By Debby Shulman
I sneak into my office one more time before I go to bed to check my calendar, return an email and look at one more paper. I never did this before; I used to be in bed by 9 p.m. reading Bon Appetit and back issues of Cooks Illustrated, in addition to whatever book I was into at the time. I had a full day of carpooling, PTA, working out and errands … not to mention the shopping and prep for whatever recipe I had sticky-noted the night before. THIS was my life. I loved it.
I loved the long winter afternoons baking in my quiet kitchen (my therapy), making a huge fire, opening a bottle of my favorite Two-Buck Chuck and preparing meals that my kids loved. Shoveling the driveway? Homework help? No problem – I had time for that. I had time for a lot of things.
Tonight, my kids made dinner, there is NO baking or cooking anymore and the only therapy is happening with my therapist. Mom has gone back to work, full-time AND over-time, and THERE IS NO TURNING BACK.
The house is not going to fall apart, my bathrooms are gross, and I think I changed the bed linens at some point in the last three weeks, but it just doesn’t matter anymore. I am working more than I’d ever imagined and I love it and all of the tumult that comes with it. I rely on my sister to feed my kids and make sure their heads are above water and the dog has learned that Mommy can only walk him when it’s convenient.
My kids can divide the darks and lights and are happy to do so if it means they actually have clean underwear. I eat standing up. THIS is now my life.
My three closest friends, I call them the “Three S’s” in the privacy of my home, all went back to work many years ago. Reinventing themselves (The Event Planner) and using their education and well-earned degrees (The Labor and Delivery Nurse and The Criminal Defense Attorney) — they all quietly waited for me to catch on. Working is good, doing what you LOVE is even better. They quietly dropped hints: I should take on more students, I should expand my practice, my youngest was starting high school … what was I waiting for?
And then, all of the sudden, I didn’t have time to wait. Working became a financial necessity and a scary one at that.
I have always loved tutoring. I loved teaching and writing with students. Over the years I had taken on students when it was convenient but always at my discretion. Not anymore. I joined a professional networking group, I built an office, I took every call and I met with every set of nervous parents. I found an amazing and loving employer who let me work for her and build a private practice at the same time …
I began the journey of the next chapter of my life but not without bumps in the road, and a sad amount of significant growing pains. I embraced that for what it meant and allowed myself to recognize that it wasn’t going to be easy.
How do we make it work? I had a job that enabled me to do what I loved but the hours were exactly when my own children needed me. From 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. at night, I work with seniors writing college essays, juniors battling term paper jitters and struggling to figure out the best way to get through U.S. History. The only way, and it was the most critical component to the balance I was searching for, was to build an office in the back of my house that enabled me to shout, “IS THAT YOU?” when the garage door opened. No more hugs and kisses after school – just tell me that you’re safe and you’re home. Proof of life … come to my office door and show me that you have 10 fingers and 10 toes and that you have survived high school for just one more day. Dinner is in the fridge and if you don’t like it, Trader Joe’s makes a mean mac and cheese.
I wanted to be at home but I had to work, so I figured it out and moved on. As I sit in my beautiful office, looking out the window, I realize how fortunate I am to have been able to juggle this dilemma. But they all are not so easy.
Frustrated at my inability to address all issues of the day, my kids have learned to rely on each other and save the drama for after the last student leaves…this is a good thing.
They have learned patience, endurance, and the lesson in working it out on your own. Our time together is more precious and therefore, more pleasant. But I won’t lie …
“When the Gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers” is one of my favorite quotes … Seriously, how much more can we take? As mothers we feel their emotional needs because it is innate, we hear the pain in their voices and we sense their confidence shift in the night … but I’ll be damned if I can address those needs with the regularity that I did when they were younger. Midnight calls from a library 4 ½ hours away, with worries about a midterm the next day. I love you, but do NOT wake me up like this anymore.
I feel confident standing my ground, declaring my needs, redefining who I am and why I like this person so much. Our children see that when we work and when we work hard. Lessons learned.
I love what I do. I am sad writing this because tonight I said goodbye to two beautiful students. They have finished their essays for college and the next time we meet, they will have committed to a school that we chatted about, fantasized about and wrote about. I hug them hard because our journey together is intimate – they must share with me who they are and why. They tell me what is scary and sad and what is exciting and joyful about their lives. They tell me their story. My athletes, my bookworms, my cheerleaders, my class presidents, and my geeks. Whispering words of wisdom, I let them know all will be okay and they will be successful if they are happy in what they do. Please God let my children be the same.
I practice what I preach.
Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.