Work: How to Balance Career and Family (Hint: Maybe You Can’t)

We were raised around a bunch of women who were tired of being directed to secretarial school when they expressed career aspirations. They were tired of having their fannies slapped. They were tired of of biology getting in the way.

So they worked really hard AND raised families. They demanded to wear pants and went on The Pill. They indoctrinated their spawn with “Free to Be You and Me,” an all-star tribute to equality and genderless capability.

And so I thought I could have it all, and that everything would just glide into place when it was time. My career path has wended its way through streams and around mountains and on rutty side roads; It didn’t get on the Interstate until I moved to California six years ago and took a corporate gig.

And then, lo, the husband came at the relatively late age of 42, and exactly nine months later, our precious angel baby showed up. And after nine weeks of sticking to each other like cling monkeys, it became time for Baby Grace to go to daycare with lovely grandparent types in their comfortable home, and for me to return to work.

I am jealous of the women who can stay home. On maternity leave I did the math over and over again to see if I could get someone to come in and clean a few times a week so I could just nap and mush up with the baby all day and take her to Anthropologie. I wanted to have quality time during our limited days, not endless shit-tons of laundry. Some days the height of my productivity was unloading the dishwasher. I certainly didn’t get my book proposal done. (In my pre-baby delusion, I’d chirpily announced to my therapist that during maternity leave I’d have time to write it WHILE SHE WAS NAPPING. Which is about 40 minutes a stretch. Fool.)

Now when I’m at work I’m a little raggedy from a 4 a.m. wakeup. This morning some last-minute spit-up forced alternate outfits for both me and Gracie, and tacked on another 20 minutes. I work like a steam engine, chugging through, skipping lunch and small talk, so I can get out and hold my baby as soon as possible. As regular as a Japanese train, I start getting anxious to see her on the 10 freeway just before getting on the 5.

I was just invited by the EPA’s ENERGY STAR division to make a presentation at their annual conference in North Carolina in November. Normally I would have jumped at the chance to do this, and figured out logistics after. It’s huge props for me and for my company. Then I talked myself into going for just a day and turning around on the red eye and coming home. Then I looked closely at the invitation and saw that they’d want me to present three times, on three consecutive days. My heart sank. I can’t imagine going that long without inhaling the sweet baby smell, bouncing her on my knee as I eat dinner, snuggling in bed with her and slipping off into a dream together after the 4 a.m. feeding. I still don’t know if I’ll go. It’s a broken heart either way.

My friends Shannon Kelley and Barbara Kelley over at Undecided have become the experts on the impossibility of having it all. At this point, I’m not sure I want it all. I just want enough.

Vanessa McGradyWork: How to Balance Career and Family (Hint: Maybe You Can’t)

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