Today my heart is stuck in my typical quarterly crisis about how I’m spending time on earth. Each goodbye with the boys leaves me a bit emptied. I planned to write about kids’ check-ups and health insurance today, which I will do– but tomorrow, because my heart is here:
Whenever the boys leave (for school, off for the day with Grandma, etc) I still always feel I’m without one of my limbs…
— WendySueSwanson MD (@SeattleMamaDoc) February 22, 201
It’s becoming more obvious to me that the current work-life-balance crisis I’m swirled up in (or smashed into) was triggered by the recent deaths of 2 people I loved, a delicious movie about connection and time, the juxtaposition in watching Jimmy Fallen express love for his Winnie just a minute before Will Smith mentioned everyone’s art could be used to enhance lives, and a voice in me that’s getting louder and louder. I’m hearing the echoes of this voice in almost everything I do right now. Yes I desperately want to work to improve children’s health. Yes I desperately want to witness my life. The gist of the echoes are urging me to consider how I carve out time for mindfulness and unhurried time with the boys. Over the last 24 hours I also read two articles, “Recline! How ‘Leaning In’ is Killing Us” and “Clinging to Each Other, We Survived the Storm” and I knew I could sit quietly no longer. (pssst, read those articles)
Work Life Balance Is A Moving Target
I always say that work life balance with growing children is a moving target. All of the sudden its clear I’ve encountered a shift; the target seems to have moved 3 feet. I’m in love with my boys more than ever before and work is requiring more than I can remember. Also, I just feel very thankful to be alive.
First things first: winter causes us to hunker down, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest where we see less of each other and more of the walls of our homes. We dodge the rain, we go to work before it’s light out and return home to our babies after the sun has deeply set. All this coexisting in the dark can cause us to be misdirected and go mad as winter urges us to focus on being productive. The seasons are relevant but can be tumultuous.
Wasn’t it The Dixie Chicks who said, “can I handle the seasons of my life?”
For me what’s been most defining about this winter is that it feels very much caught in the middle. Despite the excitement about my book, new roads we’re plowing with technology here at the hospital, the delicious developments in my boys, my heart has been a bit heavier than before. “Just another Mama pushing 40,” a newspaper reporter described me recently. It’s true, I’m just a few months shy of my 5th decade yet I never would have said I’m pushing anything really. Until December.
I lost two people in my life in very short succession at the end of 2013. One was a functional father to me and one a dear friend. He died very suddenly and she died slowly of invasive cancer. He helped launch me into adulthood, unquestionably inspiring my career in medicine. She showed me how to be less serious, she demonstrated the value of funny, and she elegantly articulated the privilege it is to live a courageous life. Since losing both of them every day is different for me. The holidays were spattered with intrusive discovery.
I learned that finality is like a wall on the edge of the universe — something to knock on where no one is listening on the other side.
And so this winter it has become abundantly clear, amidst all the new things that happen every day, that middle age is not defined numerically. Turning 40 has absolutely nothing to do with this particular gasp or quandary in my lifetime. In fact middle age for me is distinctly defined by loss. Losing those ahead of me and those right at my side all at once brings focus to the margins. Every time I look to the margins, or the middle, all I see are my boys and my husband.
The moment is now.
In my mind it is exceptionally clear that work must be a part of my days. But I am also continually reminded right now that this is golden time. With the boys at 5 and 7 years of age they are magically alive, spilling over with learning and reflection, sharing and emoting, and reaching out for us every day. This winter it has become very clear that death looms for us all at some point (ah ha) and that these absolutely magical days with our children will never be offered up exactly as they are right now.
What to do about my looming “crisis” is not entirely clear. But it’s becoming obvious to me that working part of every single day of the week and weekend is no longer tolerable. Somehow I’ve got to make room for a day, every single week, where I can freely drop my children off at school, exercise, meet with friends, and carve out space for creativity and quiet. I know I’ll be a better physician, a better agent for change, and a clearer voice if I do. We all learn as children that nothing is set in stone; a sentence sent from a friend yesterday urges me on, “Wendy Sue…we all know life is no dress rehearsal and the moment is now.”
What will your moment be?