Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Priorities

So I’m now a year into this whole balancing motherhood-working-illness thing. I originally planned to write this post, the first in a two-part series, three weeks ago, and yet here I am. There’s a lesson there for anyone tempted enough to write about balance:

It doesn’t really exist.

Reflecting on the whole baby/book/job/illnesses/family illness/new business scenario—and while my particular brand of hectic may differ from yours, the point is, we’re all managing a lot of moving parts—I think it’s more accurate to say that striving to prioritize is much more useful than striving for balance. Something will always have to give, and the real lesson is learning how to be okay with that.

My daughter, my family unit, come first. Whatever else I have going on immediately fall into place behind her needs and what is best for her and by extension, what is best for our family. That priority is at the heart of the
constant negotiations
that come with a non-traditional full-time work situation (part on campus, part from home). The amount of time I spend with her every day and the flexibility I have to do things with her make up for the challenges involved in squeezing a lot of that work in late at night, early in the morning, and on weekends—without hesitation.

It is worth it, it is indescribably worth it; it is just not easy.

But it’s not supposed to be.

It is easy to prioritize when things operate as we assume they will, when we can plan out our schedule and depend on our productivity. Parenting and chronic illness do not subscribe to predictability.

The really rough patches, the weeks where nothing goes according to plan and illness throws everything out of whack, have been the most illuminating. Times when I am sick and Baby Girl is sick and she needs to go the doctor and I need to go to the doctor and students papers are piling up as quickly as the laundry is and the book revisions are haunting me, when I am worried about her and rocking her and cursing my own stupid infections for making me cough just when her little eyes closed and I startle her awake, are when I have the most clarity:

There will always be papers, and they will eventually get graded. The revisions will get done, just like somehow, some way, the draft got done. The extended family obligations and illness obligations will settle out. The laundry and the dishes and the editing and the phone calls will all get done. The most important thing I can do, that I will ever do, is be there in this moment, physically and mentally. I kiss her damp forehead and whisper in her ear that there is nowhere else I’d rather be.

I have dropped a lot of balls this year. I have missed deadlines (and quite epically, too), I have canceled plans and forgotten tasks. I’ve made promises I haven’t always been able to keep, I’ve disappointed people who have wanted more from me than I physically give. I’ve climbed the stairs at 11pm with coffee in hand, ready to pull a long night in front of the computer, and I’ve put hot coffee in the refrigerator and creamer in the microwave. At points I’ve moved so far from any sort of balance that it is laughable.

But I’ve learned to be okay with that, because I think that my current lack of balance means I am prioritizing as I should. Right now, what matters most (baby and husband, family, students, book, my health) depends on me knowing when to pull back from everything else: when to say no, when to put up boundaries, and when to say all I can do is my best and really believe that is good enough.

A long time ago I saw this quote on Penelope Trunk’s blog: One thing at a time. Most important thing first. Start now. I may have even blogged about that line before. Honestly, I repeat it to myself often, and I find that it’s knowing how to judge what are the most important things and letting go of the white noise that is the key.

While a lot has slipped through the cracks, what I’ve gotten in exchange is incomparable.

(And because I want this writing to be more of a priority again, I am holding myself accountable: next up, the second piece in this series about all the pragmatic stuff that helps keep life in motion. A happy baby who sleeps great, an extremely hands-on husband, and a whole group of people who love this child, support this book, and care about my family? That helps!)


Never That Easy said...

As usual, right on target: my priorities are in constant flux, and illness just throws another wrench in to juggle. It's hard to remember to be present when things are snowballing, but hard isn't impossible, so I know I can do it. Knowing that other people are there, struggling to find a way to squeeze it all in without letting anything get away, is comforting. I love that quote, and will try to remember it when something else pops up. (As it always does) Glad to hear from you! :)

Peter Waite said...

Great post, I am always trying to find a balance.... but alas it always seems to be just beyond my fingertips :)

Laurie said...

Nice to hear from you, too, NTE!

And yes, Peter, every time I think I've gotten close, something gets away from me again!

Aviva said...

Boy can I identify with your dropping of balls and missing of deadlines!

Meanwhile, happy mommiversary! :) I have to say, I think the fringe benefits of parenting are the best of any job I've ever had. :) But oh, it can be hard to keep all those balls aloft.

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