By Carol Kaufmann
I had the chance to go on a retreat for work. It was to be held at my boss’s weekend house, with promises of creative brainstorming (which I love), socializing (which I love), and good drink (which I could use). A further bonus: helpful hubby encouraged me to go, thought it would be good for my career, and was willing to go two-against-one with our bundles. Problem was – it was a three-day trip and my baby girl wasn’t yet three months old. Aside from the obvious problem all nursing mothers have – pumping and storing milk – I had a bigger one: Precious Baby doesn’t like her bottle, no matter what’s inside it.
When it comes to trips, I go. A weekend jaunt, a last-minute air deal to London, trekking in the Sahara – I’m there, suitcase packed, passport ready. And I’m a relatively ambitious career gal who would never minimize the importance of meeting colleagues face-to-face, especially since all my bosses are in New York and I work in a satellite bureau. To them, I’m a one-dimensional picture on our phone directory. Passing up any trip, especially one like this, would have been unheard of two, three years ago. Then again, babies have a way of redefining you. The best decision was to stay home. Fortunately, my boss understood. But the subsequent guilt over bypassing this chance to be an adult stung.
This recent decision highlighted a gnawing life trend that I know has grated on many moms since the advent of two-income families and streamlined personal technology that only makes your life busier. The pangs of choosing.
No matter what I’m doing, I question whether I should be doing something else. If I’m with my kids, I feel the tug of work. If I’m working, “irresponsible mother” eeks out my pores. Then, once that balance is as good as it can get, I start thinking of other deserving life-priorities: phone calls to friends, visits I owe extended family, exercising, buying healthy food, (then there’s fixing the healthy food) and saying yes to my exhausted husband who’d love for us to actually make it through a whole movie before falling asleep.
All good choices. But it kills me that there MUST be choices and I’m never comfortable making any of them. I’m not comfortable always being torn.
I was expressing this frustration to my hubby for the 64th time. He told me F.Scott Fitzgerald once defined genius as being able to hold two opposing views in their minds at once. Hmmm.
Genius I’m certainly not. And with the permanent effects of sleep deprivation, I’m sure few new-ish moms would make such a claim. But we can dare to emulate the intellectually gifted. Why couldn’t we hold the idea of being a full-time mom, full-time professional, full-time friend, volunteer, daughter, medic, housekeeper, and fill-in-the-blank at the same time? Why couldn’t that imagery always be present in our minds, available for recall at a moments notice. Isn’t believing also being?
Imagine yourself a fully functional mom, a professional who can bring home bacon, and whatever other identity you value. You are these people all of the time, whether or not you’re wearing that particular hat at the moment. While you’re fully engaged holding your infant or rescuing a toddler from a tumble off the sliding board, your dormant professional is still there ready to take up residence when called. So is the loyal friend, house nutritionist, the amateur athlete. One identity is on and the others work subconsciously. Just like a diamond – no matter which facet of the stone is in the light, the whole gem shines.
So while I missed the brainstorming retreat, I did come up with a few new ideas for work that weekend. It happened when I least expected it, during a full-mom moment at home, sitting on my juice-stained couch, while my toddler was streaking through the kitchen and I was feeding Precious Baby. I also figured out what we could eat for dinner. Genius, indeed.
Carol Kaufmann will regularly share her Mama Tricks with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.
First published on thewellmom.com on October 17, 2007.