What a Difference a Year Makes

Here I am in Chicago again. It is one year after my last Chicago trip, when I blogged about my first trip away from children in a year and a half and how life-changing it was and how every moment was spent soaking up alone time and time not spent taking care of anyone else. And it was that…life changing.

This year, I am not the same mother and my kids are not the same kids. Last year I got very clear on what I need to keep myself sane. With the support of my husband, I made more time for me and then I started working. My children are different too – they are another year older. Every mother should remind all other mothers that one year from now, their lives will be totally different: a message to both appreciate what is, now, and to not worry about xxx, because in a year, xxx will be different. Where we are, in terms of our relationship, and their needs from me, and my ability to give it – are so vastly different from just one year ago, I hardly recognize us. We are growing up as a family! We also just had a fantastic family vacation, spent mostly together as a family, but 8 days were alone with my husband …it is only a month after that trip and I was feeling very much in balance at home. When this trip came up, I really did not want to leave at all!

The reason we come to Chicago every year is for a trade-show one of my husband’s companies. My sister usually comes to help at the show and we have a great week catching up and hanging out in the windy city when we are not working. But her life has moved on too, and she just started a Masters program at age 47 (go girl!) and she was not able to come:(.

I think this is the first time in my mothering history, where I would have chosen just to stay home. It is not that I am not appreciating the time away. I sat in front of a mother and her child on my flight here and I savored my magazine and not having to read children’s books. I savored my ginger-ale and not not getting a drink because we would probably end up spilling it. And I really savored my ability to close my eyes and rest when I was tired instead of not getting a nap because my children decided they didn’t need one either.

So I will be sure to appreciate the week, the dinners (and not having to make any of them!), the shopping and even the working (this company does provide most of our income in a year, so it’s the least I can do!) on behalf of mothers everywhere. But a big part of my heart is back at home with my children, taking them to school, hanging out in the afternoons, putting them to bed.  Last year this trip allowed me to pull all of me back together. This year, I feel I have left part of me at home.

Time Value of Time

I just hired my nanny to stay an extra hour. She was supposed to leave at 3:00, but my son, who just started school this week, was begging to have her stay longer so that he had some time to play with her. I quickly consented after learning she was available, as it seemed like a win-win-win for everyone. An extra hour for me, an extra hour for my kids (who love her and see her way less now that they’ve both started school) and for the nanny, who loves the kids and ultimately, makes more money.

While it was very easy to buy myself another hour of time, it got me thinking about how it doesn’t work the other way – I can not buy more time with my children. It’s an hour, and it’s one day. I don’t want to over-dramatize, but sometimes I wonder if/when there will be a time when I will look back to ‘when they were little’ and wish I could pay a nominal sum for one more hour of that time. It brings new meaning to the time-value of money.

Daily Trades

Since getting back from our six-week vacation, I have taken, or tried to take, the advice given to me by someone wise in these matters – to give myself lots of space and time to transition back to Austin life. While I feel this is the right idea, “space” is a relative concept while managing two small children and a household. But I am trying, and as part of this ‘slow transition’ I have taken the opportunity to sit back and re-prioritize the rest of my year. Having just started a company (www.threedefined.com) with a couple of friends, and sauntering back into part-time work, this seemed like the perfect period to re-group, before I have another project and am thrown back into that transition – work-life balance – that potentially eternally transition-state where one is always searching for the right balance. My re-grouping, however, has taken on an unexpected twist.

I decided, as a re-prioritizing component, to map out where my time goes and how much time I am actually left with in which to “play” – time for me -  time to recharge my batteries so that I can take care of others. I started with 168 hours in a week. I took out 56 hours for sleeping (I know, let’s all take a moment to laugh at the idea of actually getting 8 hours of sleep every night, but I was being idealistic). Another 3.5 hours for getting ready (this is only 30 minutes a day, and I was being generous)…time with kids, time preparing/eating meals, time with Mark, time for work, time for workouts….and I was left with 2.5 hours left over. 2.5 hours left to pursue…well, I flipped over to my “things I would like to do” list I created before I started the numbers game…. pursue singing lessons, continue to write, see my friends, meditate regularly, train for a marathon and tackle the German language. Those 2.5 hours also needed to cover the usual life items like errands, doctor visits, “upkeep” (I am sorry, but with toes like mine, pedicures are not a luxury, but a necessary gesture for all of humankind that is forced to see my feet in flip flops). And so that was where the exercise really began. The work of trade-offs. Life is a series of trade-offs. I get this. This has always been the case. But never in my life have the trade-offs seemed so acute as this particular stage in my life. As I fight for another hour of time, I start to chip away at my own sleep, slice off a little time with my husband, rush through another meal. This is exactly how women end up applying mascara in the car.

I also see that perhaps my list of extra-curricular activities is a bit too extensive. There is another trade-off-like equation here – that I can do all of these things, just not at the same time. This is the aspect of my personality that I have clung to and which has been a source of frustration as a mother: this loss of ‘freedom’ or ‘independence’ or ability to maintain a very active life where I am always learning new things. Or, as some others might frame it, an ADD driven life style. And this may be the point. The point of the exercise was to prioritize. I realize now that what I wanted it to be about was figuring how to fit everything in. I suppose this is possible, but as the ultimate goal was about taking care of me, so that I can be of service to others, I am not sure fitting in all of these things, or even more than 1 or 2 is going to achieve that. I think I will trade in some of my loftier pursuits, right now, for some more simple recharges – a massage appointment here, a walk with a friend there. And remember that I am the priority.  Why? Because some things on my list won’t wait – my  4 and 2 year old will knock down my bedroom door, if necessary, to get what they need – me. I need to be ready when they charge in. And I would not trade that for anything.