Once upon a time, I had a job where I left my house every day. I traveled to a different building, where I would work with live human adult colleagues at the same time every day, or at least the same time every week. Truth be told, I had many jobs, often juggling several at the same time. But they all had one thing in common: they had a busy season.
When I taught college courses, I faced hard deadlines preparing classes, insane weeks of marking projects and exams. When I worked at various arts organizations, I looked at the big wall calendars and knew months in advance when we had major events and projects. There was always a lot to do, but you could tell from looking at the boards when we would be in “crunch time” – we had a busy season. In between, there would be quiet weeks, little calm periods sandwiched amidst weeks or months of intense pressure. I grew used to this ebb and flow of work, and believed I understood how to organize myself to take advantage of the lulls. I was the schedule master!
Then, I had children. Suddenly, every season became busy season.
During the season of infants, there is no respite. Basically, the first 6-12 months are an unrelenting tornado of eating, screaming and cleaning. Babies are a three shift job with no union breaks. I was the one up all night and then up all day. I look back on those days as a madcap blur. Nowadays I find a Hello Kitty sock in an old purse, and am transported back to a crisp fall morning drinking iced tea in the park while my first little baby laughed. Those sudden bolts of memory are magical. But for the most part, I can’t recall events or moments – even the milestones I dutifully recorded in notebooks seem like they happened to someone else. The work was relentless. I sincerely thought I would never be so busy (and yet feel so unproductive) again. As you can imagine, the universe laughed.
Someone is always there to tell me that the next phase will be the one that will kill me.
I’ve dragged my family through many seasons. Toddlerhood means constant laundry and vigilant supervision. Preschool years were a marathon keeping up with the two perpetual motion machines I am raising. Now in the elementary years, we cram our days and nights with educational and social obligations. This jam-packed itinerary is peppered with the agonies of growing. The children are now full little people who feel both the physical pangs of lengthening legs and the emotional jabs of learning to get along in a world that includes other people. I am no longer just a concierge and sherpa, but also a Freudian analyst and behavior modification expert. I still don’t get to breathe.
Meanwhile, the professional projects and ambitions I set aside in the fog of postpartum are back with a vengeance, taunting me. Get writing! Start producing! You need to make the world better for those children I decided to have. I can’t ignore that voice of ambition, and I don’t want to. But I still wish I could sleep more.
I want to look ahead and see a calm future.
I would love to once again look at the big annual calendar and circle the lulls between major events. But I no longer believe that is possible. Before I became a parent, I thought I understood time management. I thought I could plan my life to follow seasons of work and rest. I now know that when I had the kiddos – let’s call them Chaos Variable One and Chaos Variable Two – I eliminated the quiet spells. There is no off-season, at least not until they disappear into the post-secondary school void.
Life is the busy season.
Whenever I get frustrated by the shortness of the day, I try to remember that what we are doing right now is, in fact, the stuff of life. I may be stressed out, amped up and running exhausted on empty, but this is what family living means, right now and in this place. As a young professional, I used to joke that I would sleep when I was dead. Now that I am older and more mortal, I don’t find that wisecrack as charming. Yet, it’s still kind of true. The busy season with my kiddos may indeed mean navigating unfamiliar waters through a twenty year hurricane. I am still glad to be on board for the ride.