Thursday, July 15, 2004

When your loves collide

Michael was so sad yesterday. His brothers had friends over and there was just no one for him to play with. The big boys didn’t want him around. We dialed for friends, alas unsuccessfully. And since I wasn’t remotely going to be able to work with him in such a state, I closed the laptop and packed him up for the pool.

There comes a time when you realize that Mom needs to be more than just physically present. Yesterday was one of those days. As consolation we picked up a DVD for him to watch last night. Remember how I wrote earlier this week about messages bombarding me? Well, “Cheaper By the Dozen” was full of them.

Most people have probably already seen this movie. We had not, largely because it’s very difficult to get three boys ages 12, 10 and 5 to agree on a family movie. And so we shipped the big guys to the basement and cuddled on the couch with Mikey.

The story follows two parents who are struggling (though in the beginning, happily) to raise their 12 children. The mom has been working on a book about raising such a big family; the dad is a college football coach who has been offered his dream job in Chicago.

And so they pack up the kids and the dog and the frog and move to the Big City for better things ahead. Problem is, dad’s new job is all consuming and mom just found out that her book is going to be published. She flies to New York and learns that she must partake of a book tour, thus leaving the family behind for several weeks. Dad assures her he can handle the home front, even as a meat cleaver comes through the closet door where he is hiding from the four-year-old twins.

It’s an interesting look at how two parents try to live their professional dreams. Unfortunately, those dreams clash with the many needs—emotional and physical—of their children.

The movie got me to thinking: Why is it that your two loves may be in great conflict with each other? Writing for me, and I suspect for many others, is a calling. In the end, there really isn't any alternative to doing what we were meant to do and called to do. And that gets clearer as we get older. To not do so is a slow, painful form of spiritual death.

At the same time, I simply adore my boys. And I want them to learn to pursue their life’s work, whatever that may be, like a calling. But I have to temper my enthusiasm for my work with their needs and that's been a major struggle this summer. My work happened to kick into high gear just as they were getting out of school. Balancing it all is leaving me pretty frazzled. But I have to remember, as Jackie Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” My kids make me want to be better at everything I do—mom, wife, writer, friend.

I’m sure this is also true of many others who pursue different vocations. The truth is that being married to a journalist is tough. It is one of the professions with the highest rate of marital failures. But I have to believe there’s a way to make it all work somehow. And that’s what I found interesting about the movie, the soul-searching (albeit in a mad-cap Steve Martin kind of way) that each parent went through to determine what’s most important.

Are there models for making this hectic career as a mom work? Certainly Anna Quindlen reigns supreme on that front. But here’s another view I found in Catholic Online. In it Inmaculada Álvarez, director of Veritas Agency, a Spanish Catholic news agency says:

“It is essential for a journalist’s spouse to understand the nature of the other’s profession: Journalism is a vocation, a passion. It is not, and never will be, an office job, but something that occupies one 24 hours a day. And if one’s spouse does not understand this, living together may be very difficult. If one shares the other’s passion it is wonderful. Everything else can be overcome.”

She goes on to say that what children need, indeed what educates them on being happy, mature adults is to see that their parents love each other.

“Problems of a practical nature always have a solution, by delegating, giving up, or postponing what is accidental and assuming what is essential. When one is a journalist and, in addition, a mother, as in my case, when one has a family, and a large one at that, it can be mad.”

You got it sister! Mad is a good word for it. My sister told me once that my mom was concerned about the hectic nature of my life. Jen replied, “Mom, I think that’s how Wendy likes it. She’s always been like that.” It’s true. I do thrive on the activity. And here’s why, as so elegantly stated by mi hermana Español:

“But today, I would not change places with anybody. To have married and to have had four children has made me a better person and, thanks to that, I think I am a better professional than I was before. Because when I come home and four little pygmies fight to give me a kiss, everything falls into place.”

We’re all trying to navigate our way through this notion of a modern family. Here’s hoping we can do it better tomorrow than we did today…



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