After a long, three-month dry spell, I finally had a day like I remember from before. A day where I felt accomplished, one in which I remembered why I love my work. A day that bolstered me instead of defeated me. A day in which I remembered why I was willing to step up and take on a full-time job that is actually three jobs and why I was willing to rework my relationship to my family, my life and myself.
It wasn’t a remarkable day in terms of what I did. I had the chance to meet someone new and begin a conversation about how we might work together. I had the chance to meet someone I’ve known for a long time and have a conversation about how we are already working together. And I had a chance to talk with the person who oversees my work (I have decided to stop using the word “boss” – it feels patriarchal and intimidating) and have a conversation about the many pieces I’m juggling, most of it seemingly successfully.
That’s it. Three interactions. That was my whole work day. Very few emails. Little if nothing actually moved forward. But three incredibly satisfying, emotional and important interactions.
At the end of the day, a day that also included incredible sadness intermingled with the satisfaction, as I had learned in the morning that the father of a very close friend had died, at the end of this day and after these conversations that fed me, I felt grounded in way that has eluded me for several months.
I have been twisting and turning since I took on the mantle of these new jobs, nervous about the many moving parts, overseeing a big move in our office that affects everyone – both physically and emotionally. Being responsible for how other people are feeling. Planning a trip to another country and not knowing how to land on the exact right dates for the trip, trying to please a lot of different players in the decision-making and not trusting my own instincts quite yet. Overseeing a dedicated group of volunteers who look to me for leadership and yet, feeling like I don’t have quite enough arms to ensure that their direction is clear.
My family has felt the stress of these new moves. Earlier last week, there was a front page story in the Metro section of the Washington Post which described how men are taking on much of the dual parenting responsibilities and trying balance it with their work. They are, not surprisingly, having a hard time and in fact, seem to find it even more disruptive and challenging than do women.
My 11-year-old son saw this headline and asked me about the story. Then he said, “the Washington Post should write a story about us. I want to be in the paper.” “Why?” I asked, completely unprepared for his answer. I thought he liked the idea of being a little famous. “Because you’re stressed all the time, so they should write a story about you.”
This conversation came early in the day. Later the same day, a colleague who understands my position, who sympathizes with my twists and turns, put her finger on the hardest part for me. We talked about how, when I was a consultant who managed her own schedule, even though I was working when I was in my home office, there was quiet, thinking, personal time involved. I had a room of my own, and it was there I recharged. It allowed me the space I needed apart from conversation and people and demands to settle myself into whatever role I needed to play next. It gave me time for writing, for thinking, and for processing.
It was my white space. And I no longer have my white space. An office with florescent lights, no matter how many pictures of my family are sitting on the file cabinet, is no substitute for white space.
I desperately need my white space.
That same day, another colleague told me a story about her own childhood, when her mother went back to work when she was 11 years old. And my colleague’s memory of her mother from that time was that she was always making dinner with her coat on.
That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling. Like I’m making dinner with my coat on. No white space.
No interregnum between walking out the door of the office and walking into the chaos of a house where dinner needs to be made, groceries need to be bought, homework needs to be done, holidays need to be prepped, friendships need to be tended, cleaning rears its ugly head on a daily basis, and the dishwasher, yet again, needs to be emptied.
So this was a week of “aha” moments and conversations. Capped off by the feeling, at the end of the day on Friday, that, in fact, I can do it. And that I will mostly enjoy doing it. And that I love the work I do. And I love that still have flexibility in my work life and my home life. And that I need to be creative about creating my white space.
So when I happily ended my day a little early in order to be able to prepare Friday night Shabbat dinner, my two teens were already in the kitchen. The 17-year-old, who has been angling to learn “life skills” before he leaves for college in a few months, asked to make dinner. And the 13-year-old, knowing that I hadn’t had the time to go out to the store to get a special Shabbat treat, asked if she could bake something.
So there I was, me and my glass of wine, watching my kids prepare a lovely dinner, having had experienced a day of satisfying meetings and conversations. All seemed to be in place. It allowed me to reach out and help my friend in need. It allowed me to settle into an evening of reading a new and wonderful book. We had delicious salmon, and a fabulous pumpkin pie.
And it allowed me to think, for the first time since I started, that perhaps I can do this.