Sunday, January 4, 2015

Blackberries and Baseball (TBT on a Sunday)

Recent mentions of Blackberries in the news reminded me of a throw-back Thursday. Since other than replacing "Blackberry" with "Iphone" little has changed, I decided to toss it out there on a Sunday just for fun!  It was the summer of 2010, I was taking our then much younger boys to baseball practice...and considering the value technology brings to life:

Dual careers and working parents continue to be the buzz words in the 21st century, used to describe what most households must choose in order to survive in tough economic times.  But down in the trenches where every day is timed with precision down to the minute, those words hardly ever come up for me.  It’s more like “Are you picking up the kids after work or am I?” “Can you get the boys to baseball if I take them to Tiger Cubs?”…or one of my favorites, “What is the earliest we can drop the kids off for school?”  All part of the working parents playbook, which gets us through each work week and into the weekend, navigating early morning conference calls and late afternoon meetings.
We are a dual career, working parent family.  My husband and I have two school aged boys, aged 7 and 6 (plus a grown son).  Keeping up with a busy career and family is challenging, to say the least.  I have a Blackberry to track my every move…and theirs.  It is standard issue for my job, but it maps out well beyond my day job.  This simple, wonderful device has replaced the cluttered fridge of post it notes from the past.  And completely integrates my home and work balance seamlessly.

I read somewhere that you have to prioritize your life and make time for what is important.  For me, my family means everything.  My career enables me to provide for my family.  But I can’t become so engrossed with my career that I miss out on important events in my personal life.  I need to protect my personal time every bit as much as I protect my time at work to meet important deadlines and key meetings.  Key meetings in my personal life include being a room mom, making it to every baseball game my kids have, and saving vacation days to chaperone the occasional field trip.

Which brings me back to my Blackberry.  At the beginning of each school year, I invest a few hours mapping out every parent / teacher conference, in service day, and any other important date on the school calendar.  I create new appointment entries on my calendar for each and every item, blocking time against it on my schedule.  I think the better word is “protecting time”.  There are obviously events and meetings that come up and are a “must attend” regardless of what you’ve got going on at home.  But if you protect your time in advance, the majority of the time, scheduling will be worked around what is already on your calendar.  So you can create a somewhat balanced schedule.
I used to keep two calendars.  It didn’t work.  Inevitably, I’d forget about something going on for the kids and double book something at work.  Anyone who has a child knows what it feels like to miss something important in their child’s life.  And while they may forgive you, it takes a long time to forgive yourself. 

Everything I work to achieve begins with my family.  I think about how I can make their life easier.  My husband and I want our kids to have more advantages than we did.  And while they may spend their days without me at home, I think about them a lot.  I think about what their life is like at school and at day camp in the summer time.  I also think about people who judge me for having chosen a path that takes me out of the home and leaves a big part of their life separate from mine.  I won’t spew “quality time” or any of the other clich├ęs …it’s more about making life work and making the life you already have work well.  Quality time is day to day living…riding in the car on the way to school or back home…or just running an errand with your kids individually, giving them one on one time.  I have to be honest.  Any second I spend with my kids should be quality time…but it’s not always apparent on days when it’s 90 degrees outside and I have to drag them to baseball practice.  In fact, just a few weeks ago, I had just such a day.  I didn’t want to take them to practice and my husband was working late.  I pulled their Gatorade drinks together and hunted for their gloves, with them whining about not wanting to go.  I came really close to giving in and staying home.  On our way out to the garage, which was about twenty degrees hotter than it was outside, I seriously considered a conscious cave in and the central air we’d just left behind.  When we arrived at practice, I sat on a bench while the kids practiced hitting balls and fielding.  I’d look up occasionally to tell the boys to pay attention.  About half way through practice, a foul ball popped up by me.  I reached up and caught it, bare handed.  You would have thought I was in the major leagues.  All the boys on the team started shouting “Way to go Mrs. Ralles, Way to go!”  But what really caught my attention was the look on Pete and Christian’s faces.  They were smiling, ear to ear.  A great childhood memory was instantly created and it gave me pause to think about how important it is to see these moments and embrace them.  A hectic schedule after a long day turned into a grand close to the daily grind. 

On a less stellar note, this week’s baseball practice left me with no patience as I struggled to get both boys in the car.  They decided to climb on top of each other on one side and refused to move.  Thankfully, a friendly smile from a fellow mom in a minivan next to my car defused the situation quickly.  She was laughing out loud.  I rolled my window down, half irritated at first.  She said “I have to laugh…that’s my life most of the time.  It’s nice to be able to laugh with someone else.”  And she was right.  Recognizing that none of us are in it alone or doing this all by ourselves, somehow makes it a little easier to manage.  Having someone tell you your kids are normal, the way you react is normal…it’s golden on days when you are really tired and could use brevity to even out temperaments.  I can only take so many “He hit, touched, shoved, made fun of ….me.”

Being in a dual career family is not all fun and it certainly has its ups and downs.   And I don’t want to share the wrong impression about work or home life.  They are both important.  I am committed to my job and just as seamless as my calendaring is on the Blackberry, so is a typical work day for me.  I leave on time to pick up my kids and spend a few hours hearing about their day.  But I pick back up on my day in the evening to check email and make sure nothing has been missed.  And like most people, workloads are getting tougher, not easier.

There are the occasional moments when home and work collide.  I remember one such moment.  It was about a year or so ago and I was working from home on a conference call.  One of the kids was sick, but quite content on the couch next to me.  I thought myself quite clever, going in and out of mute when I needed to talk on the call.  I was a little too confident in multi-tasking that day.  My little one got up to go to the bathroom and I followed him to make sure he didn’t need any help.  Hanging out in the hall outside the bathroom, I became distracted.  I was talking on the call and at a pause in the conversation, a small voice yelled “Mommy can you wipe my butt?”  Apparently this requires no translation, even on a global call.  I was half mortified and half amused.  The rest of the dozen or so members on the call were all laughing.  I think I managed something like “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”  But that’s what I love about my job and the company I work for.  You can have that kind of a call and find kindred spirits and camaraderie from people working hard and facing the same challenges.  And that was a good teaching moment too.  My finger is never far from the mute button when I take a call with my kids anywhere in the house!

But living in a way that allows work and life to touch at the seams builds a unique value for me and the company I work for.  My mind is never “off” at home.  Projects I’m leading at work benefit a creative mind at 2 am when I can’t sleep, in the shower when I’m thinking, and even in unexpected ways when I consider really off the wall new ideas. 

And my kids hold me accountable for that balance as well.  I know when I’m overdoing it at work.  One of them will climb in my lap and take my laptop away.  Then I put it aside and cuddle or talk or watch a show with them.  Similarly, if I find myself thinking too much about work, I give my blackberry a time out and put it in a corner.

I even manage my relationship with my grown son through my blackberry at times.  The best way to get your teenager or grown children to talk to you is through a text message.  I can leave five voice messages and they will all go unanswered.  But if I send a quick text message like “You there?”….I get an immediate response.  It’s also a great way to get quick answers about college deadlines, books, and tuition. 

And my husband and I can often plan ahead during the day, texting back and forth to see who is getting off work first and what’s for dinner.

So while you hear about addiction to blackberry and even the phrase “crackberry,” for us it’s a tool to manage our lives and our fridge door is now reserved for school papers and artwork of a few really great, undiscovered artists. 

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