Monday, September 26, 2016

The Illusion of Balance (as taught to me by llamas)

Yesterday, while riding the kids train at the zoo with my daughter, I had an epiphany: there is no such thing as balance.  

This may seem strange, and maybe you guys already knew this and nobody let me in on it? But for years and years I’ve been striving for balance. Notably, balance between my personal and professional lives or, as is now commonly referred to in our society, work-life balance.

But as I pointed at horses and sheep and llamas from the train with her, I realized that there’s no such thing. When I’m balanced with my daughter, it’s because I’m not doing something at work. Or with my friends. Or emailing/texting/calling basically anyone. Or watching Narcos on Netflix. Or cleaning out the closet I’ve needed to clean out for a month. When I’m balanced at work and really in my stride, I’m not with my daughter. Or my husband. Or my friends. Or watching Narcos on Netflix. I’m not reading the books that are piling up on my Kindle and I’m not visiting my parents, sister, niece, or friends who live far away. When I hop on a plane and visit them, I’m not usually with my daughter or CB, or at work. Or watching Netflix. And dammit, that closet is still a mess!

I really don’t have balance in my life much at all.

And that was the most FREEING concept to wrap my head around, you guys. I don’t have balance! Hooray! Finally! Now I can stop striving for it and just relax. Ok, well, I can’t really relax because I’m not great at truly relaxing, if you must know, though you probably do, because you’re not new here. It stresses me out to actually relax. I’m definitely forgetting something and JESUS, I really need to get to that closet sometime soon. But I can at least stop striving to have this elusive “balance” I hear so much about.

Like, I had to travel to California for work last week and decided to make a 50-hour trip into a 36-hour one in the Golden State so that I could get home and go to the zoo with my daughter, team up with CB so he wasn’t chasing a 15 month old around for the entire weekend on his own, and wake up at 5:30am to start my Sunday with these two crazy nuts. It was supposed to be a trip that for sure allowed for some downtime in between two and a half days of meetings, room service, and laying horizontally in a king sized bed all my own until well beyond 5:30am.

But before my balance epiphany at the zoo, I had a little chat with myself a few weeks ago about priorities and figuring out what’s possible and what’s important to me.

What is possible is moving some meetings around so that I could have a pretty jam-packed Friday and Saturday and get to the airport in time to be home before midnight in New York on Saturday. What’s important to me is seeing the look on CB’s face when I came through the door close to midnight when he thought I was coming home 15 hours later. What is possible is making those 36 hours count and not dwelling on how I’m flying cross-country twice in two days. What’s important is hearing my daughter yell “mama!” when she saw me in the dark at the crack of dawn the next day and started yelling and rolling around on the bed (sidebar: that’s how she expresses joy. There’s usually a lot of random yelling and LOTS of rolling her body around, so don’t be alarmed.) What’s possible is taking care of my second, albeit more chill, daughter in utero even though I’m trying to make this all work out. What’s important to me is that I succeeded in doing so – and even gave her a few fruits and veggies while I was at it!  

What wasn’t possible was seeing anyone I love who lives in California while I was there for a day and a half. What wasn’t possible was meeting that one author who wanted to – and only could – meet on Monday, who I actually felt guilty telling “no” to and then ended up chatting with at the meeting anyway because we ran into each other. What wasn’t possible was reading any book on my Kindle because I was no joke TIRED. And what wasn’t possible was getting a seat on the plane next to anyone but the man who smelled like wet raccoon and literally took my plane snack from the flight attendant and didn’t pass it down to me. He just ate both instead.  All of those things weren’t possible, but that was OK because, as the llamas taught me, there’s no such thing as having it all, there’s no such thing as balance. But there is such a thing as being present in the moment and really thinking about what you need, want, and what’s possible.

And what I really wanted this weekend was to have some great meetings and then watch my daughter absorb her first trip to the zoo, enjoy some delicious chocolate ice cream, and read her a book on the couch while she snuggled into me before bed. And I wanted to collapse into bed and laugh with my husband about our crazy lives.  And then I really wanted to watch some Narcos. All of which I did. And so….maybe my life is pretty balanced after all?

DAMMIT! The closet. Ok, no, it’s not. I was right the first time. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Letter to My Younger Self

My 20th high school reunion was this past weekend and I know what you’re all thinking: wow, I didn’t realize you were a child prodigy who went to high school when you were 8! But it’s true. I’m sort of surprised that this even surprises you. OR, I’m shocked that it’s only been 20 years because I’m pretty sure I’m not yet old enough to support going to bed at 8:30 and using phrases like “okey dokey” in public.

Either way, I didn’t make it back to Michigan for the festivities, which I know isn’t that unusual, even for people who do live in the same state where they went to school. But I did spend some time in the weeks leading up to it thinking about those formative four years, shuddering at the thought of where I would be without them and the people who colored that time. I started looking through pictures, remembering random moments and major events, and laughing at all of the predictably terrible mistakes and assumptions I made when I was a teenager. As you do.  

And I thought about my daughter(s), passed out at the thought of two teenage girls within 18 months of each other, and then regained consciousness to hope that they, too, would make it through with the same kind of people and experiences as I did. Mainly so that CB and I have a shot of sleeping at any point during that decade or so when they’re going to be so dumb we can’t stand it.

My high school experience was very un-John-Hughes-esque. I mean, I’m sure there were cliques in my school just like any other – but I was too busy trying to get my bangs to behave and figure out what turtleneck to wear and so I was, as previously established, oblivious to any of that. Plus, I was busy being hyper-focused on stuff that really doesn’t matter all that much (other than the bangs – those things had a mind of their own and really needed some devoted time and energy).

So here’s a letter to my high school self, twenty years later, that maybe will come in handy for my kids when they get older, too. But probably not since I’ll be dumb and won’t know anything and ohmygodmom stop talking to me. MOM. Ugh.

Hi –
I know this is creepy because you’ve just discovered that time travel is real, yet you’re disappointed that this is the only indicator and who writes letters anymore? But deal with it.

I just wanted to let you know that you’re doing fine. I do agree that your bangs need some attention, but just hold tight to the fact that you won’t have them in a few years because you’ve finally taken the brave step to go through the awkward process of growing them out and all goes just fine. That doesn’t mean your hair won’t haunt you for life, but it’s the cross we bear and, as I’ve discovered, a pretty good one to have, all things considered!  

Also, good job finding people who mainly like to hang out in Kyle’s basement and listen to Garth Brooks and Whirling Road on the weekends, interspersed with football games and dances and float-building and going to movies and eating pizza. It’s basically what you’ll end up doing when you’re an adult, too (except there’s someone named Beyonce who is about to RULE YOUR WORLD. You’re welcome, in advance.) And turns out that doing all of that is a good way to not go to jail.

But ok, yes, I know you’re feeling guilty about that night you and Courtney went joy-riding with some of the seniors and tp’d people’s houses, but it’s fine. I mean, not super-nice, but you’re a teenager whose major form of rebellion, if I remember, was writing in your diary about how annoying your parents and/or sister and/or friends were and then apologizing by the end and drawing pictures of cat paws and stuff with hearts. So thank God you had enough rebellion in you to do the tp thing because, otherwise, you’d probably be an insufferable person.

Also, good job on keeping your love of cats and the Golden Girls to a minimum until at least college; it’s much more accepted and “quirky” in college. However, it will get you a swirly in high school, if Molly Ringwald is to be believed, so good looking out.

Don’t worry so much about who you love and who doesn’t love you back. The right people come along to get you down the path you need to be on, and you’re smart enough to wise up to the wrong one eventually, so just trust that gut of yours. It does pretty OK by you in the coming decades.

Also, go easy on mom and dad. Turns out, they were right! Well, about enough of it. And some of it they don’t need to know about because we want them to live through your teens and most of your twenties. But overall, they know what they’re talking about and really do have your best interest at heart, even though dad is the worst to “help” with math and mom sometimes wishes she could still dress you so that you are adorable, which, ohmygodmom, I’m GROWN. I know. But they can’t really help themselves, I’m learning, because they literally spoon fed you and changed your diapers and now you’re, like, rolling your eyes and being the worst. Give ‘em a break.

Be kinder with yourself. You’re doing just fine. I promise.

Look around. Believe it or not, the world is still turning even if you’re sleeping until noon, and there are people who are having a way harder time than you are. So just be more aware of that. Like, spend five minutes less on your bangs per week, to start, and use that time to pay attention to what’s going on and who could use a closet-cat-loving friend to invite them to your lunch table here and there. You might meet someone unexpectedly great! – life works that way, so keep your eyes open.

Sorry boys, I'm taken
(several decades from now)
God, I know that it’s mortifying when you accidentally fawned over that guy coming out of the school gym that one day (we won’t name him here just in case someone else is reading this.) But it makes for a GREAT story later and is endlessly entertaining to your friends, your boss, your husband, strangers on the Internet (I’ll explain the Internet in a separate letter, but it’s helpful and awful, prepare yourself), etc. But try to keep your inside thoughts on the inside as you get older. Or at least share them sparingly with the people who love you – and even then, sometimes maybe not. It’s something you continue to struggle with well into your thirties, but being aware that this is a thing you’re not great at, earlier, I’m SURE will come in handy for us.

Don’t worry so much that you don’t understand Chemistry or, really, most science or math. Just keep trying and know that you’ll never use 99% of it because you’re luckily self-aware enough to not want to pursue anything career-wise that uses any of it. But, like, try. But not really in Chemistry because he was a terrible teacher anyway, so you really had no shot. So don’t stress, pass the class, and move on.

Listen to Mrs. Tompkins about pretty much everything. She’s one of those teachers who comes along once in a lifetime and is way cooler, artsier, and worldlier than you’ll ever hope to be. I know that all of the Greek and Roman columns look the same to you, but it comes in handy to know that stuff when you’re cool and watching Jeopardy! with your husband in a few decades and he’s impressed with all of your random Greek and Roman knowledge! It’s oddly satisfying. Plus, she teaches you how to write a five paragraph essay and that shit is HANDY. Like, forever.

Pay closer attention to the movie quotes that Kyle and Jason and Andy and Balls are always talking about. Turns out, they watch movies other than “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and they actually have decent taste! Plus, it helps as you get older because old people in their thirties love to quote movies, for some reason, and it makes us feel young and cool. Like we came up with the jokes originally on our own. So open up your repertoire and pay attention!

And finally, because it’s worth repeating, be kinder with yourself. You’re doing just fine. I promise.

Older, Wiser You