Trade Offs

I’ve been thinking about trade offs lately. Tis the season. It is the holidays, and there is always something going on. Solstice celebrations and Christmas cookie exchanges. Treats in every office break room and invites to dinner with friends. Bottles of wine and bottles of scotch. The flurry of end of the year record keeping and presents to buy. Time off from work and trucks to service, hair cuts to get, graduations to celebrate.  Sleep to catch up on and college applications due. Traditions to keep and traditions to toss. I am only one person. I cannot do it all.

Jim never understood trade-offs. He was a man with seemingly unlimited energy. His response was generally, “I can fit one more thing in…”. So, he did dishes (and went to the bathroom) with a telephone headset glued to his ear. He used a space heater and fluorescent lights so he could wax skis in the wee hours, after a full day in the classroom, a bike ride, and a quick dinner with the kids and me. He had a never-ending to do list, at least 3 paper calendars to keep track of it all, and I got really good at fitting myself in along the margins. If I, exhausted, argued, his retort was, “no matter what I do, it is never enough.” It took me years to realize, and finally verbalize, “That is because I want you to do less.”

My life, and I don’t think it is uncommon to many working moms, was a series of trade offs. I traded the fun of taking my young kids to Toddler Co-op for professional work. I traded career development and a “real job” for the afternoons of naps and kid’s music and sport activities. I traded multi day ski trips in the back country with Jim for day after day of sledding and hot cocoa. I traded yet another night on the couch with kids for girlfriend gatherings, explaining that “Mommy likes to play with her friends, too!” I traded nights of solid sleep for the joys of Jim in my bed, but I also traded slow wake-up snuggles for the routine of early morning runs.

When a person dies, you get to adopt portions of their personality that were previously off-limits. I got goofier, and less emotionally stable after my sister died. Much more fun! Unconsciously, I have adopted Jim’s “I can do it all” approach to life. Perhaps it is a way of honoring him, of keeping his memory alive. While it is vibrant, it is not always fun, and it is often exhausting. I am only one person. I don’t have another body willing to slip in along the margins to support me. I’m going back to trade offs. This is a very different life space. I wonder what the trade offs will be.

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5 Responses to Trade Offs

  1. Karen Jennings says:

    Wow. I can relate to your trade-offs. The trade-offs are worth it, though. For example, working perhaps in a less stable job or in a less than full-time situation gives flexibility, which is frankly priceless. Jim did certainly max his 24 hours, but it obviously must have given him something in return. However, it’s important to have time to “put down the grocery bags” and do nothing, a valuable insight I gained from a stress reduction talk given at my workplace.

  2. Nancy Nelson says:

    I can see the trade off — the problem for me is trying to recognize when I’ve made a thoughtless trade off. How can I make sure I check: Is this what I REALLY want to be doing? I also need to make sure that I notice just how rewarding the things that I choose are. I got a little help from the mom of a student on Friday — she said “You’re the first teacher who’s made a positive difference for H. since it started getting hard.” Thanks for helping me choose the right things, Kathie.

  3. Gordon & Judi Allard says:

    Perhaps it’s our age, but we’ve had to say no to part of the seasonal social activities. Life is both more enjoyable and easier when we work with deliberately shortened “to do” lists. For one thing, we have more time for each other. We’re in that age group where a lot of deaths happen, so our time together becomes increasingly precious. Dad & Judi

  4. Mary Shafer says:

    Kathie, I wasn’t aware of this blog of yours, but I’m glad I found it. This is good stuff. Sending hugs and wishing you a fulfilling and not-too-busy holiday season.

  5. Great insight! Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

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