Something Got to Give: Dropping the Ball

This Blog is almost a week late. Unused to letting my colleagues down, I felt something akin to shame every time I glanced down at my phone and the little square with the date let me know that I was getting farther away from my deadline.

Each day I promised myself to create a few hours in the evening to write and post the Blog and every evening whizzed by with its obligations and responsibilities – a toddler and a two-month old to be bathed, fed and played with; articles to finish for publication; ‘What’s Up’ family and friends who are in town and should be made time for; the one meal a week I have committed to making so I feel like I take care of my family, and lastly, because I figure I deserve some fun, a dinner with dear friends and soul-repairing conversation.

Also, as I was assigned the January 1st slot for my Blog this month, I had figured I should provide a pep talk, and I had made obligatory notes to design a narrative full of hope for the coming year. However, the fact that I didn’t write that Blog when I should have got me thinking about all the balls I am juggling and how close I am to dropping some of them.

I am willing to bet that you, Dear Reader are a juggler like me. If you are a mother, you’re a multitasker by default and no matter what anyone says, you know, like I do, that this is the hardest job in the world. A friend of mine calls motherhood ‘the beautiful, hard work’ and I think that is an apt description. It is also relentless – my little bosses don’t give me evenings or weekends off and sick leave is approved only if I can provide a grandmother substitute.

Mothers and wives are also managers.  Unlike most men, women don’t have the luxury to come home and veg on the sofa, as much as we want to; even in Ethiopia where paid house help is the norm, there is always something to be done, even if it is only management of staff. If you are a working mother (or father), you are managing two jobs, two occupations.  You may love your job but it is time away from your kids, and bringing your work home interferes with homework help. If you have to travel for work, there might be associated guilt. I was in Bologna, Italy, last June and enjoyed presenting at a conference but missed my little girl so much that I spent four out of the six days trying to change my ticket to come back home earlier.

Other parents add other layers of responsibilities –they may be in school while working full-time and raising their children or they may be on the AWiB Board and are obligated to attend a certain number of meetings. Even going to the gym or to yoga, designed to relax, becomes one more thing to do.

Then, this being Ethiopia, there is that huge and tangled web of social life. Out of our large pool of acquaintances, there is always someone ill, someone who has had a baby or has lost a loved one and is ‘sitting’ a lekso. Perhaps a childhood friend is planning a wedding and you need to drive to her house across town every day of the week before the wedding to help ‘warm up’  for the big day, or perhaps, your colleague lost his uncle recently and has invited you to the 40th day commemoration as per the Orthodox tradition. It is quite likely that your pre-schooler is invited to a birthday party every other weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I love this part of our culture and I get a lot of strength from it. I am a people’s person and attending funerals and weddings, and now, birthday parties, makes me feel like I belong in this community.

However, I think we can all agree that sometimes, the lines get blurred and obligations become a burden, particularly when you factor in traffic. Particularly, if you are like me and stubborn about honoring every invite, you may find that weekends are busier than work days. Until holidays – Eid, Genna or Easter come along and the busy factor ratchets up as we flurry to mamwalat the house, buy presents and navigate, with as much grace as we can muster, family dynamics.

As I owned up from the beginning, I am as guilty as any juggler-woman of over-extending my resources and I am in no position to preach simplification. However, I want to understand what is behind this compulsive drive that almost all women I know possess and hope to ignite a conversation with this Blog. Why do we have so many ‘balls’ to juggle? Apart from the basic care that we must provide our children and the bare minimum that we must perform at our ‘paid’ work, why are there so many other things yanking us every which way? Can all the extra work we put into our jobs be attributed to competitiveness? Personal drive and ambition is fine, but is it rushing us into illness? Would the world end if the lasagna served at the dinner for colleagues was a bit dry or if we didn’t get the ‘right’ gift for our daughter’s friend’s birthday?

I worry that my definition of a good day has changed to one in which I can tick off all my list of to-dos. A good day used to mean Chardonnay at noon (why not?), and walking home the long way so as to catch a full sunset. It used to mean a trip to Adama to eat tibs and somehow ending up in Langano. It used to mean talking all night with confidantes. Now, it pains me that I haven’t seen my best friend in a month and although we live two blocks away from each other, we are reduced to updating each other on the phone, network permitting.

I want to go back to a simpler me but I don’t know which ball to drop first. I worry about letting people down, even if my presence may not make or break the party, and I worry that if I don’t take her, I deprive my daughter of experiences. When I made her miss her school’s Christmas party two weeks ago because she was ill, she told her father ‘’Ye’Ababa Iyesus Lidet Ameletegn!’’- ‘’I missed Father Jesus’ Birthday!’’ I worry that I don’t work (for money) enough while many of my friends worry that they work too much and risk losing out on their children’s childhoods. Most importantly for me, I worry if I drop the motherhood ‘ball’ even an inch, I would not be able to stand the failure.

As we begin a new year with fresh possibilities, I ask you to reflect on your juggling act and if it makes you happy. If you are stressed or unwell because of the extent of your obligations, what can you compromise on? What ‘ball’ can you drop while still retaining a sense of you?

Here is to a simpler, but fuller, 2014.