The Balance Beam

Walks in the time of pandemics.

Within the last twelve months there have been studies conducted, research gathered, subjects interviewed, charts plotted and analyzed, and plenty of firsthand introspective stories about the quagmire women find themselves in right now.

Here is my introspective, and I’m not just writing in order to publish the word quagmire.

The career mom has long been fodder for researchers. Out of the workforce to raise children, then coming back with higher heels and thicker skin to shatter ceilings. When no one is looking, she cleans up the glass because she cleans up almost everything while balancing on the beam between career and parent. She’s fascinating.

Some days, that beam feels about a half inch wide, and I’m no Simone Biles.

During the pandemic, in a five day workweek, you can find me doing morning drop offs, afternoon pickups, sports, and I’m stepping into single parent life. Everyone needs to be fed, and no one ever seems to like what I prepare. I also have a career.

I genuinely enjoy work. It’s my mental outlet, it’s a way to focus, and I can see results through action. I am challenged to think and have others who are better thinkers to guide me.

Then there is mothering, where hard work sometimes gets you a whiny cry, bickering, and several announcements during dinner declaring you so, so mean. My two little bosses at home would be shellshocked at my 360 feedback some days.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have flexability at work since the beginning of the pandemic. I log on after the kids go to bed a few nights a week so I can shuttle to karate. PTO is there when I need it, either for a sick child or a child who just needs me. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’ll say it louder for people in the back- how are we supporting parents who never had a choice to work from home but had two children with no place to go during the day?

How will life, already precariously perched on that beam, tip next school year? Many women have been tumbling for months.

We learn from mistakes, but there are two areas where a woman just can’t fail- her career, and parenting. These two beasts are the anchors of my life, and I love them both.

America’s return to work buzz is starting, with office-based businesses large and small crafting re-entry plans. I’m sure printing shops are in overdrive, churning out masks with company logos. It makes me hopeful that most companies are returning thoughtfully and gradually.

I think returning to work is great, but where does this leave the single parent who doesn’t have a well thought out re-entry plan because there is no definitive place to actually re-enter the home side of things? What if that single working parent is a woman, who has the additional pressure of having to be good at both career and kids?

A good gymnast, like Simone, looks at her beam and takes a deep breath. She has practiced what she’s about to do thousands of times before, but there are minuscule differences in each attempt that become the variables that decide victory. She can plan for these, even anticipate them, but only until she pivots a few degrees too far left does she know whether the wobble will make the difference.

She hopes she doesn’t lose focus, fixate on a missed step that was seven steps ago, or realize in midair that her hands are positioned wrong for a landing. I’d like to think that she improvises if she has to, and does what she has to do until the end, no matter how sore and tired she is.

If Simone misses her dismount, she will still earn points for her other technical elements. But will anyone remember the hours of effort this woman has put in if she can’t make it all come together when it matters?