Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shut It Off

Big A and I before H's arrival.
July 2008

“The television is ruining us,” I said to Big A last week.

Big A travels a lot for work, selling the reputation of a large Boston-based financial services company. One week he’s off to San Antonio, Texas, for a golf tournament, and the next he’s hanging out in the officer’s club at Miramar in San Diego, California.

I often imagine his luxurious lifestyle on the road: fancy hotels, long dinners with cocktails and red wine, stimulating adult conversations and upgrades to first class plane seats.

But, in reality, he spends less than six hours each night in the hotel room – never long enough to enjoy that firm mattress with the fluffy down comforter. He eats hotel conference food, which is usually overcooked chicken and limp green beans, served with cheap wine that guarantees an instant hangover. His flights never seem to take off or land when they are supposed to.

When I hear the front stairs creak under his Johnston & Murphys upon return, I am expecting Big A to open the front door refreshed from his brief sojourn. I imagine him taking me into his arms and delivering a dramatic, Breakfast at Tiffany's-style kiss.

Instead, he drops his bags in the front hall and collapses into the worn leather armchair in front of the television in the living room.

H runs across the apartment in his footie pajamas to jump into his lap, drooling kisses over his five-o’clock shadowed face. When I lean in to kiss him, I can smell a day’s worth of rushing to get someplace on time.

Once H is tucked into crib, we dish out some dinner and head to the living room to zone out while we eat. Other than an occasional chuckle from a Seinfeld episode we’ve already watched at least twice before, forks and knifes scraping along our plates are the only audible sounds.

After we clean up, carefully loading the dishwasher without too much clinking – the kitchen is precariously situated outside H’s bedroom – Big A heads back to the TV. He clicks through the channels, switching from docu-dramas about stranded loggers or crab fishermen with sailor mouths. While his eyes stare at the screen, I can tell his worries are flashing beneath his surface.

Since Harrison was born – and I turned in the security of a weekly paycheck – Big A has shouldered most of our financial burdens. My freelance writing business covers the food shopping, electric, heating, phone and cable bills. His paycheck is heading straight to rent, paying down credit card debts and savings for a house we’d like to own someday – preferably before we add any more children to the fold.

In the last month, nearly 100 employees were laid off from his company. The dream job he accepted in February was eliminated, but his boss finagled him another position. No one has defined his new role yet, or what his salary will look like. He’s leaving behind the client relationships he’s built over the weeks away from home in the last nine months. And now, he will be hitting the road again to forge new relationships.

I watch from the couch as Big A’s concerns churn while he clicks through the channels. I want him to talk to me so I can carry a bag or two of his worries. But, he doesn’t realize I am staring at him, pleading with my eyes for him to speak.

So last week, I demanded he shut the TV off. He pressed mute.

I understand the need to unwind and be brainless after working all day. But we have to do a better job of re-connecting when the day is over. That clicker and screen are stifling our conversations.

After a minute of silence, he said, “Tomorrow, dinner at the kitchen table.”

Agreed. And I shuffled over to my laptop, as he turned up the volume on a woodworking show.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


In September, my family ventured north to the Western Maine Mountains for a camping weekend. The night before we trekked into the woods, we stayed with some friends. We hadn’t seen them since the spring and were thrilled to have a night to catch up.

Having put our son – H – to bed, I rounded the corner into the kitchen with a glass of wine. And that’s when I heard my husband tell our friends that I was “just a stay-at-home mom” and wasn’t really doing much work.

I froze, sending my red wine splashing up against the inside of my goblet. I suspected my husband – Big A – wasn’t taking my freelance writing business and pursuit of my master’s degree seriously, but I had never heard him say it out loud.

A pleasant, fake smile hid the anger boiling up inside me. He had no idea what it’s like to spend an entire day with a toddler, chasing H around, providing constant activities to stimulate our son’s racing mind, coaching the little guy not to pick his nose or bolt when we hopped out of the car. Big A doesn’t see me scramble to get the laundry done, dishwasher emptied and bed made before I sit down at my computer to respond to clients during H’s two-hour nap. No one is watching as I struggle to find the right words for a project, laboring to shift from mommy brain to professional writer brain.

But as I stifled murderous thoughts, I considered: Why would Big A know about my struggle to balance my work with motherhood? I never let on. By the time he walks in the door at 6pm each workday, the baby is fed and bathed. Meat is marinating, veggies are cut and rice is simmering. Toys are back in their woven baskets, ready to be dumped on the floor come morning.

Meanwhile, I haven’t showered or eaten a real meal all day, subsisting on scraps from H’s plate along with a handful of cashews and dried apricots for a little fruit and fiber. My BlackBerry keeps pinging with unanswered emails, and I’ve hit the “ignore” button more than a dozen times, prioritizing H’s cries over my clients’ beckoning.

My stress was building about the existing pile of projects. I hadn’t been able to grow my freelance writing business beyond two clients. I wasn’t taking enough time for me to be dedicated to this new career direction.

I quickly realized that Big A wasn’t taking my new career as an entrepreneur seriously because I wasn’t taking it seriously. I needed to change.

That weekend in Maine was glorious, filled with fall leaf peeping. And while Big A ran down the paths after H, I had a few moments to myself to come up with these resolutions:

  1. Hire someone to watch H a couple mornings a week. More un-interrupted time – in addition to H’s naptime – allows me to focus on my current projects.
  2. Ask my husband for time to work on the weekends. Big A only gets about 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening to play with H during the week. I need to view weekends as time for Big A to catch up with H. With me working in the mornings, Big A and H can voyage out on their own.
  3. Stick to a schedule. When I set aside time to work, I work. No surfing the web, reading blogs, or getting up to switch the laundry. Just me, my coffee and my laptop – all working in sync to meet my deadlines.
  4. Create a business plan. To grow my business, I have to carve out time to take stock in where I am and where I want to go. Even if it’s a loose plan, setting goals and putting them on paper will be a motivator.
  5. Be in the moment. When I’m writing, I write. But when I’m with H and Big A, I should try harder to be present and experience life's pulse rather than feel stressed about not answering work calls or emails.

These resolutions may not make my husband take my business seriously. But they’ll help me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010