I have a problem with commitment. Specifically, with overcommitting myself, routinely and always with the very best of intentions. Often met, ultimately, with extreme failure on all fronts. There are too many examples of this to name here, but I don't think that it is a particularly uncommon problem, especially for young, educated, working mothers who have interests and ambitions that extend beyond the edge of the driveway.
Exhibit A: Graduate School.
Two years ago, after my divorce was finalized and the everyone living in the same town thing was NOT working out so well. I enrolled in a graduate program. We needed some space, it was not permanent, and the classes were distance delivered, so, when the time came that we COULD live in the same place, which was of course vastly better in the long run for our daughter, then I would not have to quit my program mid-stream.
In the second week of my second semester my father got sick again and I agreed to spend three months (the bulk of the semester) at home spending my days with my daughter and administering his iv antibiotics into a pic line that ran behind his pacemaker and directly into his heart. This was an hour long affair, three times a day 6-7 am, 1-2 pm, 11 pm- midnight. Seven days a week for three months. I drove him to and from work and traveled with him when he had to travel for work. The schedule wore me down. He often slept through the late night drip, but I had to be awake to disconnect everything and shut off the valves and throw away the empty "grenades".
I made it about half-way through the semester before I cried uncle and took and incomplete in the class. I couldn't focus, couldn't keep up from my tiny laptop screen with the spotty wifi in my high school bedroom.
Eventually, the i.v. was done, my father received his first clean bill of health in four years, and my daughter and I packed up and went to set up house in the new apartment we now shared with my boyfriend in the town where he worked and I was supposed to be going to school. I stayed home with her all that summer and was too burned out to take any classes. NotMarsha was two and it was the first time since she was a baby that she was with me, full-time, day in and day out for months and months and months at a time. About five minutes into that summer it became apparent that there was no way that I could take her back to her dad and live apart from her any longer. Neither, for that matter, could my boyfriend. We waited awhile to talk to her father about this, but ultimately we all agreed that circumstances had changed enough and everyone had moved on enough that we could all live in the same place and work out a new custody agreement and figure out how to parent a "family" that now included her NotMarsha, me, my boyfriend, her dad, stepmother, stepbrother, and a baby on the way.
Between moving and finding a new place to live and staying with my parents in the meantime. Getting NotMarsha used to her new, much bigger (and far more intricately scheduled) life that included three days a week of pre-school and shuffling back and forth between houses every few days. Yeah, you guessed it, no classes that semester either.
By the end of the year, I had accepted a half-time job that would allow me to work on the days when NotMarsha was in pre-school and staying at her Dad's House, then pick her up at noon on Wednesdays and be home with her for the rest of the week. NotMike had taken a job that was based in our new/old town and we were going to buy a house in the spring. I could take classes on the evenings when NotMarsha was at her Dad's too...it was time to dig back in.
I made it through the spring semester. Repeating my incomplete from the spring before and finishing a pre-requisite in microeconomics that just about ate me alive. We spent the entire winter/spring at my parent's house because we chose to embark upon the single most difficult and lengthy real estate transaction in the history of the universe (I am NEVER moving again).
I enrolled in a class for the summer. Just one. (Look at me trying to manage my life better! Weee!)
Here's the catch. In my program I can only take three courses before I have to submit a Statement of Professional Objectives. Explaining why I chose this program, my professional and personal expericances that would be a benefit to the program and why the program would be a benefit to me in my professional life.
I have been wrestling with this thing for over a year. I actually wrote one, during the course of my first semester in the program, but it was so outdated and utterly lacking in relevance to my life at this point that it would never do. I have been stuck on the title of the document (which had to be all of TWO, yes TWO pages) for months. Kicking it around in my head like I do so many other things that I never write down here or anywhere else. I have to submit it before I can take anymore classes and classes start up again after labor day. I have decided to only take one class this fall because I am so afraid of flailing and failing at something yet again and we have a lot of life stuff going on this fall. Here is what I have come up with. I wrote it on my little netbook in the playroom while watching E.T. for the 207th time with NotMarsha last week. Because that is my life. And because if I had sat upstairs and written it on the big computer she would have been upset that I was doing "Mommy Work" during "NotMarsha Time" and then I would have had to cry in the bathroom from all of the GUILT. Again.
Statement of Professional Objectives
It is easy to state simply what my professional objectives would be if I were in a place where I could dedicate the majority of my energy to my career. To begin with, I would have long ago finished my graduate program, or like many of my peers, would have finished law school a year or two ago. I would have chosen to pursue a degree in reproductive rights law. I would have taken a job with Planned Parenthood, fought on the front lines of the health care debate, argued for freedom to access of basic health care which should be covered under any health plan, for both men and women without question.
I would be successful, financially and otherwise. Independent. I would have disposable income and be able to shop where I wanted when I felt like it. I would be able to schedule time to run every day and vacation when I needed to get away for a week or two. I would not feel the need to apologize when I needed to bring work home. I would be able to have a rent-a-wife to clean my house once a week and a roomba to make up the difference. I would not have to schedule my every moment with a committee of three other adults. I would be accountable to myself, to my employer, to my responsibilities. I would be completely reliable.
In reality, my professional objectives are much different. In reality I have a young child and a second chance at a real family. In reality my career and my professional life is, at the moment, far more utilitarian than it is glamorous or inspirational. I am the quintessential mother flake, calling in sick because my child has a stomach ache or a head cold or a nose that is running at a speed that precludes her from being able to go to pre-school that day. In reality, my professional life is one of necessity and compromise, bathed in a heavy shroud of guilt. Guilt that I am not with my child, guilt that I am spending half of my time in an office doing a job that is fine, but not inspiring. Guilt that I am only working half time, guilt that I do not have a job that inspires me, guilt that I am not applying myself fully.
Thus is the life of the working mother.
Therefore, like every working mother my objective is to achieve balance between the constant pull of both my professional and personal lives; to have a personally fulfilling and useful career, actively participating in the financial health and well-being of my family, all the while meeting the logistical and emotional needs of my family. Our family is blended and encompasses, among other things, a dog, a new mortgage, an impending marriage, a teenager who does not live with us and a toddler who is with us half time. A partner who’swhose job with the legislature requires that he is away from home for the full legislative session, roughly one quarter of the calendar year, during which time I am a single mother and fully responsible for everything, all the time, including figuring out how to walk the dog at six am while there is a child sound asleep in her bedroom (we do thirty minutes of circles around the yard, running on our miniature track like gerbils).
Ultimately, my goal is to work in health care administration. Having spent a large part of my twenties learning how to navigate through the health care system as an advocate and caregiver for an ailing parent, I have witnessed first hand the intricacies of the system and both the strengths and shortcomings there in. I have also discovered that in the hospital arena I am able to jump in and “play”. I get the jargon, I understand the egos, and when interested and compelled by my work, I am every bit as compulsive as a doctor able to work a 36 hour shift without blinking.
My particular passion is for women’s health care and reproductive rights. To that end, I have held a seat on the Board of Directors for Planned Parenthood of Alaska since 2005. In 2008 we merged with Planned Parenthood of Idaho and Planned Parenthood of Western Washington to become Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, the second largest Planned Parenthood affiliate in the country with an annual operating budget of over forty million dollars. As a member of the merger committee I was offered an integral role and crash course in charting the course for the future of access to care for women and men across three states, in particular, expanding access in my home state by opening the only full-service clinic in Southeast Alaska.
I currently hold the position of Director of Communications for the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, a statewide nonprofit providing education and support services for individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. As a reflection of my desire to strike the balance between familial, academic, and financial responsibilities, the position is half-time, allowing me to work on the days when my daughter is in pre-school and in her father’s care, while being home with her while she is with me. The drawbacks of this arrangement are that my position rather than being proactive and evolving, is primarily graphic design and support services for the full-time departments.
As a master in the art of over committing myself, it has been a difficult and often painfully guilt ridden process to learn how to pull back enough to strike a sustainable balance in the multifaceted life of the working mother. My desire is to spend the next two years maximizing my academic and board work so that I am fully prepared to engage fully in my professional life after my daughter begins elementary school. In the meantime I am also anxious to gather enough knowledge and experience to more precisely define what exactly it is that I want to do, professionally, in the future.