A while ago, someone asked me to write about how we keep balance in our lives, as two lawyers with four kids and three pets and two houses. The answer is that we don’t.
The big one has just started her senior year. This means ACTs, college applications, a job, 5 AP classes, cheerleading, and a driver’s license. She needs our help with almost all of these things.
Boo has started her freshman year of high school. She has a set of friends that are all a bit entitled, and a bit fast. The kind of entitled and the kind of fast where they are allowed to traipse around New York City at 14 years old with no adult, after having each received $100 of spending money from their parents. She recently burst into my office while I was working, without knocking, and said, “Can you give me some money? I’m in a hurry.” I did not give her money. She needs to learn to navigate these friendships without becoming an asshole. She needs our help with this.
Our older youngest boy is in 7th grade now. We don’t think his reading and writing are where they should be, and he is having a hard time making friends. He seems lonely, and he seems sad. He needs help figuring out why the reading and writing still haven’t clicked for him, and he needs to find his place in the social nightmare that is middle school. He needs our help in this hard time, or at least some extra attention and love.
Bumby is 2 and a half. He starts preschool tomorrow. He alternates between shouting “I don’t like you mama! I can do it ALL BY MYSELF! GO AWAY!” and crying, clinging to my legs, and swearing his love for me, begging me not to leave him with Dada (his babysitter). His language is so developed that it is hard to remember that he has no logic and no impulse control. He is afraid of being dropped off at school; he is afraid of new friends. Sometimes he wakes in the night and calls for us, just to know we are there. He needs our help.
My wife’s job has been all-consuming for about the last year now, as she works in a highly regulated industry that has become incredibly unpredictable under Trump. She has been working late, and when she isn’t, she basically talks about nothing but her job. She needs mental and emotional support, and doesn’t have much capacity for the day-to-day house chores.
I have been picking up lots of slack, and feeling under-appreciated. We have had two toilets break in the last week (Bumby was very excited to tell the plumber that the toilet was “TOTALLY FREAKING OUT”). A friend has gifted us a piano that they no longer use, and I have to find someone who can move it to our house but also our credit cards are up to the max and we can’t afford to pay someone $500 to move a free piano right now, and yet I very much want to get Bumby lessons next year so we should take advantage of it (first world problems, I know). I got slammed at work on a deal for a European client, meaning lots of early morning conference calls, and my wife can’t help me cover the childcare because of her own demanding job.
For example: During a conference call last week, while I had no childcare and had plopped Bumby in front of PJ Masks on Youtube, the plumber left to go get parts and water started pouring through the ceiling from the broken toilet upstairs. I put the phone on mute and mopped it up, and put a bowl under the leak. As soon as I sat down again, I got a text from the school that it was on lockdown due to a “suspicious person attempting to gain admittance.” I frantically tried to reach the kids to make sure they were okay while also actually paying attention to the work call, which was actually kind of important and required me to speak and take notes. (The kids are fine, the person was caught by local police.) Bumby hit a button on the computer that caused his show to minimize, and started shouting for me. Also the dog had refused to poop that morning and started barking at the door for a walk. I got an email at the end of the call from my boss that said, “Will you follow up on all open points, please?”
We are drowning.
We had our 5 year wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Through various complicated logistical arrangements involving 4 different childcare providers, we cobbled together a way to have a night away, sans kids, for the first time since Bumby was born. It was heaven. We were us again. We window shopped, and went on a sailboat ride, and drank a whole bottle of wine before dinner even started. We ate at 10pm in a restaurant that did not have high chairs. I felt like I looked at my wife at one point and felt like, “Who are you? You look vaguely like the woman who has been living in my house, but you actually look at me, and see me, and smile at me.” I’m sure she felt the same. In a way, this has made it all worse, because the contrast is so stark.
We need to figure this shit out, starting with ourselves. Long, long ago, before Bumby, before the dog, when we had only one house and thought our life was so fucking complicated, we were lying in bed one weekend morning (HAHAHAHA your life is not complicated if you can lie in bed in the morning!) and we said to each other, with solemn straight faces, that our relationship was the most important part of our life. The parental relationship, we told each other, is the bedrock of the family. The kids feel okay when the adults feel okay. You can’t take care of them when you’re not taking care of yourself. All of those kinds of things. And for those reasons, we were not going to give up our date nights, even though her ex was telling the kids that the fact that we left them with a babysitter once a month meant we did not love them.
This past weekend was like a record-scratch. We remembered this moment, and this conversation, and the sad, trite truth of it. We worked all day on closing up the beach house for the season while bickering with each other over details and alternatingly disappearing for an hour or so to go manage our jobs, and after Bumby went to bed, we poured ourselves glasses of cheap red wine, and we talked to each other.
We sorted through lots of tangled up crap and hurt feelings, and put our date nights back on the calendar. The entitled middle child is going to babysit for us — at a discounted rate — and that will be the only spending money she gets. Grandma is going to tutor the big brother, giving him adult attention and help with his writing at the same time. The oldest one is going to have to do some of this college stuff on her own, because for god’s sake she’s about to be living by herself in less than a year. Also, we will suggest she drop one of the AP classes so she can actually have some sleep and some fun her senior year. We will put Bumby to bed earlier so he is better able to cope with the changes in his life, and give ourselves some more time together in the evenings. My wife is going to take Bumby to school on Thursday mornings so I can go into work early, and do a few loads of laundry each week. We budgeted a way to pay off our credit cards just in time to rack them up again for Christmas.
Then we went to bed ourselves, with dishes stacked in the sink and 37 unread emails. Things looked a bit better in the morning.