I browsed those listings, each one requiring 25%-50% or more travel, a ‘passion’ for this or that, and a laundry list of skills which I possessed but ultimately knew would be wasted in endless meetings about meetings, I remembered how having children had put all that into perspective for me. How basically I thought it was a whole bunch of bullshit, and a pretty high price to pay for adult conversation and a pretty shoe wardrobe.  I thought about Marissa Mayer.  I gotta say, I called that one, and the idea of working for someone like that makes me hesitant to go back to corporate life, to put it politely. To put it truthfully, it makes the sick feeling go from loss of appetite to spending the night on the bathroom floor wrapped in the bathmat.

But in spite of what amounts to fear, again, I’ve been conspiring against The Fitted Sheet. I’ve been telling friends and old colleagues for a couple of weeks about my potential change of plans. I can’t officially call it a change of plans, because unlike my decision to leave work, a certain degree of it is out of my control, and I’m not as passionate about returning to a job that isn’t even mine yet.   I go back and forth between feeling like a failure to feeling like I’m now making an educated decision, and that this time I’ll do it on my terms.  When I went back to work after my first baby, I felt rushed into it because of a slow job market and some time out of corporate life.  I was eager to stop that gap from growing to the point where it was longer than my career, I was afraid of being left behind.  I accepted terms I swore I would never, like a ridiculous commute, and while I settled into a very satisfying and promising career doing work that I loved with people that I loved, I returned after the birth of my second child to a balance that had tipped unfavorably.  I felt confused.  I loved what I did, but not enough to endure a commute almost twice the national average, or start traveling again.  My home time had become burdened with exhaustion and stress.

My hope is that I can go back to doing something I enjoy but with less commuting and less potential for travel.  My decision to go back may be out of my hands, because I won’t compromise again.  I will be at the soccer practices, school parties, and every checkup.

I don’t regret for a second that I made the decision to try.  I always knew I couldn’t, wouldn’t regret trying to stay home full time.  But because of that, I now realize that the life I want to, and can, provide for my children requires two incomes. And that my children are increasingly becoming a part of the world outside of our home, one where I’ll watch from a window or a set of bleachers for as long as I can.  And when those windows and bleachers are gone, I’ll need to belong again to the world outside of our home too.

I’m still never sure, as with so much in parenting, if I’m doing the right thing.  Some say that children don’t need trips to Disney or themed birthday bashes, but only our love and attention.  Am I going to shortchange them on what matters most and assuage my guilt in the checkout line at Toys R Us?  On the other hand, will I be giving them a mommy with a healthier balance; one who isn’t about to pull her hair out because she can’t manage a conversation or a workout now and again?

Once again, I don’t know all the answers, and I seem to be changing course by the minute.  But in a rare moment of clarity, where I drown out the voices of self-doubt and criticism, I do give myself credit for exploring every instinct, committing boldly, if only in the moment to a better way of life for me and my family.  I know now how much courage that takes and how much, unbelievably, I have.

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