Steve Jobs said it right:
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Let’s be clear: I have not regretted my life a day since my children were born. I enjoy my job. I appreciate the lessons and relationships brought to our family by our wonderful nanny. I have maintained a relatively livable house. I have learned to navigate a crockpot like nobody’s business. It’s been a challenge, but I had it down.
The thing is, if given the choice (and assuming it were realistically plausible), I would much prefer to not walk out of my house every morning to sit in traffic and design websites, making constant phone calls home to check in on the status of my kids. I know Danielle was the best care they could’ve ever had, and for that we are so very lucky, but as a mother, you want to fill that role for your children. You want to be the reason they become the people that they become. I couldn’t shake this feeling, and I know a million working moms out there who completely agree with me. There’s no place like home if that’s where your heart is.
In the past few weeks, we’ve adjusted to a new lifestyle. A lifestyle I wouldn’t give up for anything. But, with happy change often comes momentary sadness and fear. Oh, lots of fear. To sum it up, here’s where we’ve gone in rapid-fire succession:
The End of an Era: Danielle’s Last Day
Nate and I found the kids’ nanny, Danielle, on Craigslist in 2009. We met her at Caribou, did a quick interview, I made some horrible jokes to break the silence, and we called her references. She was quiet – something I thought at the time was shyness, but realized later it was just her natural demeanor. She was hired and began watching Coen at our home when he was only three months old. I remember crying multiple times leaving in the morning. I remember having the long discussion with Nate about whether we should give her permission to drive him around town. We met all her family members, as they all trickled through the house at one point or another.We’ve had serious conversations and made light of bad situations. We were at her wedding, she was at the hospital to visit Mabel when she was born, we attended her best friend’s funeral. We’ve exchanged baby clothes with her sister. She has a heart of gold, and her calm personality was such a fabulous asset to Coen’s daily life. She would bring me Caribou on mornings I needed it the most. She always had the same answer on Monday mornings when I’d ask her how her weekend was – “went too fast.” She’d bring Coen sprinkle donuts from the gas station and somehow managed to lug both kids to Chuck E Cheese, the Mall of America, the Children’s Museum, the Zoo, or a bazillion other places I didn’t even know existed. I would come home to seasonal art projects and smiling faces. We couldn’t have paid her what she was worth to our family. As Mastercard would say, leaving your children with someone you trust almost more than you trust yourself is truly “Priceless.”
Danielle’s last day was September 20 and the morning she came in the door, I felt teary and emotional. I know we’ll still see her (hopefully a lot), but that daily ritual would just never be the same. I called my friend Anna crying from a stoplight near my office that morning. I knew this was going to boil over and it did. My children love Danielle. This day was inevitable, but that didn’t make it any easier. It’s all part of change. Bittersweet change.
Out of Office: A Move to Part-Time
The same day Danielle left was my last day as a full-time employee at my company of eight years. They’ve been with me since I graduated college. They’ve seen me bring dud boyfriends to holiday parties, get married to the love of my life, buy my first home, and bring my children into the world. They’ve supported me through frustrating times and have always advocated that “family comes first.” This is why I like my job. I like my bosses. I like the company name because it represents a family of people who care about life and relationships and more than just success. I’ve been around for eight years and in that time, the company has grown both in physical space and employee count. For eight years, I’ve parked in an Ewald-designated parking spot, walked the flight of stairs and auto-piloted my way to my cubical. I’m good at my job and I appreciate that people there aren’t afraid to tell me that. (They’re also not afraid to tell me when I’ve totally screwed up, so it goes both ways.)
After Nate and I did some number-crunching and decided that yes, maybe it would work for me to take a pay cut and stay home with the kids more, I asked permission from the big boss man. We talked, we were realistic, and we came up with a solution that could work for everyone. So, on September 20, I hung up my full-timer hat and rented a part-time fedora to wear for a few years until the kids are in school. I was nervous about figuring out the balance of how this would all work, especially since my job is very deadline-driven. I’m in my third week and I think I can safely say “so far, so good.” We’ll see how long my bank account lasts in the positives, but that too will be an adjustment. I’ll get there. Right now, the only thing I’m losing is energy. Coen was crawling all over me tonight and Nate told him to leave me alone for awhile. Coen asked (his typical), “WHY?” Nate’s response was truthful and quick. “Because you’re a lot of work.” Change is just that – a lot of work!
Letting Go: Entering Preschool and Daycare
This was the hardest of the changes. As a mother, sending your children in to a sea of other children, unaware of who they are and how they were raised, is a scary (and necessary) thing. After my first Monday at home was under my belt, I put Coen and Mabel to bed and stayed up late packing lunches and picking out outfits because we all know how much preschoolers care about brand names, right? I know Mabel, and I know she’s tough and resilient and that she would be able to hold her own at daycare, plus we really like her new provider so I had little fear about her next day. But as I put Coen down to sleep Monday night…my sensitive, shy little Coen…I found myself saying a quick to-the-point prayer that the other kids treat him nicely, the day go fast, and the teachers are swift to realize what a special boy he is. The next morning, drop-offs started with five minutes of tears and an emotional “Don’t leeeeeeaaave!” But his mood changed abruptly (shocking? Not really) when he recognized his teacher and looked up at me and Nate, stating, in a very matter-of-fact voice, “I’m not sad. You can go now.” It was music to my ears. Quick hugs and a verbal promise to pick him up at 4 pm and we were off! I held Nate’s hand as we walked down the stairs out of the school and I contemplated crying. I may have. I don’t remember. But, I kept reminding myself that I had permission to “go now.” I called at noon to check in, telling the teacher that I’m going to be one of “those moms.” She reassured me that “those moms” are “good moms” and that made me feel warm and fuzzy. Then she told me Coen threw flour in a little girl’s eye, and that warm and fuzzy left as fast as it came.
Mabel warmly reaches out to Stephanie nearly every morning, so my maternal instincts just know that’s a good fit. She is surrounded by three other well-behaved toddlers who love having a “new baby” around to play with. Nate and I took her in to the house together and loved her up until she was smiling with the other kids, unaware that we were leaving. We left, and she was probably still unaware that we left. That’s a good thing!
Overall, from what we can tell, the kids are pleased with their new arrangements. I mean, they have moments of sadness and plenty of hissy fits before leaving the house, but upon arrival there are smiles and upon pick-up there are stories. Last night before bed, I was laying with Coen and he told me, “I just don’t love you when you leave me at school.” That one stung a bit, but I know he has fun and I know it’s needed. Necessary change. That one is the most painful. Definitely leaves the biggest bite in your parental confidence.
So, in Summary…
As a parent, we know the meaning of change all too well, and we know how wonderful it can be. When a kid just decides to sleep through the night, when a crawl turns to a walk, when shoes can be put on without assistance…natural changes are destined to happen. And the ones that happen through intentional and purposeful choice? Well, those are the ones that make your children even stronger. And those are the choices that we, as parents, should be most proud of. Nate and I made the choice to cut my pay, cut my hours, and increase my time at home with the rugrats. We made the choice to send them to places we trust and are hopeful for great payoffs. We made some hard and exhausting choices, but we go to bed at night knowing our kids are on the right track. We go to bed proud.
So, Mr. Jobs, thank you for the advice. Thank you for pointing out the very clear fact that if you’re not 100% happy, no one can change that but you. And, not that I want today to be my last day on earth, but if it were, I can honestly say that I did enjoy how it was spent…in the home with the ones I love. We only go around once, people. Make it count.