Saturday, August 20, 2011
How to Balance Two Careers and Three Kids Over Two Decades
In this blog, I generally focus on my life as a working mother. My husband Michael makes a cameo appearance now and then and generally prefers it that way. The truth is he is integral to my balancing act. And he has his own as another working parent. We celebrated 20 years of marriage this August 19. It is hard to believe two decades passed since we said our vows to each other. We are pictured here in Greece, his homeland which has grown in my heart to become my second home.
We got married the year before I entered law school. I was committed to going to the best one I could. I received an acceptance letter Georgetown University School of Law in Washington D.C. My joy and relief at knowing I had achieved a huge goal was tinged with sadness. Attending Georgetown would mean Michael and I would need to live apart. Michael’s work required him to be in Chicago where we lived at the time. A threatening black cloud marred my bright blue sky. Whenever I tried to bask in the glow of hard fought accomplishment, an ugly voice of doubt whispered in my ear, "What if this is not the right thing to do?"
But Michael was enthusiastically supportive. If we needed to live apart, then we would do that and it would be just fine. I worked a number of odd jobs to support myself through college including waiting tables. A few months later, I was wrapping up an evening weekend shift at a popular local burger joint downtown called Boston Blackie’s. The bar tender handed me the phone. I did not get many phone calls there. And cell phones were still uncommon . .I know I just aged myself . .a lot!
I had to plug one ear to drown out the restaurant noise. Michael was on the other end. He read to me from another acceptance letter, this time from the University of Chicago Law School. I could hear the happy tears he was holding back in his deep bass voice. I was struck at that moment that I truly could not say who was more overjoyed with this news.
After law school and a few years into my professional career, Michael encouraged me to take the leap and start our family although it took some time for me to get there. After our first son turned one, I received an offer to work at Sear Roebuck & Co. headquarters in the suburbs of Chicago, close to O’Hare International airport. I was a mixture of amazed, excited and terrified to be offered this senior level position only three years out of law school. But I didn’t see how I could make it work. We lived close to the city and fighting the traffic to get back and forth to the interviews had eaten up much of those days. And I didn't want to be the mom who didn't see her kid except on the weekends. Adding a long commute to a challenging job would make that nearly a certainly. At that moment, I felt completely torn between my professional ambition and my young son, who owned my heart.
Michael looked me straight in the eye and asked me, “Do you want to accept it?” I said, “Yes. I really do.” Then he responded, “Okay, then we will move closer and make it work.” For him, it was that simple. He too has professional ambitions. He has always made it about balancing both rather than trading off. But our family, then one son (and later his brother and his sister) were our priority.
Frankly, moving had not occurred to me. I was planning to turn down the offer and hope I would find something comparable closer. And if I am completely honest with myself, I couldn't imagine asking someone to make that kind of sacrifice for me, maybe in part because I am not sure I could reciprocate, although I want to believe I would. And move we did 6 months after I started the role.
A number of years later, I received another big stretch role, this one from Amazon.com in Seattle. Moving the family across the country was not so easy to contemplate. Our eldest was in a school he loved and Michael had a job he enjoyed. Michael was also under contract so could not leave for a year. Again, Michael pushed me to take on the new challenge even though it meant we would really live apart. For ten months, he flew back and forth approximately every two weeks from Chicago to Seattle.
It was one of the hardest things we had to do as a family. At one point, I got a sense of how lonely he was being there without us. I asked him, "What good shows have you seen lately?" His response was an assessment of the entire television line up for that year. And usually, he watches few shows outside of sports. I learned from friends he rarely went anywhere.
We spent Christmas in his one bedroom apartment as a family of four because he couldn’t come to Seattle because of his job. It forced us to live a whole different kind of together. But the experience brought us a deeper level of closeness. When Michael joined us permanently, we had gained a new appreciation for how much we enjoy being a family unit in all respects, including geographically.
Michael is my best friend. He is also my biggest champion. And he pushes me to take risks and make choices I likely would not on my own. I hope he knows how much I appreciate his support for my balancing act and how much I respect the choices he made to achieve his.
Here’s to twenty more wonderful years. . .TOGETHER!!