Today, I had a meeting at work. Not a super important meeting, but still a meeting. My client was in the office to have management meetings with a counterparty, and we were hosting. I was supposed to be there in the morning to meet and greet, get them situated, make sure they felt welcome.
A lot has changed since the last time I wrote. My wife now has a job that requires her to travel to Boston two days a week, usually Wednesday and Thursday. The biggest “kid” is at college, and the middle two are high-schoolers. Bumby is in full-day preschool, and starts kindergarten in the fall. He’s FIVE, y’all.
Yesterday, Bumby woke up with a fever. Even though it’s been years since his febrile seizure, the memory is hard to let go of, and I still worry every time his temperature spikes (which is basically every time he gets the smallest sniffle of a cold). So, he did not go to school yesterday, and he could not go to school today.
It just so happens that today, my wife left at 5 am to drive to Boston, which means she wasn’t here to care for the Bumby and his fever. Our nanny has a doctor’s appointment this morning, and wouldn’t be able to get here until 10. My mother-in-law has PT for her hip (which was replaced in November), and can’t say past 9. This gave us a one hour gap where we had no childcare for our sick one. You see where this is headed, I’m sure. It’s something every working parent faces — you have a child, and no childcare. We had a one-hour gap, at exactly the time I needed to be in the office to greet my clients.
We activated “the network” to see who could cover. My wife’s college friend, who is a stay-at-home mom, couldn’t do it. My sister could, but it would require her taking an Uber from Brooklyn to Westchester to get there on time, and then another Uber back out to Brooklyn to make her next meeting (cost: approx. $160 that we don’t have). Our usual backup babysitter couldn’t do it. Obviously, the teens were going to be in school, so they couldn’t do it. No one could do it, even though we spent hours yesterday trying to figure it out.
I am asked sometimes by people at work, especially by new moms and other women lawyers, how we manage. We have two full-time working moms, in demanding jobs, and four kids. Here’s the sad truth – if you pull out one card, the whole house comes crashing down. Our life is a strain, a delicate balance that requires everything to run perfectly. It’s a logistical nightmare. And we have a village. Think of all those people I listed — a babysitter, a backup babysitter, college friends, sister, mother-in-law, older children. All of those people regularly cover when we have a childcare conflict. What are working moms supposed to do when they don’t have this network of paid help, family, and friends nearby to help hold the cards in place?
The result of this delicate balance (strain) is that the last two years, I have had multiple health issues that I now realize boil down to stress. For example: A couple of years ago, I had a migraine for an entire month. This was so different from my usual migraine pattern that my wife insisted I go to urgent care, who insisted I go to the ER, who gave me a codeine prescription and instructions to see a neurologist. So now I am on regular migraine medication. Several months after that, my arms broke out in an itchy rash that I self-diagnosed as poison ivy from working in my garden. It was so bad that both of my arms got infected and I needed a ten day course of steroids to clear it up (while on vacation). When it reappeared shortly after the steroids stopped, I learned that it was not poison ivy, actually, but stress-induced eczema.
I gained weight, I lost weight. I worked out fanatically in an attempt to sweat out the tightness in my chest (and counteract the weight gain), I stopped working out all together so I would have more time. I tracked within an inch of my life — I started a bullet journal to track my to do list, I tracked my food intake, my hours billed each day, week, month, and year, I tracked my workouts and my running mileage and my steps each day, tracked every penny spent. It. was. exhausting. And then the migraines came back.
I said to my wife, “I think I need to see the neurologist to get different medication. This one isn’t working.”
To which she replied, “You don’t need medication. You need meditation.” If you know my wife, this is actually shocking. She’s not really the meditation type. But, she was right. After some messiness, which I don’t need to describe because you all know what it looks like, I thought about the things that will actually bring my stress levels down.
I deleted each and every tracking app off my phone except the budgeting one, because actually that one is sort of helpful. I committed to 10 minutes of meditation every day (so far I have done it 2 of the last 3 days — not perfect, but I’m not tracking, remember?). I remembered that actually writing is really important to me. And not just writing stock purchase agreements, although that is actually kind of fun too, but writing about what’s in my mind, what’s going on, and so here I am. Writing.
Also, boundaries. My kid is sick. He gets really high fevers, and it’s really scary. I called out of work for the day. In my kind of job, this means working from home while my son watches PBS Kids on the iPad, but still, I’m home, with my sick kid. I am sure the two other lawyers on my team that are at the office today and who don’t have young kids can make sure my clients see the coffee and bagels on the sideboard in the conference room. Everyone will live, the world will keep turning, and the law firm will still be profitable.
I still have a migraine, and a tightness in my chest that might be worrisome if I did not happen to have freakishly low blood pressure. These are not perfect solutions, and they are not quick solutions. But this is the honest truth about how we make it work. We drive ourselves really hard, ratcheting up the stress day over day and year over year until something gives, and we re-set, try to carve out some time for ourselves and try to slow down. Then we start again.