By Suzanne Swaner
I was recently at the dentist when I found myself with a few minutes of down time while the numbing agent took effect. "Grab a magazine. I'll be right back," the dentist said. I got out of the chair and flipped through the choices in the Lucite magazine rack on the wall. Field and Stream? Uh, no thanks. Parents? Only as a last resort. MORE? What is MORE? Reading more closely, I saw the complete title. MORE For Women of Style and Substance. Hmmmm. Style? I looked down. A navy Lily Pulitzer blouse and scarf, semi-cool jeans, and navy blue patent leather Tory Burch heels. A lot of blue, admittedly, but I am proud of those shoes. So, for that day and perhaps that day only, an enthusiastic "yes" on Style. Substance? I think so, although candidly I am not above the occasional idle chit chat a/k/a gossip if there is something newsworthy that requires vetting among friends. So "yes" on Substance, albeit with slight pause. I picked up the magazine and turned around to head back to the dental chair. As if to somehow validate my magazine selection, I made a pit stop at my purse and applied some Laura Mercier lip gloss (Style) and checked my iPhone for an important email I was waiting on for work (Substance). Satisfied with the legitimacy of my choice, I sat down and started reading.
I quickly came upon the Editor's Letter in the December/January issue, "Why Work-Life Balance is a Crock" by Editor-in-Chief Lesley Jane Seymour. Music to my ears. The Letter begins with a self-deprecating story about the time Seymour dropped her kindergartener off at school on a snowy day that had resulted in the cancellation of school, unbeknownst to her since her new-to-the-community family wasn't added to the "official school calling list" developed for such occasions. She only realized her mistake when the principal called after finding the kid wandering the hallways alone. (As an aside, as a working mother I understand how that could happen. Really, I do. Especially if a person lives anywhere other than Texas, where snow days are few and far between and the news media cause mass hysteria by reporting even the remote possibility of snow and encouraging people to load up on rations and prescription medication.)
Seymour cites that incident as an example of her failure to effectively balance work and family life. Her children now grown, Seymour admits she used to "cringe" when people asked, "So how did you do it all?" Seymour says the answer is simple. She didn't. With perspective that only time can bring, Seymour notes, "[T]he reality is that balance only happens over a lifetime—there will be years when you must choose family over work and years when you must do the opposite. And some, frankly, when you will run around with your hair on fire until you figure out what works for you." I read the those words again. And again. At that point, I was a little more than halfway through the Letter. Then the dentist came in and it was off with the lip gloss, out with the magazine, and time to drill. Dang it.
I thought about Seymour's words of wisdom for the next 45 minutes, interrupted only by orders to rinse and spit, the burning smell of the dental drill, the unique sensation of tooth shrapnel exploding in my mouth, and the occasional jab of stinging pain, or "nerve sensitivity" as the dentist called it. Until reading that quote, I viewed achieving the work-life balance as treading water. That is, doing just the right things to try to stay afloat for infinity – with one part of life existing below the water and one part above, and me doing my best to stay in harmony with both at all times. Until then, I had never thought of defining it in blocks of time. That is, of course, easy in hindsight. But it is certainly not impossible to forecast, either, in our profession and with a litigation practice. Since it was January, I thought about the upcoming year. Would 2012 be a year of work over family? Family over work? Anyone who knows me knows that this year it will be the former. (And anyone who knows me also knows there have been years where the reverse was true.)
The notion of defining 2012 as a "work dominant" year stayed with me after leaving the dentist. While I wanted to take the magazine, or at least tear out the Editor's Letter so I could finish reading it, such did not seem consistent with my newly-found designation as a Woman of Style and Substance. Plus, I had to go back to the dentist two weeks later and would ask for a copy of it then. With this strategy in place, you can imagine my disappointment when I returned to the office two weeks later to find the magazine MIA! Really! Who would do such a thing? I kept thinking about the article, however, and eventually did what any Woman of Style and Substance would do – found it online at www.more.com/editor-letter-december%20. (I know, I know. I should have thought of that sooner.)
After refreshing my recollection by reading the Letter (the whole thing, this time around), I went out there and managed expectations about 2012. My husband understands and appreciates what is in store for us in 2012, as do my children to a certain extent. And generally speaking, they are okay with it. To the kids, when Mommy is busy she is flying on lots of airplanes. Translation? Non-personalized airport presents. (Why non-personalized, you ask? Years ago, as a new parent, I started a "tradition" of getting my oldest son personalized airport trinkets (think South Dakota license plate keychain – cheap and lightweight). But I had to abandon that practice. You see, it was easy to find such treasures for Jack, my oldest, but impossible for my middle son, Wyatt. And let's face it, a kid will only accept so many "personalized" gifts that say "#1 Son" or "Rock Star" before he senses the injustice. So we have moved on to non-personalized magnets.) Our Nanny is in the loop that it is going to be a busy year, as are our extended family caregivers. The Room Moms were not quite as understanding when I resigned from the Valentine's Day Party Committee, but they can be a tough crowd at times. While balancing the chaos of life it isn't always fun, most of us are all on the same page in terms of what to expect over the next 11 months, courtesy of Lesley Jane Seymour. And the Room Moms will come around eventually.