Cotton candy. My daughter’s hands, even after she’s freshly bathed, smell like cotton candy. She’s been asleep now for a good 10 minutes, but I am still holding her close to me. She is warm and her teeny little fingers have somehow hooked on my nose. An endearing, soft, snore escapes her and she squeaks noisily on her soother. My mind is filled with nothing but the exhale and inhale of her sweetness. This is a perfect moment.
I have never been very good at being ‘in the moment’. My mind is usually in 15 places at once, on conflicting time-lines to boot. I can be thinking about risk management, client communications, new designs, deadlines, bills, and diapers, but as soon as my little girl puts her hands on my face, my mind is completely still.
Lately, I have been grappling with my work schedule in relation to my mommy time. The distinction that I have to make between these two worlds is draining in and of itself. It’s like I live 2 separate lives and I’m trying to prevent them from colliding. Constantly.
When you are an entrepreneur and a mom, guilt rears its ugly head very early on. As the owner of 1 small business (Spin The Idea Ltd.), and partner in another (aside from The Bump & Hustle), I knew I wouldn’t be able to take a standard maternity leave. I had to ease myself out of the picture when I was pregnant, but I could never fully disengage from any venture. Yes, there are definite pros to having your own business, but the cons are heavily felt. I was back in virtual meetings and nursing around deadlines when Vee was 6 weeks old. Ugh. I shudder at that. The moment that I felt delight over the fact that Vee’s nap and my first conference call converged so neatly, I felt guilty.
Now I know that some women don’t take maternity leave at all. And it is common for women to take as little as 3 months before they go back to their routines. These ladies are champions, and whether they’re working by choice or necessity they need a loving pat on the back for a hard job well done. Facts about mat leave tend to sit on my shoulders, little angels or devils, depending on what mood I’m in. I know I’m lucky. I get to work from home 90% of the time, and see my baby as soon as I go upstairs. But I do work strange hours, and long hours at times, and things can sometimes get skewed once you’re down the path towards a goal. I have 2 goals right now, both in different directions. The first is to spend time with my amazing daughter. The second is to provide for her. When you go back to work, the answer, even as gut-wrenching as it is to go through in terms of separation and daycare placement, is clear. In my case it’s not. When you have your own business fires need to be put out at 1am. Or Sunday nights. Deadlines don’t conform to a neat 9 to 5 schedule. And the consequences that weigh in on either side, whether it’s a lost client or a screaming baby who in your head is already blaming you for abandonment issues when they’re 16 , seem so overwhelming sometimes.
The truth is, you can read a million books on time management. You can follow routines and schedules, and implement order to a point of rigidity to make things work, or you can figure out what works for you. And that’s what has started daunting me. How are you supposed to find a steady solution to something that is constantly changing? How am I even supposed to find a weekly schedule with my mom helping or even a friend, if I don’t even know what my deadlines are going to be like? A strange sickly feeling starts to coat my stomach at the very thought of childcare – daycare, nannies, you name it. I guess I’m not ready yet. I keep thinking ‘Why can’t I do it all? Why can’t I seem to switch gears between motherhood and corporate executive without feeling terrible?’
I am what some might call a ‘fan’ of control. I am such a fan of control that I even enjoy controlling the way I relax. When people tell me I need to lead a more balanced lifestyle, perhaps take yoga, and just remove some of the stress that I have around me, I take up a disciplined pursuit of those past-times. I need to get my ‘A’ in Relaxation. My goal is to be exemplary at not being stressed, damn it. This too, has made my search for balance more flavourful to say the least. Not only do I have to find a way to juggle 2 businesses, a couple side ventures, our bouncing baby, and my marriage (oh, did I mention our home renovations?) but I also have to be a Zen Master by the end of the week. Gack.
Luckily there is an equal dose of fatalist serendipity sprinkled into my love for order, and I believe that even us uptight perfectionists who have our hands in way too many pies get our epiphanies.
The other day I was driving up to my parent’s place. It’s a nice 45 minute drive and it always puts Vee to sleep. It was warm and toasty, and I turned my radio to one of those easy listening stations that seems to have an eternal playlist of Christmas songs. I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden I was overcome by a sense of nostalgia, yearning, and achievement all at the same time. A kind of heat gripped my throat and my voice cracked in the middle of someone crooning White Christmas. I was breathing deeply, loving the seconds as they ticked. I looked around, all of a sudden self-conscious at my random emotional moment. And then it hit me.
To be truly in the moment, you can’t give a sh*t.
Ok, ok, it’s a strange interpretation of the Zen precept of letting go of attachment, but bear with me. Moms, we have so much in our heads, we have enough in there for 10 people. If you run your own business on top of things, you may have 20 people in there. So just try this with me. The next time you start to feel the internal monologue of ‘you should be doing something productive’ or anything else that comes across as your conscience finger-wagging at you, just acknowledge it, and let it go. And if it helps, tell yourself you don’t give a sh*t.
When I was in the car, the music, beautiful warmth, memories.. the moment was beautiful. And it was because I didn’t care who was watching, listening, or judging. Maybe the more precise truth was that for a moment I wasn’t judging myself. However you play it, I was thrilled to think that every moment could be as fulfilling as that one. Cheesy music and all.
On the other hand, when I am sitting there with pen and paper trying to itemize the tasks of my life into a Gantt chart, fractioning myself into the sub-brands of ‘executive’ versus ‘mom’.. I am imposing all the judgment, stress and negativity in the world on myself. I am in the ‘what will they think of me’ future. Or the ‘why did that happen’ past. I am in the ‘you better get it right’ present, but I am nowhere near the moment.
Now, I realize that sitting in a car driving and listening to festive adult contempo isn’t exactly the same as running through a new client strategy on a deadline. But what if.. what if we could just ‘unlearn’ our stress and do things moment-by-moment.. without that strange and ever wielding urgency in the backs of our minds?
Inspired by my pseudo-Zen approach and ever the keener (‘grade me, grade me!’), I found this site. After reading through it, I realized that I was holding on to my businesses and sitting on a mountain of deadlines not because I was productive or ambitious, but because I was actually afraid. I’m afraid of failure, and of success. I’m afraid that people will say ‘oh, she became a mom, and then she closed up shop’, I’m afraid that they’ll judge me because I didn’t close up shop. I’m afraid that the peanut gallery won’t cheer loud enough when I succeed, or that they will deafen me with catcalls when I bat-out. It’s truly dizzying.
I talked to my husband about this phenomenon. I talked about how I had too many balls up in the air for the wrong reasons- apparently because my ego was calling the shots. I said I wanted more time just being with my baby, and some time just ‘being’. I’m a partner in his company – a growing boutique investment company – and I love working with him. I missed that focus too and craved involvement in it again. During my pregnancy and for the last year I have focused heavily on Spin The Idea because I felt that it was my only tie to my professional, ‘pre-baby’ reality and ‘non-mommy’ dreams. I thought that if I kept that door open, I’d still be able to access those dreams. But the truth is, just because you dog-ear something in your life, it doesn’t mean that it will always be what you want. And a fundamentally wrong reason to keep an option open, is when you are just scared of change.
My husband asked me point-blank ‘Ok. Obviously, Vee is your first choice for energy and time. But if you had to choose between Spin the Idea, and The Bump & Hustle, what would it be?’
I thought it would be harder to answer, but I pulled the trigger like some cold-blooded assassin.
‘The Bump & Hustle. Hands down.’
‘So, what do you want to do with ‘Spin’’ he asked me. Gulp. Bury it in the backyard?
‘Well, I mean, we can keep it for billing purposes and as my corporate umbrella, but I don’t want to market externally anymore. It’s exhausting.’ Wow was that me? I was saying stuff I was totally afraid to admit. But it didn’t stop there. ‘..I love designing, but frankly I’d rather do it with you and push our business ahead.’ The peanut gallery was jeering ‘corporate sell-out’ at me while I fervently repeated my new ‘don’t give a sh*t’ mantra. It worked. ‘.. I will still take on or manage select projects that we both approve under Spin, but that’s it. I just want it to be The Baby, Us, Our Business, and for fun, The Bump & Hustle.’ There. That felt much more balanced.
‘And what about your childcare stress? We can’t have you working nights and then staying up until 5am with a teething baby, and then staying up all day with Vee..’ Damn it.
‘You’re right. My mom’s doing 2 days a week. We’ll have to get someone else to do 2 as well.’ And just like that I had started to find solutions that would let me have the best of both worlds. I would have time with my amazing daughter, and time to provide for her. Wow. Was I the only one in my way all this time?
Relief. I didn’t feel tightness in my chest because I was doing too much, I felt relief. And right then and there I realized I was ‘in the moment’ again.
I know there are consequences to every action and I’m ok with that. For the record, I don’t know what will come of any of mine and I’m trying to not flesh out the future before it happens. Good or bad, it’s the beautiful physics of this world, and I’m trying to enjoy the ride without knowing. The important thing is that I feel like I can be a better mom and a better business woman because I don’t know.
There is no end to this story, because it’s ongoing. No doubt within days it will change again. Maybe hours. But it doesn’t seem to matter how many things are flying at you, when you are working through things one moment at a time.
I’m totally getting an A in this.
Cool resources I’ve found for the would-be Zenspired Mom?
I love how things line up. Sometimes you are just meant to read certain things. If you’re feeling stressed, you need a reaffirmation that you’re doing the right things, or you want your world turned on its head (in a good way) enjoy this awesome site about Zen.
This lady is great to follow on Twitter too. (@alexanderamanda) Lots of interesting reads and resources in her tweets, and if you sign up with her at http://coachingmums.com , you get a great free ebook called From Chaos to Calm – Five Simple Steps to Balance for Working Mums. It’s a fantastic and fast read. If you need a bit of a paper pep talk, this is it.
A friend asked me if I’d heard of them and I am so happy she did.. there is something about this site that is soothing and makes all my worries melt away. This team has a great roster of nanny services, from on call placements, to full-time. I am going to be trying them out in the very near future.