Ladies’ Night: Finding Balance
September 27, 2018
Last Thursday was the fall equinox and, for one day, the night was exactly the same length as the day. It marked the beginning of fall, a time when it’s natural to turn inward and do a little soul searching. It’s the perfect time of year to consider balance. Where are you giving too much? Where too little? Are you fulfilled or does something nag at you?
In anticipation of this season, some friends and I got together and talked about how we keep and fail to keep a balance between our needs and the needs of our children. It turns out, the greatest threat to this delicate balance is our own good hearts. Most often, we end up “losing our shit” because we try to give too much. We want them to have the perfect childhood, the perfect birthday party, the perfect play date, but we end up giving them a perfectly crap day and plenty to discuss in therapy. The goal, it seems, is to know our limits.
“It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.”
~ Albert Einstein
“Go work at the post office or Starbucks if you want balance in your life.”
~ Jason Calacanis
Kelly: What was the topic again? I forgot.
Annie: The topic is balance. I thought of it because the fall equinox is coming up.
It’s an interesting topic for me because I never cared about balance. I always thought people who spent a lot of time talking about balance or looking for balance were a little too “woo woo.” I didn’t think of it as something that was obtainable. I read this great quote by Jason Calacanis. He says, “Go work at the post office or Starbucks if you want balance in your life.” I love that. It’s so true. If you live in America and you’re the slightest bit ambitious, you aren’t going to have balance. It’s not how our society works, so I saw no point in even thinking about it.
Then, I spent the whole summer miserable and angry because my life had grown so completely out of balance. My life had become way too much about the kids. I wanted to work on the blog and there was just nothing left for that by the time I was done with them. I was so resentful. I ended up hiring a nanny.
Steph: How’s that going?
Annie: So great. Today, she was here until 6:30. I got so much done. I feel so much more fulfilled because I’m working on what I want to be working on. When the girls were little, I wanted to be there for the first smile and the first word and I was so happy staying home. I could get stuff done during naps. It was great. Then, they got older and they began needing me in another way that was more mundane and logistic. All of a sudden, I felt bored and way over extended. Inside, I was screaming, “I don’t give a fuck about any of this! I don’t want to help you with your homework!”
Kelly: You’re not missing out on developmental milestones with homework and stuff like that.
Annie: Right. Exactly. I feel bad saying I’m bored being a mom or that I’m annoyed by their needs. It feels selfish. Do you go through periods where you feel like you’re so sick of being a mom?
Kelly: Yeah. Yesterday and today, it was all day long.
Steph: Honest to God, had CPS come to my house on Tuesday, I would have been like, “You’re a hundred percent right. Take them.” I would not have fought. It was bad.
Annie: What was it that set it off?
Steph: My oldest was in the shower and he said something mean about my youngest and was laughing and I opened the shower door and grabbed him by the arm to make him say he was sorry. I slipped and fell and started crying because I got hurt. Then, I blamed my oldest for the fall… “This is because of you!”… I was drenched. It was a scene.
Kelly: (laughing) This never would have happened if I hadn’t come in to punish you!
Steph: When something like that happens, it’s always been, like, three days in a row where I haven’t stopped for one second. I go all this time and I’m fine, then suddenly I lose it.
Annie: I know that feeling! I’m like a crazy person. I’ll be really nice one second and then the next I’ll be like, “Just shut the fuck up! STOP ASKING ME THAT!” Then, I’ll be super apologetic. The girls must think I’m insane.
Steph: I did a whole ceremony after that terrible night. I went into their room and I’m just like, “I’m so sorry, guys.” They woke up and were fine the next day, but my husband was like, “you don’t know the damage you’ve done.” It was awful. That’s where the balance comes in. I don’t act like that when I’m working out, when I’m eating well, when I’m getting sleep, and when I get a break. That’s where balance affects me. Sorry. I kind of took the stage. I lose my mind and go crazy and take it out on everyone. And I don’t even realize I’m out of balance until there’s no air in my lungs.
Kelly: It’s very hard to recognize in the moment when too much is too much. For example, Jane had a playdate. I’m all about embracing new relationships for her right now because her relationship with her BFF is a little toxic. So, she had a playdate with this new friend named Adele. The dad took Adele and Jane to the beach for the entire day. He picked Jane up at 10:30 and they were done at like 6. Afterwards, they were begging for a sleepover. I said it’s not going to work tonight, but we’ll try to do it before school starts. School starts Monday. So, this last weekend, Jane asked when Adele was sleeping over. I said to her, “Jane, we have so much going on. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen this week. You have to give mommy a little breathing room.” Then, she gets upset and says, “Then, you lied! You lied to me because you said before school.” Of course, this weighs on me. Monday night, I’m on the couch thinking through the week and figuring out all the kids schedules. I realize I could do the sleepover Tuesday night. My husband said, “Do you really want to do that?” I was like, “I just feel like I said I would so I should.” I text Adele’s parents. They’re like, “Great! She’d love to come.” They drop her over. My plan had been to have them swim for a bit, watch a movie, eat dinner, and go to bed. Easy. Done. It didn’t go like that at all. Everything was, “Kelly! Can you do this? Kelly! Can you do that?” I had to be involved in every. single. thing.
Steph: Oy. Oy. Oy.
Kelly: They’re in the pool. I stay in the pool with them. Jane gets tired of the pool, but Adele wants to stay in, so we’re in there forever. Finally, we go in the house. I make them dinner. Jane wants to watch a movie, but Adele doesn’t. Adele says she wants to play games. They are into everything. Everything is out. Playdo is out. Everything. The house looks like a bomb went off. At 8:15 they come in the kitchen and they want to make smoothies. I say, “No. Kitchen is closed. Lights are off. You’re not making smoothies.” I finally get them to bed. They’re talking, talking, talking forever. Next morning at 7am, I’m brushing my teeth and they come in and say, “Mommy! Will you write Jamba Juice for us on this poster board?” I’m like, “Yeah.” Thinking, “Fuck, where’s this going?” They said they wanted to do a Jamba Juice table out on the sidewalk… at seven in the morning.
Steph: Oh no.
Kelly: Adele says, “We’ll tell you what smoothies people want and you’ll make it in the kitchen. We’ll tell you what to bring out.” I was like, “Girls, no. It’s not happening.” I’m so fucking irate by this point. Jane’s like, “Please, mom, we want to have a Jamba Juice stand! We already put the table out!” They had taken a table out and scrubbed it down with hand sanitizer. I said, “First of all, you cannot be outside right now. It’s too early. In an hour, when I’m done making you breakfast and making the beds, I will put the garage door up. Then, you can go to town.” They’re like, “Okay, but we need smoothies.” I said, “Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll make three different flavors.”
Annie: Oh my god. You are so nice.
Kelly: I was like, “God fucking damn it! Dixie cups. Straws. The straws are too big. I cut the straws. Put them all in.” Well, so of course because the garage door is open, my youngest is crawling out every five seconds and I’m having to run after her. Finally, Adele’s mom came to pick her up. I wanted to embrace different friendships for Jane, but it backfired completely. I looked at her and said, “When Adele leaves, we are having a long talk.” She was a little taken aback. She was very nervous. I sat her down and said, “here’s why this sleepover play date did not work at all. I am not responsible for playing with your friend and doing everything. Mommy has five children. Mommy cannot be taking down toys, playing in the pool, making smoothies. That is not fair to me and it’s disrespectful to me so, if you have a friend over, you play on your own.” But, then, I think about it and she’s six, you know? She said, “Sorry, Mommy. Sorry.” The older kids were making fun of her. They were laughing at her smoothie table. I felt terrible for her. The whole point is that it’s important to recognize when it’s too much. You want to accommodate your children and do what’s best for them, but it’s not worth it. I couldn’t predict that playdate was going to go totally south. I’ve been so pissed at them all ever since. I’ve taken it out on all of them. My oldest is like, “Why are you so grumpy?” I’m like, “I just need you all to go to school… endlessly… forever. ”
Annie: I’m hearing myself in everything you’re saying. It’s those moments where you’re like, “I can’t do this, but I’m going ahead and doing it because I feel bad if I don’t.” It’s about being strong enough in those moments to be like, “Sorry guys. You can’t do that.”
Steph: I think that’s why I get stressed when I have play dates. I know I’m going to be bending over backwards. I took home three kids the other day. I had six kids at the house. I had a watermelon. I put it out. Gavin says to me, “But, on playdates, I like when we order pizza.” I said, “But we only have two hours. We just got home from school and you have to go to hockey in two hours. There’s hardly time to order pizza.” Anyway… of course, I did. I ordered Dominos and I hate Dominos. I order Pepe’s if I’m ordering pizza. But, Gavin wanted to order Dominos because that’s what his friend orders. So, I ordered fucking Dominos. I know what you mean. What do you do and what do you not do?
Annie: Knowing yourself and when it’s going to be too much. That’s being in balance.
Steph: I think setting up some rules for these playdates is a good idea. I think that’s what I’m going to do now with these playdates, because I don’t really love them because I can’t yell at my kids freely. (LOL) I can’t be like, “Get in the house! Get the fuck in the house!” You can’t be yourself in your own home! (LOL)
Kelly: Adele and Jane asked if they could go in the attic. I was like, “Guys, there’s nothing in there. You’re not going.” Adele’s like, “Please, please, pleeeease!” I’m like, “Sweetheart, there’s nothing in there. Even I don’t go in the attic.” She’s like, “We want to explore. Jane said there might be a secret passage.” I looked at Jane and she was sheepish. She said it. I looked at them and said, “It’s just dust. There’s not even a place to walk. It’s just planks.” Adele’s like, “We just want to check it out.” But, if it was just Jane, I would have been like, “That’s the stupidest… we’re not going in the attic! If you ask me one more time, you won’t have dessert again for a month! Done!” Instead, I felt like I was having to have a combative discussion with two six year olds over going in the fucking attic.
Amber: Sienna almost turns into a different kid when she has a playdate. She knows she can push me harder. I’m going to be a little nicer.
Kelly: It’s true. They read you a little differently. They know Nice Mommy is coming out.
Amber: They do. I have a talk with Sienna beforehand. I did the same thing before her birthday party. I said, “Listen. This is how you need to behave. I’m not going to embarrass you in front of your friends. We’re going to have a code. The code is, ‘Do you want to go take a walk?’ I explained the “walk” would be taking time away from her party to go outside and talk. She was so well behaved after that. I preemptively have these conversations with her because I know she turns into a bitchy little monster when she has a friend over. Then, I’m trapped, because I can’t be an asshole in front of somebody else’s kid.
Kelly: I guess what I could say is, “Adele, can you excuse me for a minute? I’m going to go talk to Jane.” That’s what I should have done. And then, that’s when I can be like, “Are you fucking kidding me? Jamba Juice station? Are you fucking high? I should slap you!! I will LOCK you in the attic!” (LOL)
Amber: It doesn’t always work like a dream, but it’s something. It’s like, the sound of the shotgun being loaded.
Annie: I put a tone in my voice. When I use that tone, they know that I’m about to “go there.” The threat is, “Do you really want me to go there in front of your friend? Are we going to do this?” I’ve never had to go there in front of their friend because the tone stops it.
Kelly: They know mommy will embarrass the shit out of them.
Amber: I think I have a different situation than most people. I’m single, but I also only have one, so I think that helps me keep a balance. Now that she’s in school and I’m working part-time instead of full-time, I am able to handle things a little bit better. I do have that balance.
Steph: I love that you have balance! I don’t think I ever hear that. That’s beautiful. I’m happy to hear that. You’ve obtained it. Maybe it will change. Maybe a year from now you won’t. For right now, though, you’ve obtained it.
Amber: But, here’s the thing. It’s like the “if you want balance, go work at Starbucks” quote. I didn’t have balance when Sienna was a baby. I was a single mom. I owned my own business. I was very overwhelmed. I felt very crazed. Now, I have more time and balance, but it’s a little depressing not having my store and not making any money.
Annie: Maybe you need a little more stress in your life? When you had your business, did you feel that balance was something that was potentially obtainable? I feel like the way that Americans work, I don’t know that you can have a successful business and be a balanced person.
Amber: You can’t.
Steph: Super successful people say that all the time. You can’t be good at everything.
Amber: It’s one or the other. For example, Steph’s dad would miss her birthday every year because he had to go to Italy for business. I could have made the choice to hire a nanny full-time and go full-force into my business. You have to make those choices. It’s one or the other. You can’t have it all.
Steph: You can do it all, but you can’t do it all well.
Amber: My dad is very successful, but he made a lot of sacrifices in terms of raising his children. My dad went to Detroit for a year. My dad moved to Arizona my junior year because the market here sucked. He made those sacrifices and wasn’t a parent.
Steph: Sometimes I think to myself, “What a good example, he was for you. Right?”
Amber: To who?
Steph: I don’t know. It’s a tricky thing, but he had to provide for you.
Amber: Provide how much though? The millions of dollars didn’t give me that stable childhood that I needed. It didn’t give me that foundation.
Annie: He might have been home and you still might not have had that stable foundation.
Amber: You’re right. You never know.
Kelly: You know what I was just going to say? I was going to say, when I’m in Hawaii I’m balanced, but I’m actually not because I’m uncomfortable there, too. Because then I’m too relaxed. I’m too free with eating and drinking. That’s not balance, either.
Annie: In preparation for tonight, I was reading all these quotes about balance. Two in particular stuck out at me: one by Helen Keller and another by Einstein. In both quotes, the mental state of balance was described as being the same as riding a bike. It’s the head space where you’re not letting anything pull you too far to any one side and you’re staying in motion. Too much leisure isn’t balance. That’s sort of what Amber was describing. Not owning the store is a little too idle for her. Hawaii is too idle for Kelly.
Kelly: I need control. I need routine. At home, the weekends are good for me. If I can get up and go for a walk, I’m a little more relaxed. Then, maybe we have a dinner out. Plenty of time with the kids and their activities is important. And connecting with my husband. That’s when I’m most balanced.
Steph: I’ve had this in my phone for like two years. It’s from Gretchen Rubin, “ You increase your self respect when you feel you’ve done everything you ought to have done. And if there is nothing else to enjoy, there remains that chief of pleasures: the feeling of being pleased with oneself. A man gets an immense amount of satisfaction from the knowledge of having done good work and having made the very best use of his day and when I am in this state I find that I thoroughly enjoy my rest and even the mildest forms of recreation.”
Kelly: It’s contentment. You’re not striving for anything more. You feel like you’ve done everything you can possibly do that day.
Amber: If I’ve worked hard that day, I’ve exercised, and I’ve made sure Sienna is okay, she’s sleeping in her bed, her lunch is packed… then I can sleep well. That’s balance for me.
How do you achieve balance between your own needs and the needs of your children? When do you get it right? When do you fail? Any tips for the rest of us? Please share!