Remember the guy on the Ed Sullivan Show who would dazzle the audience with his ability to spin plates, cups, and bowls on dowels? Eric Brenn’s talents were the perfect symbol for this recovering Type A+ workaholic and overachiever. I have been able to balance work and play, housekeeping, bill paying, income earning, traveling, caregiving with sometimes astounding skill. Despite those accomplishments, I still doubt that I am as capable and competent as that would indicate. No matter how much feedback I receive, I often feel that I need to maintain that pace or I would fall short or at least drop a few plates. Not sure where that whirlwind originated but it has been a nearly constant companion for as long as I can recall. On any given day, I can be found teaching, writing, counseling, networking, promoting, and creating. Call it an occupational hazard, since as a Social Worker I have, of necessity, needed to be on the phone and documenting at the same time.
A few days ago, I was sitting with tiny humans (3-4 year-olds) teaching mindfulness and yoga. My job was to help them slow down the chattering monkey mind. Thing is, in order for them to learn it, I needed to model it. Even as I was doing so, I was immersed in an awareness that I had to keep them entertained and attentive. Not so mindful. At least they laughed and smiled and hugged me afterward. Nothing like being hug swarmed by kiddos. The perfect reward.
As the mother of a now 31-year-old son, I have been called on to keep those plates spinning as well. It meant working a full-time job and a few part-time jobs and raising him as a single parent since I was widowed when he was 11. There were times when I wondered whether I had the skills to do it all.
I was watching my favorite show, This Is Us (season finale tear jerker) and a particularly poignant scene occurred between Kate who had just given birth to a micro-preemie and Rebecca the family matriarch who came to stay with Kate and Toby and help care for her new grandson. Rebecca had been helicoptering with her daughter and baby Jack (so named for her husband who had died tragically when her children were 17) since he had serious health issues. She took copious notes as dictated by the nurse in the NICU so that the family could provide for him once he was discharged from the hospital. Kate felt her power was being usurped. Rebecca, feeling rejected, left to lick her wounds. Shortly after, Kate experienced remorse and went home to talk with her mother. There came a speech that had Kate acknowledging that she idealized Rebecca’s mothering skills since she always seemed to know what to do and Kate felt inept and in her shadow. She used the term “Rebecca Pearson Magic.” I cried when I heard that since I could easily have said that about my mother Selma. She too always seemed to have the answers and was a consummate problem solver and yes, multi-tasker, who raised my sister and me with my father, worked several part-time jobs when we were young and then a full-time job when we were old enough to be latchkey kids. She also volunteered in our community, had a social life and an exquisite marriage. I, on the other hand, felt like I sometimes stumbled through parenting and could never match up to my own maternal expectations. I often imagined being able to do it all with the grace and ease that my mother seemed to embody. As Adam approaches 32, I am cutting myself some slack and I think he has let me off the hook for my missteps. He has a good life, the kind any mother would be proud of. He is married to the love of his life, they have a beautiful home, wonderful friends, he has a job he enjoys and has gotten good at what my daughter-in-law calls #adulting.
I polled my mother-friends about their ability to do it all, to the best of their abilities.
“I did in my 20’s and 30’s. Full-time career, home responsibilities, after-school activity, and a whole lotta coffee !!! I’ m grateful I was a lot younger. Could not see me doing all I did later in life! Yet I signed up for it!”
“With kids with medical issues, I couldn’t. I left my work in January. I miss it sometimes, but everyone is happier.”
“Minimal sleep and lots of self-care and balance.”
“I was a single parent for a long time. Even when I married, I was still a single parent. She was always my responsibility. I’m going to say powerful Maternal Instincts, perseverance, and help from my Mom.”
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