I’m writing this from our living room couch, while Amelia watches My Little Pony before bed. The dog is snoozing at my feet, dishes are in the dishwasher and the laundry is mostly folded. Jeff is across the room, reading. It’s kind of a postcard of suburban domestic bliss. But maybe I’m supposed to be in Pittsburgh.
Today is the second day of the Association of Children’s Museums’ annual 3-day conference. I’ve attended this conference almost every year since 1995. It changes locations each year, and I’ve been going so long that I remember the last time it was in Pittsburgh. It’s a professional development and networking event, and since I’m officially a freelancer again, networking is key. It’s also an annual gathering of old friends and colleagues, an opportunity to stay up too late in the hotel bar talking about exhibits with a bunch of people who love them the way I do, without spouses checking their watches. Last year at this conference, I was at a career turning point and the solid advice, unwaivering support and valuable perspective of my ACM friends gave me the confidence to make a change I desperately needed. Last year I was a mess, and this year I’m better. I was looking forward to going to this year’s conference to say thank you, check in, and pay it forward.
But last night was New Parents’ Open House at the school where Amelia will start kindergarten. And my decision to freelance full time was all about priorities.
A few months ago, I saw a job posting that sounded great. I inquired about it, and it sounded even more interesting. I was definitely qualified, and strongly encouraged to apply. But I kept hesitating. Finally, my husband ran out of patience. Look, he said, I can’t keep having this debate. I will support you either way, but do you or don’t you want to meet the school bus?
Wow. That’s easy. I do want to meet the school bus. It’s what I’ve always wanted. But I also love my career and we sure do spend my paycheck. So I looked around. I have two interesting, challenging, rewarding freelance projects that will keep me busy through the summer. I have two more pending for the fall. There’s no reason to think there won’t be more after that. So at least for now, freelance work is a viable option with a lot of perks. Not only can I have the joy of meeting the school bus, but the fact that Amelia is ON a bus at 3pm means she doesn’t have to go to after school care. If I can earn a living and also avoid 11-hour days for my 5-year-old, well, any other option just seems selfish.
Have I found the elusive work-life balance that mothers everywhere dream of? If so, it’s still not perfect. There are choices and tradeoffs, because doing both means you can’t give everything to either one. Working for myself means the time management decisions are mine, and there isn’t time “reserved” by an employer. I can watch ballet class, but I will be up very late writing. If I go to parents’ night, I’m also deciding not to go to the ACM conference.
But here’s the thing – there will be another conference next year. In fact, missing a year is a great incentive to call some of my ACM friends and catch up one-on-one in the coming weeks. Those relationships are intact, and networking can still happen. But Amelia won’t be starting a new school next year, and I’ll never have a rising kindergartener again. I’ve missed enough milestones already, and now that time management is up to me, I've chosen to meet the school bus.
So I think you can have it all, you just can’t have all of it. Tonight, I see from the photos on Facebook that I’m missing a great time in Pittsburgh. But this year I belong here, on this couch, with my family. I’ll see you next year, I promise!