Wednesday, August 28, 2013

straddling

I had to take our minivan to the dealership for a physical (I don't know--what do you call it when you have to take your car in for a visit to the car doctor? A well-car check? I plead ignorance and this parenthetical is now threatening now to take over the whole intro) and at the dealership they have honest to god carrels in a room off the waiting area, like a damn library. On one hand--how great! A quiet area with a desk and a chair and a power outlet to get some actual work done! And on the other hand--how long do you expect that I'm going to be sitting here, exactly?




Well, nothing like a stretch of captivity to force you to update your foundering blog. Ahoy hoy.

Last week was my last week of working full-time. My first "official" week of working at a 60% schedule is actually the week of Labor Day, but I had this week fortuitously scheduled as a week off from almost a year ago, like I planned it this way the whole time, for transition. It's not so much a vacation as purely a maintenance period for our family (MAINTENANCE! That's the kind of car visit I'm at now! Le mot juste!) meaning yesterday I took Mack to the dentist and tomorrow I'm taking Nina for her one year well-child check and now I'm here looking at a wonderful hubcap display and wondering if I should get purple under-light effects to make our suburban splendor-mobile that much more splendid. I mean, it seems excessive and yet this pamphlet makes such a compelling case for them...

I am so excited to enter this next phase of being more engaged or at the very least present for my out-of-hospital responsibilities, but I acknowledge that various internalized cultural attitudes have been a little difficult for me to shake. Namely, I find that I really have to check myself from being too defensive when people talk to me about my part-time status. 


JOE
(As we are engaged in high-level strategy talks about managing yet another week of juggling 
call schedules, OR and clinic times, childcare, meal timing, and after school activities)
Man, this is hard. I can't wait until you start slacking off at work a little bit.

MICHELLE
SLACKING OFF?

JOE
I mean...not slacking...I mean...you know what I mean! Working less! Working less at the hospital!

MICHELLE
THERE IS NO SLACKING INVOLVED HERE. NO SLACK
ALWAYS WORKING! HARD WORKER ME!



Or possibly this:


CO-WORKER
So, you're going part-time, huh? Sounds nice.

MICHELLE
(Cautiously)
Yes...

CO-WORKER
Gotta go be mom. I get it. I wish I could do that.

MICHELLE
DO YOU THINK THIS WAS AN EASY DECISION OR SOMETHING?
BECAUSE IT WASN'T! NOTHING EASY! EVERYTHING HARD!

CO-WORKER
Uh...
(Starts backing away, feeling for the doorknob)


And also:


RANDOM PERSON
Hello--

MICHELLE
(Pointing)
AND YOU! I'LL HAVE YOU KNOW THAT I HAVE AN EXCELLENT WORK ETHIC.

RANDOM PERSON
Aha. Huh. Well, as I was saying, "Hello, and welcome to Target."


Anyway, sorry world. Obviously I am having feelings. It's like I'm all messed up on my Erikson's stages. Instead of "Generativity vs. Stagnation" I've regressed back to "Identity vs. Confusion." (Also, can we all acknowledge that the fact that I even remember any of this from second year med school psych is pretty fucking impressive? OK, not so impressive, but notable at least.)

I don't know why I default to the defensive--maybe I need to prove to myself and everyone that I'm not "slacking off" or "opting out" or taking some slow boat to Shangri-La. Not that anyone has implied that, I think it's pretty clear that going part-time at work amounts more to scaling back on one type of (rewarding, highly-paid) work and scaling up on another type of work which is both unpaid and elicits a less direct, calculable form of appreciation. Not that I need my head patted constantly, but I think many of us have experienced the Moebius strip that is the endless cycle of keeping a three-kid household running smoothly, and how the loss of old workday landmarks can make things both easier and harder.

I know I'm probably stomping all over the landmines with this but just hear me out, I'm sitting in the backroom of a Toyota dealership waiting for them to finish checking my brake fluid or god knows what else so this is a bit of a rush job. I realize that my defensiveness is just part of my natural adjustment to our new situation (see also: guilt at bringing home less bacon than I was before, particularly after many years of being the primary or equal bacon...herder) but this all makes me happy that I have the option to partially scale back as opposed to having to make a binary choice to be all in or all out. The identity loss I'd have without some career focus would definitely be traumatic, and I think that this option, the part-time option, might allow me the best of both worlds. That's the theory anyway, and hopefully once I see that, I'll stop alternately taking everyone's head off and showily doing one-armed push-ups to prove that I'm JUST AS POWERFUL AS I EVER WAS.

(Psychological problems! I has them!)


*          *          *


I was going to write some more stuff here, but in the interest of just getting this up and saying BLOG UPDATE: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED I'm going to save that for next time. My goal in general, by the way, is for there to be a next time more consistently, and to do a little more writing in addition to the other thousand things that I've been neglecting in the past year. And now I have no idea how to end this  entry so I guess I'll just put in this video of Nina lurching around because didn't you hear, she's a toddler now.  Unreal.




24 comments:

  1. Kandiboo12:23 PM

    welcome back to sanity~~~ :)
    while my life is getting absolutely insane. I have been following your blog since end of medical school (with me LOL with scutmonkey comics) thru internship and ta-da... finishing residency (is that what you call it in the States? we call it specialty here, a 6 year ordeal) - and realizing that i am probably every bit of the "overworked bitch goddess" that you have drawn!!

    congrats and wishing you well on the start of your "2nd ful-ltime" career

    ReplyDelete
  2. Unreal - I can't believe Nina's a toddler! So happy to see you back on the blog. Hope this new transition is a positive one for you and your family.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This post totally cracked me up. I feel the same way a lot of the time, when people comment that I am choosing my specialty for "family" or "lifestyle" reasons -- like those are bad things or something. However when I protest (I swear I am choosing XYZ because I love it! And I plan to work really hard! Full time!) sometimes I'm told that "as a mother" I *should* take these things into account, and that it would be selfish of me to do otherwise.

    My husband is sick of hearing me complain about these conversations, so he suggested that I say, "HELL YEAH!" should anyone suggest I'm selling out. He also suggested tagging, "What, jealous?" on the end, but that just seemed gratuitous.

    Congrats on going part time! I really hope it turns out to be everything you wanted.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Babies love walking while holding balls. The unfortunate thing is, they also love falling while holding balls. And they don't let go of the balls! Silly babies. Congrats on the part time thing. It's such a tough decision, and you'll always find yourself justifying it. But that's OK, it's how we humans solder on.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I work not quite full time as well (35 hrs), though in a normal office job. In this Lean In moment in women's history, I feel like a jerk for not wanting to lean in aaaaallll the way. I will sit at the table and do all those things while I am here, but I can't just turn off the part of me that doesn't want to miss Little League or doctor's appointments. And, kids begin forming an opinion about your presence or lack thereof at some point.

    No matter what I outsource or not, I am a Full Time Mother, whether I like it or not. So when something has to give, absolutely, it is work that gives first. It doesn't mean I don't like work, but it is clearly lower in the pecking order. Which is all just a really long way of saying, your defending your choice really resonated with me.

    We share an alma mater (class of 96 here), which I love, but sometimes I feel such shame in comparison with the alums who are lauded for their accomplishments. Like I'm such a fraud to be in the same circle as not one but TWO secretaries of state. AND an astronaut. While I can't manage to work 40 hours a week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I think even Madeleine Albright (Class of '59) acknowledged that while it is possible to have it all, it's just not possible to have it all at once. And I take solace in that because, you know, MADELEINE ALBRIGHT.

      Delete
  6. Hi Michelle, I stumbled on this cartoon today and it is seemingly perfect in your situation (see link below). This next week marks my one year anniversary of being part-time as an OB, and it has been one of the happiest year's of my life to have been home to spend more time with my son. It gets easier to "defend" your position to others - and eventually, even to yourself. But little cartoons like this and realizing you aren't alone in your decision making certainly helps too...so best of luck in your transition :)

    http://i.imgur.com/V6KoHbF.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous7:19 PM

    Wow! Just had to weigh in. I am coming up to 40 years as a registered nurse, 30 of those years as part time, 15 of those 30 yrs was very part time. My first seven childless years were full time, now my last few years are full time.
    You will go to work for a "rest"
    Your children will only be sick the days you are scheduled to work.
    You will be perceived as not having a "real" job, and because you are "part time", you should be able to switch your shifts on a whim (Don't go there, Joe)
    Connect with a group of Moms who are in the same situation, so that when you can absolutely not stand another minute of whining, crying, barfing and snarly children you can call and say "I will take your children for 2 hours if you will take mine for 1 hour" And mean it, and do it.
    Cherish your cleaning person.
    Have date nights, keep the fire going!!!
    Then, there is this,
    Our fourth child (a daughter, age 29, who lives across the country) got married last weekend. (The last one!!) The night before her wedding, I woke in the middle of the night to find her standing beside the bed (as my children would do). She said she was cold, so I pulled back the covers and she crawled in (as my children would do) I wrapped her in my arms as I had many times before and we fell asleep together. Delicious.
    There is not enough Propofol in the world to match this. Be patient, the time flies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous11:01 PM

      What a wonderful story about your daughter. Thanks for sharing.

      Delete
  8. Anonymous9:05 PM

    Michelle, I cannot say enough how much I appreciate you discussing this. I am struggling with similar decisions right now (but I dont't even have kids yet!) feeling totally burned out after 1 year as a family medicine attending. My husband isn't a physician but his work schedule is about the same. I feel like a total quitter for even thinking about working less, but at the same time I'm feeling like I spend more time with the night-shift office cleaners than my husband. Good for you for making this choice.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous10:11 AM

    I am about to start a not-quite-full time attending position (80% time) and am so happy about it. I agree with the poster who suggested saying "HELL YEAH" if others comment on your plans with snark or jealousy. I am definitely doing it to spend time with my baby daughter and also as kind of a middle finger to my work life after it so thoroughly dominated me during med school, residency, and fellowship.

    My hypothesis: what's driving this anxiety is our self-esteem and where we get it from. The old "ego ideal" (can you tell I'm a psychiatrist?) might not fit anymore and we have to molt that skin and find a new one (I'm also an amateur herpetologist! Kidding). It's adaptive during residency to have a self-image of being an excellent soldier and giving work one's utmost dedication, but if one pulls back from that it starts to feel bad, like laziness. Like Comic Book Guy. Until we find a new self-image that doesn't make us feel like we're not measuring up somehow, we'll always feel like, to use your quote, "maybe I need to prove to myself and everyone that I'm not "slacking off" or "opting out" or taking some slow boat to Shangri-La." Just my two cents. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

    --Eleanor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember early on in my intern year in Pediatrics, one of my senior residents called me "the perfect resident." I think it's one of those ultimately back-handed compliments (not that she intended it as such), because she basically meant that I did a lot of work without ever complaining and no one had to follow along behind me with a mop--but something in that compliment probably imprinted on me in such a way that I still probably seek to be that "perfect resident" (or whatever the real-life analog to that would be) long after those things still mattered to the same degree.

      Anyway, I agree with you--I think that the work and my attitude towards work was a large part of my identity (at least in my own mind), and now even though scaling back is the right decision, I feel some cognitive dissonance.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous6:49 PM

      I think you posted a while back Nora Ephron's graduation speech (yes, here it is: http://theunderweardrawer.blogspot.com/2010/12/ladies-and-gentlemen-nora-ephron.html

      I like her exercise of using 5 words to describe yourself, and how her 5 words changed so much over the course of her life.

      --Eleanor

      Delete
  10. Thank you for posting this. I for one hope negativity stays out of the comments because I think it's fair to say most mothers struggle with the decisions they make around kids vs work. I am a teacher with a 17 month old and I have felt so guilty and unmotherly in the last couple weeks because I am SO DONE with being at home with my daughter. I miss work so much and at the same time, I feel incredible guilt that I don't have more patience and joy being at home. Hope you are happy with your new balance and can silence your inner critic. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous9:23 PM

    Oh man, I know exactly what you are talking about. I work part time as a cardiologist. When I chose part time work after fellowship, I got a lot of "what are you going to do in your time off? Play mommy?" (thanks, asshole) Anyway, I share a similar work ethic to you, I think (probably as a result of training at the same institution you did), and the way I get around the feeling that I'm not contributing as much to the medical machine is that when I'm at work, I'm there 100%. I don't schedule kid things for my working time, I don't try to quarterback things involving my kids while I'm there, and I'm far more productive in my time there than some of the full timers. In exchange, when I'm with my kid I'm there 100%, I don't check work email, I don't respond to work email, I don't have a pager, etc. You'll find a balance, just give it time. And don't worry, for all the medical people who judge you for only working part time, there are all the non-medical people who judge you for working AT ALL because why should you work if your husband has a well-paying job, wouldn't you rather be a stay at home mom? You can't win, just accept it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have never seen anyone describe a baby's movements as lurching, yet, so apt!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous12:43 AM

    Call me selfish but I am glad your part time status may enable you to blog/ write more! :))
    Good luck with the new work arrangement. I am sure it was not an easy decision. I have struggled with the same issue for a year. I am on a 3 week vacation now and every morning of that first week, my 3 year old asked me if I was going to work, when he saw me changing for the day. It made me so sad that he seems to know nothing but!

    ReplyDelete
  14. It is so wonderful to be able to come here and read your writing again! Thank you.

    I feel similar pangs of guilt/defensiveness about my choice of specialty. I was so clearly focused on surgery, and had such tremendous faculty support, but a month before ERAS opened last year, doubt began gnawing at me. I chose a shorter, more family friendly, more flexible specialty, and a lower-tier residency program because it would obviate a move. I felt like I failed myself - failed to "realize my potential," and that I let down everyone who had supported my passion for surgery. I feel an added level of guilt because of the gender gap in surgery, and I do miss the OR, but I miss and need my kids so much more. Two months into intern year and I am absolutely certain I made the right decision, but I'm still working on not being defensive. "Girl strong! Girl can cut!"

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous10:30 PM

    OMG LOL! I can just see your head exploding at every breath people take in your direction. First things first, get yourself the largest bottle of grey goose vodka and buy yourself the 500 pack of red SOLO cups. That's to let all the hater's know you're on "part time" stay at home mommy status. Second thing a vascular attending just told my husband last weekend as they were rounding on SUNDAY (his wife was out of town for two nights on a girl's trip and he was home with his two kids just in the evening because the full time nanny had them during the day while he was "part-timing" it and juggling being on call) "MAN!!!! Being a stay at home mom is THE HARDEST JOB IN THE WORLD HANDS DOWN. I don't know how my wife does it. I would lose my G-damn mind. Those kids are so MUCH work!!!!" So there you have it. You don't need to explain anything to anyone. You have the hardest job in the world (being a mom) and now you need to find yourself some medication (grey goose vodka with some pink lemonade and a red solo cup) 'nuf said my dear :)

    This from a mother who lost "it" -- yes my psyche --- twice on Wednesday, is hearing voices and hallucinating mildly (I often hear lots of crying in my head, half the time it's fake and the other half it's real--my 11 month old calling for me way too soon before nap time should be over) but lived to see a better day. Nothing a little take out and alcohol can't fix (oh and online shopping of course)! =) teehee (For the record I am smart and have a college degree but my husband's career mixed in with my kids pretty much make me sound/look/feel like a complete lunatic)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous11:49 PM

    Hi Michelle,

    Been a huge fan of your blog which has really been insightful and helpful.

    Good for you for taking the brave and difficult decision for doing what you feel is needed to meet your family needs the best way possible.

    There is an article that may interest you from the Atlanta
    http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/
    By ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER that raised some interesting points about how much is actually given up to protect the notion of women having it all, all at once.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous11:50 PM

    Sometimes something needs to be done and one resists because one is trying to fight against a stereotype. But to be able to evaluate what is needed and how best to tackle the issue even if it involves redefining one's boundaries and personal choices is a very brave and admirable thing to do.

    As you say, why you and why not Jo cutting back involves a realistic evaluation of your specialties, where you are in your careers and who can realistically cut back with least impact to career.

    I am an anesthesia resident who has one child and currently my architect husband has cut his work down to 4 days x 10 to 11 hour shifts in order to make his work commitments and have one day where he spends time taking care of our child for the full day. Our hope is that eventually we are both able to do a more truncated work week and have more dedicated time with our kids. They are truly only with us for usually nineteen years max and and the days may be long at times but the years are short.

    While I really enjoy my work and the privilege of caring for patients, I do feel that there are things my child will need that I would like to be there to provide. Can your child be happy and healthy and well adjusted being cared for a lot by someone who is a non- parent? Of course yes. But do u want him or her to be so reliant on someone else for parenting ? Only we ourselves can answer what right for us.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anonymous11:52 PM

    For my husband and I even though we knew others could be there and could do a good job for taking care of our child, we wanted to create that space of time so that we are getting the chances to take him to the aquarium and have playground days that aren't on such a tight I-only-have-a-few-hours-so-you-better-make-this-count schedule. We wanted the option of having time in our schedule where if a family member was ill or needing help, we had some extra time to help. There will never be a shortage of patients needing care an interesting cases and a career needing a dedicated doctor, but for us we needed more time to address parenting and family needs to be the kind of parents and sister/daughter, brother/son, and friend that we wanted to be.

    When we make choices to fulfill the varied roles in our lives, that 24 hours gets divided differently than had we not had all these other roles. And everyone decides their own level of sacrifice and balance.

    One parenting book I read "siblings without rivalry" suggests that for a truly meaningful relationship a parent needs to spend at least two hours of one on one time with each child per week during which they are doing an activity of the child's choice. Grocery shopping with a child doesn't count unless that is what they want to do with this two hours per week. This is the minimum amount they say is needed to create the time and space and opportunity for your child to have positive associations with you and to have the opportunity to Le you into their lives and their world. (Of course I have no idea how evidence based the studies they quoted were, but on an intuitive level it makes sense that if you can't see your mom or your dad separately for even two hours a week per parent, then how would they know what was going on in your life beyond a superficial rushed level ? You were most likely to confide your concerns and seek advice on your problems from someone else who wouldn't be rushing off to do something and looking at the clock. This two hour per week also has to be discipline free and safe time so it is just the time for positiveness. As one child psychiatrist said even if your child has just burned down the house, and wants to toast marshmallows in this protected free time, you should without reprimand during this time period. Children need , the book argues, at least two hours one on one per week with a particular parent before they can start to have a relationship with that parent that is meaningful. ( of course as with all parenting books, do take with a grain of salt)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous11:53 PM

    I have personally not met a family with three kids that is able to have as much kid parent time as needed with both parents working > 50 hours per week unless one parent really only needs three hours of sleep a night. At three kids, It may be very possible but I have yet to see an example where there is not a big tightrope and everything is stretched to the limit in terms of time and patience and the kids are not having to rely a whole lot on the nanny or grandparent or whoever is the alternate caregiver.

    Ultimately they are your children and will adapt to whatever you have chosen for them. You can be the parent that is there for the musical recitals but don't have the time for them to feel they can share their problems without being rushed by life's demands on you. But in the end, it is you and joe that decides how much of what experiences you want to have and how many special moments with your child you are willing to give up for work.

    I think it is a very brave decision you are making and the more amazing people like you willing to make this type of work-life balance switch without compromising quality of work, the more it becomes easier for the rest of us to make our families an equal priority to our career and to define flexible careers that can allow care of our children as we see fit. Thank you for doing this even though it must not be easy and hopefully Joe will get the chance to cut down his hours at some point to be with his children as much as he wants to be as well.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous10:51 PM

    Oh, my gosh. I am so glad you posted this because it is like you were talking about me. I am currently working full time, in an internship and in graduate school and I somehow feel GUILTY about scaling back my work hours. And when people make even the tiniest comment about me working less, I turn into the Tasmanian Devil (figuratively, of course!). The day that someone commented about me 'only' having a 'half day,' I am pretty sure the shriek was heard around the world. Why do we do this to ourselves?

    ReplyDelete