Work Life Balance

I am lucky that I have two really wonderful part-time positions which together just about equal my former full-time salary

The world of work, for me, is a patched-together affair. Like a quilt, I provide comfort and care.

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Chris yesterday at our block party.

Although I work a lot, I still need time to care for the family. Chris’s Parkinson’s impinges on his life and our family in small ways. While he is still capable of doing most of his own daily tasks, increasingly, over the years, there are ways the kids and I have had to pitch in — provide small services like helping him to stand after seated a long time or reminding him to take his pills.

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Me and Char at our block party. We chatted with our neighbors and local politicians.

Beyond paid work and caring for family work, I need time for self-care — work on my novel, my essays. Or simply read my book for book club. Or prepare a nice dinner party or plan some fabulous trip. (I have absolutely no upcoming trip and this always unnerves me — when am I going to go where?)

I rarely see a story of my patched-together work-life balance in popular culture. Although today’s cover article in the New York Times Sunday Review talks about “A Toxic Work World” where only the young, childless can survive. I agree. While society has changed, our expectations at work have not. Our work life is no longer Mad Men and our family life is no longer Fathers Know Best. I more identify with Frankie in ABC’s The Middle — overworked, struggling, but still, funny, hopeful.

Unlike Frankie, I am an intellectual too — a middle-aged writer, teacher, editor, just trying to keep it together — offering love and friendship and trying to make a very real positive impact on my world.

“We would think managing kids matters just as much as managing money,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of the Times article says. “We can, all of us, stand up for care. Until we do, men and women will never be seen as equal; not while both are responsible for providing cash but only women are responsible for providing care.”

I want to believe politicians are talking about this too. After all, Hilllary Rodham Clinton wrote the book, a million years ago, called, It Takes a Village. A cynical culture may refer to the title sarcastically or see the treatise only politically, but I see it as a reminder — none of us do it alone. Even geniuses, like the Beatles or Mother Theresa or Einstein, drew upon the wisdom and received help from their communities.

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I snapped this pic from my bike ride to work the other day. Riverside Park.

I believe we are due for a cultural shift. And this may be the message of the pope when he flies through town this week. Caring for each other is way more important than competing against each other. I want to be a part of a culture of caring. Utopian? Let’s try it.

Like the song from South Pacific says, “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true? Happy talk. Happy talk.”

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Leaving the Job

In about a month, I’m going to be divorced from my job. In many ways the marriage has been fruitful. We’ve had wonderful children (projects) together; we’ve gone many places; we’ve grown; we’ve pushed each other to grow; and now we’re moving on. We are going our separate ways. We have other loves and other children and other journeys to take. Still, it’s weird. I have mixed emotions.

I find myself moody and at times sad and in need of attention. My friend Rachael said, “That’s good. As it should be.” I remember as a kid going to summer camp or to college and missing my crazy family like crazy. (Work has been like a family to me.) But I assured myself, “It’s okay. It’ be horrible if I was just happy to be rid of them. Just to be free.”

There is a longing for freedom — a desire to speak my truth and not care if my truth jibes with the dogma of the faith-based group. I want to scream from the mountaintops, “I love Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs! I love all religions — no one has a corner on truth. No one of you is more perfect than the rest!” And if I blog about how I love gay marriage I don’t want to fear some stuffy church exec pulling me aside, “You represent the agency so please keep your public opinions to yourself.” (Yes, that kind of thing, on occasion, happens!)

I’ll miss the family dramas. I’ll miss the comedy. I won’t miss the meetings.

I’ll miss my identity as a writer. I always felt I had the best job at the place. There are many writers who want to write full time. And for most of my 20 years with the agency (10, part time and 10, full time) I’ve done it. But writing for work is different than writing for your own passion. And because I’ve given at the office, I don’t always feel like giving out at home.

I gave the best years of my life to that workplace. (I get dramatic. Maybe the best is yet to come?) The agency made me better and I made the agency better.

Still, I feel untethered, unmoored. What am I doing? I need the apron strings of a day job to get by in NYC, especially since I have three kids heading to college within the next six years.

I assure myself I am not alone. I am one of 38 of the 201 full time staff of my agency who accepted this voluntary severance package. That’s about 20 percent of us, who are cut loose and footloose.

I’m starting my own business coaching writers. (Check out my new biz.) I’m freelancing writing and teaching in a couple of afterschool programs. Oh, and I’m going to every single one of my kids’ meets and games in track, swim, basketball, soccer, and gymanstics. I’m going to volunteer with the PTA, go on field trips, and help backstage at the shows.

Here’s the view from the top of my office building.

I’m not going far. I’ll still hang out with my old work friends for lunch, happy hour, maybe even to walk the 19 flights up to the roof, hit up the art opening, visit the ecumenical library, or take my old Pilates class. It is, it turns out, all of these peripheral things that I’ll miss, that I’ve added on to my work life, that have made my life meaningful. It is what I’ve brought with me. And these things, it turns out, I can take away.

I may be getting a divorce from work, but it is an amicable one. We still love each other very much and want only the best for one another.

How Women Can Have It All

flowers in Pennsylvania

On Wednesday night I came home from a work trip to Elizabethtown College, where I was leading communications and organizational change workshops for United Methodist Women. I hung out with my fam and then flopped on my bed with the latest issue of The Atlantic. I LOVE their cover stories; the issues on single women, obesity, and parenting have given me a lot to blog about. (For example, see Letting My Kids Find Their Own Happiness.)

My first reaction — and I feel bad about this — was sheer jealousy. As the author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, admits several times in the article, she is elite. Ms. Slaughter worked for the Obama administration and is now a professor at Princeton College. Sure, I have an advanced degree and a decent job. But as I consider new ventures in the coming months, I don’t get to pick between national policymaking and the Ivy League. (Or do I? Perhaps, it’s true, we women aim too low?)

I feel held back from success, not  just by the age of my kids and the demands of my work, but also by my husband’s chronic illness. As a friend commented on Facebook, “I’d like to have written that article, but I’ve been too busy having it all.” So yes, I was jealous. I wasted time comparing my achievements to Slaughter’s and I came up short. But as the saying goes, Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides.

I found a lot to like in The Atlantic Article on Having It All, including Slaughter’s suggestion that kids’ schooling hours should match parents’ working hours. As an after-school teacher, (yes, I have part time jobs to go with my full time job), I think kids should stay longer at school. And they should do fun stuff, like drama and sports and art. We all need more time to play. Let’s make work and school more playful and creative and then it’s not such a drag.

One missing ingredient in the article is the need for everyone to create a supportive community, not simply have an awesome spouse. I know I get by with a lot of help from my friends and family. You can pursue happiness  –and remember the pursuit is guaranteed, not the attainment — if you have a village behind you. I’ve written about the three things we need for community: hard work, passion, and diversity.

I need to remember the hero’s journey. The hero has to try and fail several times. And the hero has to leave, even if that means going on a business trip to Pennsylvania!

“You leave the world that you’re in and go into a depth or into a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was missing in your consciousness in the world you formerly inhabited.” (From Joseph Campbell on The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers)

As I set out on a new journey professionally, I know that I will fail. Like Odysseus, the homeland will be in sight and then the winds will whisk me back to the sea. Yet I will adapt. Each of us must make our own quest. With flexibility, creativity, and community, we can pursue happiness (a.k.a., have it all).

Happiness is not found in professional or material success — though give me that success and I’ll let you know. Honestly, success is found in having good relationships and in creating beauty and in being in nature.

So pursue happiness. When you embark on that pursuit, you become the mythic hero on a quest. You become the hero of your own life story. And you can have (or pursue) it all.

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My Life as Superwoman

My days have been chock full. In no particular order, over the last couple of weeks:

  • I discovered I have more basal cell carcinoma (this time, on my hairline). Surgery is tomorrow.
  • I have taught creative writing at a public middle school.
  • I bought a sectional couch and rearranged the family room. (I believe the Raymour & Flanigan salesman gave me a nice discount because he admired my tenacity and good spirits as I furniture shopped with boisterous preteens and a teen.)
  • I have been solo-parenting while my husband Chris is in Florida for a month, directing Picasso at Lapin Agile.
  • I have met a challenge with teen boys’ behavior. Say no more.
  • I have had sick daughters (one with strep throat, the other with swimmer’s ear).
  • I have started an interim job as a writer for another faith-based organization, a women’s group.
  • I have received an email, first contact in 20 years, from my ex.
  • I have been taking a sketch class at the Art Students League. I have been painting, drawing, and collaging a lot. And even sold some art.
  • I have been taking a photo every day.
  • I have been journaling every day.
the fog in Riverside Park on one of my lunchtime walks

I could elaborate on any one one of these bullet points. Suffice it to say, I have felt like Superwoman, empowered and challenged. Being Superwoman is tiring.

I have felt, just recently, the need to slow down. Perhaps February can be a month for that.

All of my work — my art, writing, and teaching fills my soul and I intend to keep on keeping on. My husband suggested that when he comes back, I should go to a spa for a few days. I like that. Until then, I might just curl up on the new sofa with a good book.

Working Moms Love Business Travel

At least this mom does. I love to travel for work, not having to cook, clean up, wake anyone, or remind anyone to go to bed.

I do worry about the kids. And yesterday, I got a call from the school nurse that one of my darlings was crying, feeling overwhelmed by school work, dad’s illness, and maybe, I think, missing me a little.

I thought, Dangit, I stayed away so long. (Been gone from Sat. to Thurs.) I am heading to the airport in a few minutes and once I get home, I will try to put the house back in order. And if there are tears, I can dry them. And I do feel fully restored to do the job of mothering, working, and writing after work travel.

I was at a retreat center for work, I love that I go to retreat centers, like Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, Florida and next week, Stony Point, in Stony Point, New York.

I love that work travel is a retreat. And that at the back end, I got to sneak in a visit with my family in Sarasota. Life is good.