Monday, August 26, 2013

Balancing Backpacks and Big Brothers

So, things are about to get complicated at work, and I'm already challenged enough to even remotely manage an appropriate work-life balance.  What makes this even more challenging is that people think I know what I'm doing. I'm not sure why, but it has something to do with having already raised 2 great kids.  I can't emphasize enough how big a role pure, unadulterated Luck played in this accomplishment. Seriously, ask them.  They will tell you. 

Today, there's still Zoe, the 11-year-old, at home.  And the cat and the fish.  And the laundry --always the freaking laundry.  (Not that the cat and the fish actually produce much laundry, but still.)  Now that we have gone back to school let's review a typical morning for me and Zoe last year: 

Me:  "Zoe, get up."
Zoe:  No response. 
Me, later:  "Zoe, brush your teeth."
Zoe, sitting on the couch, eyes closed, practically comatose, not moving nor ever planning to move, hissing: "I AM brushing my teeth!"
Me, even later, dropping a half-dressed possibly tooth-brushed Zoe at school because we missed the bus again:  "Have a great day at school."  
Zoe: No response. much to look forward to.  

Today, Zoe was all excited about her first day of  6th grade but while I was certainly gratified when she sprang out of bed this morning, I am not so naive to expect this sort of display of energy and excitement to last until say, tomorrow morning.  Nope, tomorrow I fully expect to be back to working the Balance Game

My favorite definition of balance is "a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions."  We call the elements of our very own Balance Game "Backpacks" and "Big Brothers."  These are obvious euphemisms for school and work (when you work at Big Brothers Big Sisters, as I have, for the last 15 years). As with most people who play the Balance Game, I learned very early on that these 2 elements are absolutely not equal and very rarely "in correct proportions."  

Last week, for example, before school had even started (which, frankly, just doesn't bode well), we already experienced one of the most classic situations in which Backpacks and Big Brothers could not possibly be equal:  The invitation to "Back to School Night" was delivered exactly 6 days before "Back to School Night" itself was to occur on a night when, yes, I already had a board meeting scheduled (over a month in advance).

These are the choices that illustrate the impossibility of achieving balance in this situation (choose one):
  • Skip the board meeting and take the kid to "Back to School Night" = bad employee = unhappy board members = work/life fail
  • Ignore the invite to "Back to School Night" and attend board meeting = just plain bad parent = unhappy kid = total work/life fail
  • Get someone else to take kid to "Back to School Night" = marginally bad (absent) parent = somewhat mollified kid = work/life fail       <what I chose, of course>
One could argue that the "elements" were in correct proportion on the night in question to the extent that I was at a Big Brothers Big Sisters board meeting and Zoe was at her school function, but this is merely the quibbling we do as we try to convince ourselves that winning the Balance Game is more than just a myth.  I wanted and needed to be in 2 places at once, and it just ain't happenin'.  

This situation will occur in various forms (field trips, class parties, parent-teacher conferences etc) with regularity as the school year progresses. I always vow to try and make each year the one in which I do not pointlessly complain to the school about the lack of adequate notice for events. Warning to Balance-Challenged Parents:  do not try this at school. There is nothing worse than the judgement passed on you as a parent for complaining that your schedule can't accommodate your child's important school function.

So back to my original point - about how things are gonna be getting really busy at work.  We have a bunch of projects heating up, including opening a gift store I can't wait to blog about, and I'm already fortifying myself to step up my Balance Game.  The work week is going to get longer and this means that the struggle for equality between Backpacks and Big Brothers is only going to intensify. 

This is how weekends went last school year when no one was making us do anything:
Saturday morning: "Zzzzzzzzzzzzz." 
Sunday night: "Dang, the laundry is really piling up."

If it's only the laundry that suffers this year, we'll be lucky.  But of course there's a reason that I work so hard to balance Backpacks and Big Brothers, and it's the obvious one: nothing means more to me than my kids at home, and I am pretty dang lucky to be able to work on behalf of the kids at Big Brothers Big Sisters everyday at work.

So, I was going to hit "publish" on this post right before I left to go get Zoe after school today, but I didn't, so I just had to share this conversation we had driving home.  This was after a discussion about how she is taking both Pre-AP English and Math because she "couldn't choose" between the two.  Her dad and I wanted her to be in Pre-AP Math because the girl has skills we can only dream about, but she liked the idea of Pre-AP English because it would be "easier."   

Zoe:  "I've been thinking today about my talents and what I'm going to do with them."
Me:  "Yeah? So what have  you decided?"
Zoe,  "Well, I could be an actress, a dancer, a singer, a poet, a choreographer, or a writer of children's books."
Me:  "What about being an accountant? Do kids ever aspire to being accountants?  That is a good career, and we just discussed how good you are at Math."
Zoe:  "No, mom.  No one wants to have the boring job OR personality of an accountant."
Me:  "That is such a stereotype.  How does an 11-year-old develop that kind of stereotype of for accountant?"
Zoe: "TV, mom - where 11-year-olds develop all of their stereotypes."
Me:  "Well, Chuck (our accountant at my office) is not boring, so there goes your stereotype!"
Zoe: "Chuck is an accountant??!!"
Me:   "Yes, he is."
Zoe:   "Well, not every accountant can work for Big Brothers Big Sisters!"  

You said it, girl. 

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