Monday, February 28, 2011

The balancing act we all face

One of the hardest things I struggle with is finding balance.

Not so much between keeping work, motherhood and social life juggling at once. I've gotten better at that, interestingly, since I became a mother and realigned my perspective about what is important in life. (In my 20s I was a workaholic, in my 30s I was rediscovering the value of HAVING a social life, now in my 40s I am setting aside as much time as I can for family life.)

What I mean by finding balance is understanding when to persevere....and when to let go.

We hear how we have to "set our intentions" and "make a plan" to have a goal come true.

But especially as I get older, I recognize the value in letting some things happen naturally, and that it is folly to try to force square pegs into round holes. The trick is: how long does it take to recognize when something won't work, no matter how hard you try, or how much you ask the universe? And: when do you have to fight off despair, hopelessness and frustration so you don't give up too easily?

In the Thinking stage, we wonder if we can handle single motherhood, and if we should keep dating. In the Trying stage, we wonder if we will ever have the child we want so desperately, if we are too old to make it happen, if we will pass that home study even without perfection. As Moms, we wish we could see what we are doing with our children today that will have the most impact so we can focus on that: preparing a sane family meal after providing financially and getting them to extracurricular activities while making time for play and extended family and reading and cleanliness and homework and our own mental break is hard to do every day.

Most of us tend to have a lot of stamina, which is how we got to this point in our journey rather than giving up and settling for something less.

How much pushing is too much?
How much hope for a miracle is simply not realistic enough?
How much time can we spend waiting and wishing, before we sit down with ourselves and make a new plan?

No one has answers to these questions. Which is what makes it so hard. There is no formula to achieving what we want.

But I did hear yesterday some sage advice on the subject.

My beloved minister told a story from author Rachel Naomi Remen about the Concorde jet that first flew across the Atlanta. A reporter discovered that computers kept the plane on course, essentially feeding each other readings and making course corrections accordingly. The reporter asked how often the plane was off course. "About 99 percent of the time," was the answer. Yet the plane was also expected to land in its destination within one minute of the scheduled time.

The lesson being that we might deviate greatly, daily -- hourly even -- as we move toward our goal. But as long as we remember where we want to be, it gives us the purpose we need. As Rachel put it: "Serving anything worthwhile is a commitment to a direction over time...It is less a work of the ego than a choice of the soul."

With that in mind, as I hem and haw my way through another week of choices and second-guessing and errors, I can keep front of mind that ultimately I am trying to find balance as a single mom, currently with two jobs, an old house, and a social life that needs work. There is no perfect course to that. I just need to be prepared to keep re-aligning myself whenever I get off direction.

What about you? What are you trying to stay on course to do?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wish List: The Best Partners

Admittedly I've become pretty oblivious to Valentine's Day. But that doesn't mean I don't have dreams...

In one daydream, I have a fabulous boyfriend who is an electrician, so he can fix the fixtures that need to be replaced.

Last fall, I had an ultimate handyman for awhile. He was diligent and took great pride in his work. But after I mentally counted up hours, then asked for a preliminary bill, it went downhill quickly. He didn't take credit cards, and didn't like the idea of installments. So he stopped showing up, leaving many projects undone before I wanted to get the house on the market. Ah, financial woes drove us apart.

My daughter recently uncovered an essay I wrote years ago, after a backpacking trip through Europe, where a male friend and I -- to pass the time -- discussed what was on my ultimate wish list for a partner. My daughter was amused, and slightly appalled, at what I had written. It was a pretty tall list. Even my 11-year-old could see that. He would be a drummer with a ponytail AND a former corporate executive who had left that world for freedom. He dressed a certain way, fancied particular foods, read specific books and even had a slightly pretentious drink of choice (brandy -- that was supposed to be a flaw).

Granted, it was a laundry list created in humor. But once upon a time, weren't we all a bit lofty in imagining our ideal mates?

When I was in high school, I had an even stranger list. I've written about this before. I would pick 10 particular boys I knew and rank them in three specific criteria, in a highly complex mathematical equation that was going to tell me which one I should date.

Of course, I dated none of them. In fact, talked to very few of them. There were a few who were always on the list -- so I probably should have made the effort more. But as a fairly aloof person who didn't date even then, I spent much more time with my gay best friend than anyone else. (And the "Seven Dwarves" pack who were largely my four-wheeling and poker-playing buddies.)

Sense of humor has always been on the list. The rest varied considerably, depending on mood and age and stage.

As many Choice Moms discuss at our networking events, another characteristic that automatically goes on -- and stays on -- after we get on this path is "good with my kids." We are surprised, in fact, when we realize how many wrong people we could have avoided had we simply had our kids as a kind of litmus test. "Doesn't play well with youngsters" is a real turn-off. And in tandem, "plays well" often brings people into focus who never would have been there before.

I joked with a Choice Mom friend yesterday that I had the perfect partner suggestion for her: the build she likes, and good with his kids. "Isn't that all you need?"

What about you? No matter what stage you are in on this journey, do you still have a wish list? Does it look anything like the one you had when you were 25?