I adore my son Enzo. He’s a beautiful spirit, an amazing human being and my greatest joy. I cherish every single hair (presently green) on his wonderful head. I love hanging out with him and his company is most extraordinary and delightful. He’s a gem and a wonder in every way. All that said, he’s going back to school next week and I can’t wait.
You see, I haven’t gotten nearly enough done this summer.
Like many, many women, my work life is subject to the schedules, needs and activities of my child, with summer vacation being the big daddy of disruption. Enzo’s summer has involved twice weekly tutoring sessions, one week at a performing arts camp and lots of down time here at the apartment. My days of late involve running him around, coordinating between his tutor and his math teacher, filling out school paperwork and trying to write with a bored teenager bouncing off the walls in the background. Although his dad is in the picture, all of these responsibilities fall to me; I work from home and therefore my schedule is “more flexible.” (subtext-less important.) The reality is that the buck stops with me. If I don’t manage the details, then most likely, they won’t get taken care of. To be clear, I am more than happy to do what needs to be done for Enzo. It just makes for a tricky balance sometimes.
The precedence for this particular inequity was established many years ago when my ex and I mutually agreed that I would take on the role of “stay-at-home mom.” I stepped out of the workforce to raise our children and he was able to continue his career path without disruption. It was the agreed upon plan. I was happy to do it. However, when the kids were old enough to start school and I went back to work, it was assumed that I would still be available to cover sick days, school breaks and any other situations involving care for the kids during work hours. As a result, I ended up taking low-paying, part-time jobs that I could work around the boys’ schedules. Although the goal was to jump back onto a career track, I still had one foot firmly planted in the homestead.
Things are different now. We’re divorced and I’m on my own. Yet the dynamic remains the same, especially because I work for myself. It is still assumed that I always have the flexibility to put my work aside and manage the particulars of Enzo’s life and to a much lesser extent, Emmett’s, although he is now 18-years-old and is handling most of his own affairs. I could dig in my heels and insist that my ex take on more of these responsibilities, but he often readily dismisses the things I feel are important. I’m not willing to drop the ball when my kid’s well-being is at stake. Another factor in the dynamic is that my ex covers the majority of the fiscal responsibilities for the kids, mostly because he makes significantly more money than I do. Although it is certainly unspoken, I sometimes feel like I need to take on more to compensate for what I can’t provide financially. To be fair, this last point may very well be all in my head. Yet it factors in all the same.
But the intent here is not to point a finger at my ex or to pat myself on the back. The situation is what it is. It’s unlikely to change. The issue is in the mom-work balance, or lack thereof.
Ideally, I need long stretches of quiet and privacy to write. I have enough distractions kicking around in my own brain, and minimizing outside distractions is critical to my gaining any kind of creative momentum. I’m at my most productive when I’m alone. Needless to say, I haven’t been alone much this summer. It’s been difficult to work with the sounds of Super Smash Brothers permeating the apartment and the clunk and rumbling of a hungry teenager foraging for food in the kitchen, which happens to be right next to my workspace. Even worse is the mom guilt I feel for having my nose poked in a computer while the kid plays video games for hours on end. We should be having quality time together, right? Sometimes he gets bored and starts hovering around my desk, even peering over my shoulder as I write. I get irritated, which only ups the volume on the mom guilt. At some point, I simply give up, leaving work unfinished while I deal with whatever Enzo issue is at hand, be it boredom, hunger or driving him to a friend’s house.
My summer has had a start-stop quality to it. I feel like I’ve been writing in fragments. I also feel like I’ve been parenting in fragments. This is the problem with imbalance; I don’t feel that I give anything- the kid, writing, music-adequate attention. I move through my days with a gnawing sense that I’m forgetting to do something. When I sit down to write, I find it’s difficult to focus on the task at hand. My mind is abuzz with grocery lists, emails from the tutor, music to learn, school supplies to purchase and on and on and on. Adding to my sense of chaos is an onlooking teenager, who just wants to have something to do and someone to pay attention to him. If my life were a high wire, I would have long been splat on the ground below by now. Of course, I am in no way unique. Women everywhere are confronted with the same challenges. This seems part and parcel to motherhood.
School will start soon and some of the burden will be taken off, but not all. There are still carpools, permission slips, emails from teachers and after-school activities to juggle. Perhaps mom-work balance is sheer mythology. Maybe, like unicorns, it doesn’t really exist. I’ve certainly given up the notion that a woman can “have it all.” I think that is the luxury of a privileged few with fatter bank accounts and bigger support teams than I have. But even if I can’t have it all, I still entertain the fantasy that I can at least get it all done.
“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”
- Virginia Woolf