The Balance Does Not Exist

feminist parenting

A year ago, JD and I did what we do best: made an impulse decision. We sold our house in Oakland, packed up our three-month-old son, and used my last few weeks of parental leave to move 70 gridlocked miles south to a little surf community called Santa Cruz.

We spent two years trying to make the Bay Area work, and I hated almost every minute of it. Living there felt like cramming my feet into shoes that were too small, or maybe, in this case, too big.

So we moved. And it was one of the best decisions we’ve made in our almost 10 years together.

But the previous two years had left their mark. My parental leave was coming to an end, and I was still wrapping my head around the balance of being a mother, a wife, and a person in this new reality.

As I went back to work, I set a vise-like focus about maintaining my life as I knew it. Balance was the goal. Balance was the priority. Balance was what I would achieve.

First up: spend all my extra time with Jude. Surely I must not miss a moment of him at this precious age of staring at me blankly and drooling 93% of the time. I adjusted my work hours to 6 AM to 2 PM to maximize our time together. Great, one down.

Next: self improvement. I was still trying to read the New York Times every weekend and spend several hours in the evening devouring a good book. Got it. Another step towards balance bites the dust.

Next: a fulfilling career. When I returned to work, I went from managing a team of one to managing a team of five. It was an incredible opportunity but, you know, it took a little of my time.

Finally: self-care. Are you even a privileged, 30-something white woman if you’re not self caring for yourself at least three hours a week? Masks, filtered water crammed with enough cucumber and basil leaves to dam a lake, and yoga three to four times a week. And, of course, a life-giving hobby. In my case, I took up fresh pasta making. Because, as the old adage says, “there’s no time like when you have a newborn to start hand crafting noodles.

How was all this going, you might ask? Well, reader, really fucking terrible. I was so exhausted from starting work at 6 AM every morning that, most afternoons, I just hoped Jude was ready for a nap when I got off work.

You’d think I was going to bed earlier to prep for my early mornings, but those last hours of the day were when I finally had time to read. And my writing — when was I supposed to find time to write my great American novel? I mentally flogged myself for not making the time. Because all the writing books and blogs I’d read expounded on “doing the work” and “writing every day, no matter what.”

You see, I did write every day, but it was for my job. And when I finally closed my work laptop, I had a hard time opening my personal one. Most weeks, I cried myself to therapy after running out the door and passing the fresh pasta baton to JD as he walked in from his hour-long commute home.

I was on one of my mandated “fun” walks with Jude to the beach one day when the woman several yards in front of me stopped, turned to the far-out, sun-setting horizon, closed her eyes, and swept her arms out wide. Her back arched and she stayed there for what seemed like five jealous minutes.

I stopped, stunned, and watched her. And in that moment. I realized I was weary. Weary because I felt I hadn’t rested in two years and there was still no bed in sight. Weary because my first thought when I saw that woman turn to the ocean letting the fading sun wash over her smiling face was, “I hope that’s me someday.” Weary because I was the only thing stopping me from being her today.

I wish I could tell you I immediately re-balanced my life but, in many ways, one year and a quarantine later, I’m still figuring out.

I love the concept of wholeness vs. balance in an old issue of Magnolia Journal (Joanna Gaines is a queen. Don’t @ me). “The hidden truth about balance,” Joanna says, “is it requires that everything in our lives be equally distributed at all times. It insists that the needs of our marriage and our kids, our work and our relationships, be completely proportional at every given moment.”

She continues, “Ultimately, I decided that balance is way too meticulous a science to get just right in my daily life, and that it wasn’t something I was very interested in for myself. In its place, I sought wholeness for my family and for my work. Because both of these pieces are integral to who I am, both meaningful and sacred in their own right …”

The idea that I don’t have to be one or the other feels like a giant exhale. That being a mother doesn’t make me less of an editor. That being dedicated to my career doesn’t mean I’m less of a mother. That sometimes I work more than I parent, and sometimes (like in the middle of a global pandemic) I parent more than I work. That it’s OK if boxed brownies and frozen fish sticks are the extent of my quarantine culinary adventures.

And that I don’t have to wait for some special blissed out frame of mind to stop, face the green, kelp-laden ocean before me, sink my toes into the sand, swing my arms out wide, and take a moment to appreciate all the things that keep my life unbalanced and full of, well, life.

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