balancing acts are just acts

I’m getting tired of keeping up. I wonder when I’ll get to the point where I can stop working so hard. Networking, marketing, alliances. It’s all thinking, and while it can be very exciting, in the long spread of things, none of it matters all that much. Not to any of us. No matter how sweet the offer, how exciting the journey, or the opportunity, even when seen as a chance and an adventure, sometimes "someday" never comes, and life down the line doesn’t necessarily get easier.

I don’t want to live a life of "someday," where I believe a time in the future will finally be so much easier.That’s the bullshit we’re pedaled by financial institutions urging us to feed them our money, in their safe keeping, for that proverbial rainy day. I want to live without a computer for a week, or even a month. When my life doesn’t have to have deadlines or obligations. Where I can, if I so choose, spend the entire week seeing back to back movies, where I can discover new music, and just read books. I don’t want to look at a web browser, email client, or word processor. Sometimes we just need to recharge, to travel and immerse ourselves in "other." I want to spend my time writing for pleasure, photographing, stirring up recipes and crafts, getting glue on my hands. Making up silly bedtime stories and journaling all the sweet quiet moments. When she discovers an inch worm. When he pushes her back. Instead, I tackle to-do lists and feel like I’m suffocating.

I think too much about proving myself instead of doing only what brings me joy. The problem is you never want to look back and think you let an opportunity pass you by, so you take on too much, or do things half-assed. And then you’re irritated that you did them at all. And you regret your regrets and wonder if anyone really knows how to do it.

It’s harder when you have kids, too, because then it’s not only a choice you’re making between doing work, or not doing work. It becomes another choice you’re making. When you choose to work, it also means you’re choosing NOT to spend time with your children. That’s the choice you’re making. And then I walk around feeling the self-imposed guilt, no matter what I choose.

My children will only be this age once. I’m living it, and I’m very aware with each passing day, that these are the years I’ll look back on, the ones I’d trade anything in the world to have back. And it makes me cry, hysterically, even now in the writing of it. But what choice do I really have? To not give a shit how my book does? As it is, I’m horrible with returning emails, and I don’t remember the last time I picked up a phone to call anyone. My time is spent working, even my time with the kids, even when I’m reading to them, one story after the next, I’m thinking of my next book. I want to find the guy who came up with the "work hard, play hard" mantra and pass his testicles over a French mandolin.



  1. Life is a juggling act. Remember though, that the children grow up and move on. You will still have yourself; you will still have your needs and desires. You, as a parent, must still fulfill your needs or you will become miserable.

    I am looking at life from a completely different perspective. I have been married, happily, and unhappily, happily, and unhappily (For that is the way life really works.) to the same man since I was 19 years old and he was 26. I am now 39. Our oldest child is almost 14.

    I found myself telling my husband recently that "Nature" must make it so that parents love, love, love their children to the MAX…(like we do) and then "Nature" creates a switch in your children as teenagers that make them "snarky" and "crazy." So much so, that parents suddenly can't wait for them to move along! **grin**

    One of my recurring thoughts is that my husband and I had such a blast those first 6 years of our marriage alone without children, that I know it will be okay again, when I become an empty nester. I'm trying hard to show my children how to work hard and then reward yourself by playing hard.

    As a parent, just do your best. Have no regrets. Work. Be happy. Be a happy, working parent. Guilt… don't waste your time on it.

    :-) I hope a little of this makes sense to you.

  2. I think no matter what choice you make, there will always be the worry that you could have made a better decision. But sometimes you just have to let go and let things be what they will be. No matter how many times you're sure you are making the right decisions, there will still come a time when you will question the paths you've taken in life.

    I'm in that time right now, in a big way. I'm trying to figure out how to let go and not wallow in the decisions that I made in the past. It's much easier said than done.

  3. I think everyone would love the life of a billionaire. Just live and do what you want, no work unless you feel like it. If you're in that position, where you don't need to work, then stop. Otherwise, all of these things are there to support your life. Your love of going out to eat, Hermes scarves, private schools, department store makeup, traveling to see family, and whatever else you might like. Everyone feels the same. They get sick of work, worry they are missing out on the better things. There are very few people who have the luxury of never having to do something they don't want to do. So, just remember that all of this is because you're supporting a family. And you're so lucky you get to do something you love. You're not in a cubicle making money for someone else while you're being paid hourly.

  4. You know, growing up, I always thought work would be more about 8 hour days not 11 hour or more days, with extra networking attached and a bunch of other crap.

    It will work out for you, though. I know that was incredibly easy for me to say, but I think it will, once you find a balance that is acceptable to you.

  5. man, i'm feeling ya! spring arrived and it was like project central around here and i took too much on and it all became unenjoyable. now its a chore i have to finish. oh, and then its time to go back to work b/c that's all i've done on my days off. arghhhhhhhh!! so frustrating!! and then i get so mad at myself and tell myself i am a bad organizer and decision maker. glad to know i'm not the only who gets sucked into this!! misery loves company, right? let's all promise to do something completely different this next weekend coming!

  6. I think we all hear you. My to-do list for home and work is three pages long, typed single spaced. I'm trying to get a business off the ground while also dabbling in a hobby that I love that brings in some extra income. I come home from work some days so exhausted and overwhelmed that I just cry.

    How in the world do people do all of this, and then have children? Does the work load get easier or do you just get used to doing a half-ass job on everything? I know lots of people with lots of money, and their schedules don't allow for much downtown either, so I don't think it's an issue of wealth.

  7. Sometimes when I check in on your blog I get the impression you reached into my brain and pulled the topic. Much like today.
    I wanted a better job, a brighter future, so I took a job at a CPA firm. I've done tax season once before and it was managable. I was not a mom then though. Now I work until 8 or later. Sometimes I don't even get to see him before I leave in the morning. Nights are a flurry of dinner, bath time, cleaning, laundry. I find myself taking my stress out on him and uttering "Go play in your room"… or something else my parents said and I said I never would… I know all he wants is me, some time with me. And I just don't feel like there is any more of me to give between work, and the fiance that doesn't understand or help, the chores… I call it work guilt and mommy guilt. When I am here I think about K. When I am with K I am thinking I need to be working. It's no way to live life and leads me to think I need to find a different job. And I hate that because I think with a little time I could be great at this. But time is limited. I had my tubes tied and I don't get a second chance at seeing my child grow up anyways… Time is of the essence… and I just want to go hug my little K, my best friend in the whole wide world.

  8. I'll duck after I hit "post", but you'll get to someday a lot sooner if you don't have any more children. Your leisure time will grow exponentially as the beans grow. I'm 46 and my one child is in college. And I'm happy to be doing a lot of the things I love, things I put aside as my one was growing and needed me. But each year, she needed me slightly less, and I had slightly more time. While work takes up a good chunk of the daylight hours, not having a child to diaper/feed/ferry/supervise in the non-daylight hours make a huge difference.

  9. I was just having this conversation with my dad. Never mind the scenario– He told me that it was a huge revelation to him to read The Road Less Traveled, and realize that Life Is Hard. That's NORMAL. To be able to say "oh, it's not just me with the juggling problem" was a big relief for him.

    I'm not sure I've gotten there yet myself. I still want it to get easier down the road. For me, the book that made a difference is called "Your Money Or Your Life," by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. The book helped me redefine what "success" means. We live in a culture that is all about having more. More and better. Consumer Culture, it's called. Whether we actually need those things to be happy or not.

    What if we redefined success as "enough and then some?" What if we wanted a life in which being happy was about having time to spend on the things we most enjoy (like our children), and not spending our time in work so that we can get MORE of what we already have? Do you NEED the hot tub? Do you NEED the california closet design man to build you a special extra-large closet to hold all that clothing you don't even have time to enjoy wearing? Do you NEED to eat out three times a week? Do you NEED– whatever it is you're working over time to buy? Do those things contribute to your enjoyment of life, or to your stress load and guilt about the life you currently lead?

    Just some thoughts I'm pondering at present, as I strive for that impossible balance we're all trying to find. Great post, by the way. Thanks.

  10. As much as you don't want to hear this…I bet there are lots of things in your life that you don't HAVE to do. Scale back your priorities to what is important to YOU, not what's important to society or your ego etc. You're right–there is only so much time. Ideally, you'd like to do it all, but you can't (without hating the world and yourself). Sometimes you DO have to choose, even if it's only for a while. WHy not take some time off work? There is no reason you have to pump out another book right away. Many authors take five years or more between books. And it's not like you really need the extra income. Think about it.

  11. Suzanne, you are too right.

    You wrote something a while back about how when you become successful or reach a certain economic bracket, you set your achievement bar higher. I think (in my opinion) that instead of setting that bar higher, and yet enjoying the here and now, you’ve set the bar higher and your enjoyment only on reaching that high bar. In the last few posts, there has been very little enjoyment in your writing.

    It seems now you’ll only be happy if your book is a runaway success. Then what? You’ll only be happy if you win a National Book Award. Then what? You’ll only be happy if there is a successful t.v. show or movie based on your book. Then what? You’ll only be happy if you are super successful and also have gorgeous kids who are popular and in all the “right” (whatever right is) activities and speak at least 3 languages setting them up for this cycle of “only happy when I reach those bigger, better goals.”

    The last few posts seem to me to be very much infected with the fear you have of not appearing a certain way. To yourself and to others.

    “I think too much about proving myself instead of doing only what brings me joy.”

    Who are you proving yourself too? You have more than enough accolades pouring in from hundreds of people on a daily basis via this blog. It sounds as if that’s not enough for you. At least not anymore (i.e. now the bar is higher). Do you NEED the world to know you? Isn’t it enough to effect a few people profoundly or do you really just want to be well known by more people?

    “But what choice do I really have? To not give a shit how my book does?”

    No one is saying not to give a shit, but again, what is your definition of success? If you do well enough to keep your contract and are able to continue to write, is that success? Is it to win awards? Is it to reach the level of fame of Candace Bushnell (whose books, IMO are unreadable, but anything she writes will be a best seller)? Jennifer Weiner? One of my faves, Emily Giffin? J.K. Rowling?

    I have trouble enjoying life sometimes, experiencing highs and lows in what appears to be a wonderful, travel filled, luxury having, higher and post-graduate educated life, so pardon me if I’m wrong, but I recognize a lot of what I feel in this.

    It seems I am always preoccupied with besting whatever I’ve just achieved. Partly b/c that’s how I was raised, but even to this day partly because that phrase “success is the best revenge” drives me. I’ve never been slighted seriously, or cheated on, but I want success almost like it’s a little jewel on a crown I can show off to everyone.

    It’s similar to that chapter in Moose you called “The Hate Diet”. An i’ll show you-as I think you put it. I want success just to spite people sometimes. I want to lose weight to spite people sometimes. But isn’t that really just working our asses off (literally) for other people? When we are constantly working our asses off to appear to have an amazing life, what’s left inside a pretty, seemingly perfect package is an empty shell. I get tired of doing everything just to prove something to myself and to others. Seems you are too.

    Occasionally the mere thought of a H.S. reunion pushes me to go after something I don’t really want just to say I did it. I don’t know why. What can I say, impressing people and being an intellectual is part of who I am and in my view, it means a little less if other people don’t think that. Can you tell me that when you first got the book deal and knew your former in-laws would know about your huge success, and how you clawed your way back after they were so cruel to you, it didn’t make you smile to yourself. At least a little bit.

    What do YOU want to do for your enjoyment? Go see movies all day? You have a nanny and Phil shouldn’t begrudge you one day to yourself. Hell, take him with you. Tell him you only live once and to play hooky. 4 back to back movies never killed anyone, or made them not pay their electric bill.

    Take your kids to the park and let them get their beautiful, boutique clothing dirty! Personally, I’ve always had more fun dirty, than pristine.

    You will think about the book. You will think about the next one, and the one after that. It’s only natural, but you seem to let that overwhelm you, the pressure.

  12. This post and its comments are pretty interesting. On one hand, if you had a ton of money, you'd be happy and could just live (go to Hermes, not , etc) .On the other hand, sometimes we work too much only to acquire things we don't necessarily need, but somehow feel societal obligations to commit to tedium, whether it is work, networking, or just life. One side of my family are gazaillionaires, and trust me, life is not any easier (well, except for the amaZing kitchen, house in Palm Beach, and airplane) for them. They still have tedium and anxieties in their lives. The thing is for some of us (me included) is that we like working. At some point, I think we all could just use downtime in what my mother calls "soft clothes" where our time and our brains are uncommitted. Actually, I get antsy without regularly scheduled downtime.

  13. I'm sure there's more going on regarding your contractual responsibilities to the publisher than we're aware of.

    Ultimately you DO have a choice. There's ALWAYS a choice with every single thing you do. And with every choice, there are responsibilities.

    And remember, no matter what happens…you CAN handle it!

  14. Stephanie, from what I read on your blog I can tell that you are an exceptional person AND an exceptional mother. I admire you for what you have been able to achieve so far, and for how balanced you are. I have one boy who is the same age as your tots, I don't have a full time job, and I feel that on an average day I don't accomplish much. On the other hand, look at you! You have so much energy and a great attitude, and you get so much done (I was particularly impressed by your scrapbook, I don't think I would be able to make something like that in a million years). You might feel you don't, but I am sure that you do spend a lot of quality time with your kids, and you are teaching them a great lesson.
    You are the best!
    CIAO from one of your Italian fans

  15. Speaking of Moose – who is on the cover? I assume its not you, and hope you did not audition "portly child models"…

  16. Hi Stephanie,

    This is my first time making a comment on your site. Several weeks ago, I picked up "Straight Up And Dirty" at my local bookstore and devoured it. I'm a big fan of memoir type books and yours is one of the best I've ever read. Since then, I've been enjoying reading Greek Tragedy and looking at all of your pictures and everything else you have on your site.

    I have no doubt that your second book will be successful and I understand the difficulties with choices sometimes. I have four children, all a year apart and now all in their teens and I can't believe how the time flew. The fact that you know how quickly the time will fly by means that the time you are spending with your kids is quality time!

    Thanks for writing like you do. You feel like a friend to me already.

    Jessica The Rock Chick

  17. Danielle, that was an awesome post.
    Stephanie — I've been reading this blog for a while, and your earliest posts were a crazy, fantastic whirlwind of Manhattan activities: work, classes, projects, friends, dating, eating, boozing, weekends in the Hamptons… Things have obviously changed, but you sound like you're still pushing yourself to stay plenty busy. I can sympathize, as I tend to jam pack my calendar (currently working on my PhD, training for a half-marathon, dating a fantastic boy, socializing with friends, and just got back from an amazing trip to Italy).
    You still have lots going on, but your more recent posts just don't sound like your activities are all yielding the same highs anymore. There have been a lot of wistful thoughts about the past, fewer descriptions of active engagement in your hometown environment, and more posts where the "fun" stems more from your wit and wordplay than from retelling some genuinely hilarious or wonderful real-life anecdote. (Just observations, not intended to be criticisms.)
    If you're temporarily stressed due to your book's publication, then I hope you get through it and feel totally rewarded for your efforts. If you're stuck in a here-and-now that you're really not enjoying on some levels, I hope you can figure out how to incorporate the kinds of changes to your life that give you greater peace and self-fulfillment, whatever they may be…

  18. I've tried writing this 4-5 times today – but the precise phenomenon you've described has kept me from it.

    It is hard. Ridiculously. Juggling life, career, children, health, family, house, and everything. It is so complicated.

    I think, however, that it almost doesn't matter how busy we are – it's how we treat those around us, and ourselves, that matters. Make the time with the family the BEST time. Make the time alone the BEST time. Make your work time the BEST time. We can spend so much time fixating on the negative, that we suddenly wake up and it's over – and it sucked.

    I had this epiphany many years ago…and I *try* to live by it. Be nice. Be thankful. Take what you need to keep yourself happy and whole, and then everyone wins. Those babies just want you to be happy. Husband too. Family too.

    It's much easier to wallow in what ifs and I should haves – but I know I feel better if I focus on the wonderful things…they're always there if you take a sec and look.

  19. I think you just desribed life in general for most people. You should take a step back ( as I force myself to do often) and realize how lucky you are. You have a beautiful family, stable home life, and probably too many blessings to count. If you feel you are not spending enough time w/your kids, than crafts, projects, etc can wait. If you are working at your "paid" job more than 50ish hours per week than take a look and see if you can manage your time better. I work for a Fortune 50 company and everyone has kids and does their best to find balance. There is virtually no one, esp w kids, that can do everything they want that is fun. Life is about responsibility, and managing to that responsiblity.

  20. Funny….I just read another blog with this same theme. You might enjoy checking it out. Kimberly focuses on finding balance in life. It is another blog that I enjoy reading almost as much as yours! :)
    Yoga and meditation has helped me a lot. I have always wanted to make that a suggestion for you.

  21. 3Teens'Mom, I love what you wrote. Words to live by. One thing, though, that I have seen with women who try to make the best of everything is that sometimes, they are pushed over–their good natures, their sweetness, their desire to help out–sucked out. How do you avoid this? Thanks.

  22. "Welcome to the real world, she said to me, condescendingly."

    Go ahead and play hooky for a week or more. Get off the 'net. Don't answer calls. Everyone needs time to recharge. But don't for even one moment think that will erase whatever your challenge of the moment is. YOU create the challenges, whether you realize it or not.

    You want to find the guy who came up with "work hard, play hard" and run his testicles over a French mandolin. There are people who would give their testicles to live the life they think you have. "The grass is always greener."

    But the greenest grass is always beneath our very own feet. Go play in someone else's yard for a bit and I think you'll find it's true.

    (Why would you even want to live a life that didn't challenge you? How dull that would be.)

    BTW, who sold you the bill of goods that life is about pursuing joy? Find that person and get your money back. You FIND joy in what you're doing. You MAKE your own joy from what you have, and what you have aint too shabby. Pursuing joy is like following the yellow brick road. An illusion. Just ask the little man behind the curtain. He'll tell ya'.

    And just one more platitude for the road…this moment, right now, is your life. Make the most of it. THAT is the greatest challenge.

  23. DamWrite is damn right,…and 3 teens' mom…i find that there are times when one of the few reasons i continue to read this blog = YOUR comments. :)

  24. I want to find those people (usually career coaches trying to sell their product) who tell you that work should be all about energy! positive energy! joy! fun! following your bliss! and pass their testes over the mandolin too. Sometimes work is about slogging along because you need to be a responsible adult, or get paid, or keep health insurance. Sometimes you want to drive into a tree on Monday because if you are dead, at least you don't have to go to work. A lot of adult life, maybe most of it, is sucking it up and enduring the issue of the day. Recognizing that is normal and at least it is honest. Leading others into that 'dude, work is like so fun and I am so energized!!!' woo-hoo is dishonest. You all know who you are, take your energizing fun bliss and shove it.

  25. Hey NH – you asked how I keep from getting the goodness and life sucked out of me – a very fair question. When I wrote my post, I heard the tone of 'Pollyanna' in it – so I'm happy to take a moment to clarify.

    Back in MT (married time), I focused on every one else's happiness – on fulfilling every expectation everyone had for me. I lived for everyone else. I had the cleanest, most organized, most delightfully warm and cozy home. I had the most rigorous cleaning/baking/washing schedule. I had the tidiest children, with matching hair bows and ironed uniform shirts for their private schools. I had the two mercedes in the organized garage. And I lost myself. It wasn't until a bad car accident 10 years ago that I *couldn't* be perfect any more…when pieces of my life started falling off me like shingles or leaves, leaving gaping holes and raw wounds. When hubby started picking at those wounds making them bleed and scar – I crumbled.

    When I was reduced to a sniveling, sick, sad, pathetic mass of humanity – I had an epiphany. Live with him – die. Live with me – live. And when I made the decision to live, I made it with the commitment to take care of myself first. To be selfish with my time. To exclude people who are bad for me. To surround myself with things I love. To be messy and let my children be messy. To travel where I want when I can afford it – and not answer to anyone. To not share the remote. To make my home my most precious haven. To close out the people who suck my energy away, and dwell gently with those who feed my soul.

    Long answer – sorry about that – but the point is – I've rebuilt myself into the person I want to be. I've carefully reconstructed the walls that make my castle. I guard them well. I thoughtfully put each piece of it in place, and now get to decorate them. My darlings and I reside in this fortress of me – they are safe. They are secure. They are respectful. We have issues – yes, but we talk through them – we don't scream, we don't throw things. I'm grateful every day for my fortress, but only because it came at such a great price.

    FROM SK: I'm kinda girl crushin' on you right now. Thanks for that uplifting answer. Though it does make me want to redecorate :)

  26. 3 teens' mom- I think you need to start your own blog! You already have many fans that read this blog.. I am happy that you are settled and happy with yourself, your life. You sound like a very strong woman, who decided to live for herself, and whatever price it took to get there. I commend you.

    SK- you'll get there, breathe deep, enjoy your really does go so so fast. Hang in there.

  27. 3Teens'mom: Thanks for the answer. You sound like an amazing and strong woman. Your children are very lucky (though I am sure you see it the other way around).

  28. I hate being away from my precious little boy. I feel guilty, feel like I'm a bad mother. But I also know myself- I need to work. I need the stimulation, the activity, the feeling that I'm participating in something bigger than myself. Beyond that, I'm the breadwinner, so I have no choice. Life gets hard. I envy you, Stephanie, that you don't have a traditional office job and even though you're busy, you can lift your head/go downstairs/whatever and see your little ones. My goal is to find a career where I can do that, too.

  29. shuttheeffup already! who the eff are u kidding? u have the option to be totally with ur kids but ur too self-involved to compromise and PUT YOUR KIDS FIRST REGARDLESS OF HOW SHITTY IT MAKES YOU FEEL ABOUT PUTTING YOUR CAREER ON HOLD!!!!

    Fangoul! It's a choice. Shut up and CHOOSE TO BE A MOM. You had those kids the way you tic off another accomplishment on your "to do" list…so empty, so jappy….you're sickening!

  30. Beth in her first paragraph said it exactly right. "Life is a juggling act. Remember though, that the children grow up and move on. You will still have yourself; you will still have your needs and desires. You, as a parent, must still fulfill your needs or you will become miserable."

    I'm now in that empty nest stage. My son's father and I divorced when my son was 4. He is now 24, so you can see I spent the better part of 20 years doing everything I could do to make sure he had everything he needed and probably way too much of what he wanted. Did I have to work, yes. There wasn't a choice at that point. Luckily, I was able to stay home with him for 3 of his first 4 years. I wouldn't trade that time for anything.

    But, do I think I did a good job as a mother while I was working, whether I was selling Macintosh computers as an Apple Education Consultant or eventually teaching school? Yes. Did I make some mistakes? Sure. Every parent does.

    But, now, I'm here with 2 cats (who I love dearly), living alone, and still teaching. I am finding it hard to make a life for myself outside of my work because I spent so many years devoted almost solely to parenting.

    You're right in knowing that these years will go by faster than you can imagine, but remember, you will still be you when they have grown up and moved on. Do the things that fulfill you now and you'll have a much richer life in the long run.

  31. I guess it doesn't get any easier as you get older. I just turned 21, I work two jobs and I go to school full-time. I keep telling my friends that on my graduation day, I will get down on my knees and cry, because I made it. I will finally have a life.

    But then I think about choosing between a career and starting a family… and I can't even imagine what that decision must be like. In a way, sometimes I feel cheated because all my life I was told, "You can really have it all!"

    I admire women like you who try their very best to make that a reality in their lives. Even if it is a wobbly attempt.

  32. "The problem is you never want to look back and think you let an opportunity pass you by, so you take on too much, or do things half-assed. "

    THIS IS PRECISELY how I'm feeling. I am working so hard at ACHEIVEING CONSTANTLY and then I get these things that I've been looking to acheive and am still trying to acheive more, its more more more and then I feel like I'm not doing all of it well but when I AM doing all of it well, I feel like I'm missing opportunities that are out there that I haven't kept up on…

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