I am going to have to go back to work eventually. I mean, two women and a baby can’t make ends meet on one part-time income in Washington D.C. forever, even with a lot of family and denominational support. I’ve been aware of this since before R was born, thinking about it, trying to figure out what form, type, schedule, and mode of working would fit me well with our new Lives With Baby. Before R was born, I was a full-time parish minister for 6 years, and for many of those years my ministry was my primary focus. I had a nice life, but I did work some significant portion of every day. I often dealt with e-mail until 11pm at night. I often had evening meetings, I often worked on Saturdays, every book or article that I read or movie that I saw usually fed into the coming Sunday’s sermon. I can’t yet fully imagine going back to full-time ministry and doing it in a totally different way than I did before.
And the character challenge for me is that I have tended to be, thus far in life, a pretty black-or-white person, all-or-nothing, doing something fully or not at all. Having a baby is nothing if not an opportunity for reorganizing one’s life and one’s relationship to work. These past 10 months, I’ve had a few moments here and there to think about what I’d like to be doing, if I could be doing anything at all, and though I’m well aware that it’s not unique, what I’d like to be doing is writing more. So as we start to approach the very significant first birthday of our Little Bean, I find myself wondering if I can learn some new things at even just a quarter of the speed that she does. Can I learn to do a little bit of a variety of things instead of just one thing full-bore? Can I learn to juggle with some semblance of grace some part-time ministry, some continued forays into personal and creative writing, some cooking of new and healthy recipes for myself and my family, some yoga and other exercise, some housecleaning, some keeping up with friends and family, some household & family plans and projects?
It doesn’t look like so much when I write it up as a list like that. It’s at 11pm at night, still, when I long to “call it a day” and there are still a dozen things on the day’s “must-do” list, it’s then that I feel overwhelmed and tired. Usually a good night’s sleep is enough to renew me for another overly-optimistic day, but not always. It’s so easy for me to feel like the best way to cope with the feeling of overwhelm is to do less, do less, do less. That’s been my way of coping for a long time. But what that has meant in the past was cutting out things that matter even more to me now. Like during my first year of ministry, while I was living alone and also juggling two other part-time jobs to make ends meet, I thought it was a revelation at the time to eliminate cooking. “Look at all the time I’ve saved!” I remember exclaiming to a friend—no shopping, no food prep, no dishes to clean up. I ate mostly microwaveable meals and things that don’t require cooking, like cheese-and-crackers. Well. You can imagine the outcome of that—I didn’t feel so great, I gained weight, and, frankly, I enjoy cooking, though it’s taken me years and years to really remember that and make time for it again. My all-or-nothing autopilot way of approaching things has meant eliminating, for stretches of time, lots of other things that nourish me as well—exercise, friendships, trips with family, reading for pleasure, writing creatively, gardening, outdoor activities, and so on.
So as I start to seriously contemplate stepping a toe back into the pool of workers, I want to broach my own take on what I think will help me find, even if elusive and fleeting, that notorious balance of work-family-play. I do and will strive to “do it all”…a little bit. I want to work on practicing contentment with doing things halfway. A little bit of exercise instead of the 8-month yoga-teacher-training class I signed myself up for three years ago now. A little bit of cooking new recipes instead of feeling like I need to cook each of my favorite cookbooks from beginning-to-end Julie-and-Julia style, in order to be thorough. And spending time with our beloved kid does not have to mean never leaving her with a babysitter to give me a break or allow us to go out for a night. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing in order to be meaningful, rewarding, and worthwhile. Um…right?