This week I asked my friend and co-worker, Bridget Keeley, to write a blog. I asked her to give us a peek inside her new normal. Her piece is great. She reminds us of what “work” use to be, how life was wrapped around it, and shares her new normal. As she says, there are no partitions - work and life are happening, all the time and all day long. She is so right, we did not choose this. We can only choose how we respond. Give yourself a break today, read Bridget’s blog and share your new normal.
Bridget, the village is still there…just email, text or video chat.
A few weeks ago, my normal was crazy. But a manageable kind of crazy. The kind of crazy that naturally happens when you are lucky enough to have a demanding job that you (mostly) love, and a demanding boss and team that you (mostly) love working with. Not to mention 3 pretty great (but crazy) kids who are involved in more sports and activities than you ever were in your entire life, and a husband who is taking a crazy (and exciting) risk to start his own business. Totally and completely, normal crazy. I just didn’t know it then.
My days started at 6 a.m., checking both email and homework, making breakfast, packing lunches, getting both the 3-year-old and myself dressed and ready, and asking the 8- and 11-year olds (again and again) to complete all the tasks necessary to successfully get out the door and across the street to school on time. I'd drop the 3-year old at daycare, and give a fleeting thought to preparing a healthy dinner that night (which usually resulted in takeout), before finally getting myself to the office.
At work, meetings started via phone on my way in. Some days I had a chance to get breakfast or coffee on my way to my desk. I would go from meeting to meeting to meeting, maybe grabbing lunch with a friend or catching up with the colleagues I have been fortunate enough to call family throughout my career at SEI. While plenty of days in the office brought frustrations, the majority brought far more moments of laughter, collaboration, pride and comradery. You don’t stay in a job for 19 years if you don’t consider it a second home. I don’t know how else to explain it.
When the workday was over, and the run, run, run of basketball practice, rehearsals, scout meetings and a myriad of other afterschool activities finally wound down, the fun of bedtime started, restarted and restarted again. By 10 p.m. with the kids asleep, I could watch that show with my husband, but first – let me just respond to that email, edit that press release, finish drafting that paper…and repeat.
I am not complaining. I chose all of this. It is a wonderful, crazy, normal life that I know how to manage and — I’ll just say it — I am pretty darn good at handling it most of the time. Why? Because I had a secret weapon — one that was always there, day or night, never failed me. I had my village.
In addition to my co-pilot and supportive partner in all things (my husband), I had my parents, sisters, in-laws, cousins, friends and neighbors, and colleagues. They each made up an all-star, enviable village network that was critical to the lifeline of our crazy normal.
But that was a few weeks ago
My new normal is, well, still crazy, but now it’s crazy on a level I could never have imagined, prepared for, or believed was coming. My new normal is, in a word, surreal. And my new normal comes with no village.
It comes with homeschooling, crisis communication, social distance and video conferencing with colleagues (makeup off, pajamas on, teeth brushing and showering optional because, let’s face it, the day starts long before you remember to do any of that). My new normal includes Google Hangouts for elementary school classes, virtual team check-in meetings and teaching 3rd and 5th grade math over lunch (for those who don’t know me, I peaked at second grade math).
My new normal means it is not only possible, but highly likely, that my conference call may be abruptly interrupted by a 3-year-old screaming “I gotta go potty NOW!” And in this new normal I may hang up on you, fellow co-worker, in the middle of a communication crisis. If I do, know that I will be forever grateful that when I called you back (almost in tears) you did not answer “hello?” but rather “Was it a 1 or a 2?” But, hey! We still finalized our communication objectives on time — largely because we are a team and we operate as a well-oiled machine after almost two decades of working together. #virtualhighfive!
My new normal doesn’t have start or end times
About a year ago I texted a fellow parent before work about an upcoming school activity. She sent me back a quick reply: “Write more later, life is happening right now.” I remember how that stopped me in my tracks. She was so right. In the two hours before my work day would start, life was happening. So much life. And in this new normal, life is happening every single second of every single day. There is no balance or compartmentalizing — it’s all happening now. And in some ways it is harder than anything I’ve ever experienced.
There are many days over the past few weeks when I have felt like a complete failure. I think my 11-year old has played 12 straight hours of Xbox, and my 8-year old has enjoyed that much YouTube. My husband and I have fought about 20 times and my 3-year old, successfully potty-trained for well over a year, has had at least 10 accidents.
It has taken me twice as long to get important communications work done and I’m not even touching the majority of work within my quarterly marketing plan. And while all of this is stressful, it doesn’t compare to the worry I have that my very high risk father could contract the virus if he (or my mother) even set foot out of their house.
So I live my new normal. I stay home. Without my village. I stay home for my dad and the millions of others around the world that are far more important than the challenges of my new normal.
I do Zoom calls with my extended family in lieu of loud, chaotic Sunday dinners (spoiler alert – the Zoom calls are JUST as loud and chaotic). I get to see my SEI family faces every day on video calls. I look forward to virtual happy hours and secretly analyze the background of my colleagues’ home office set-ups (you know you’re doing it too). I look forward to witty and meaningless banter with my colleagues when we can return to a new, “new normal” back in the office. I do the best I can each and every day.
And I remind myself to be unendingly grateful for the village I still have. The ones that (whether they like it or not) live in this house with me — the only ones from whom I don’t have to social distance. In my unexpected village: an 11-year old who may have spent 12 hours on Xbox but also spent 2 days building the perfect fort for his brother. He tore it down and rebuilt it until it was nothing short of magical in the eyes of a 3-year old, who can’t believe he gets to hang all day with the person he idolizes most in this world. It also includes an 8-year old who has read countless books to that same little brother to keep him busy or tried to give him a bath, and helped me get dinner on the table more nights than I can count. And it includes my husband, who keeps everyone quiet (or maybe locked in the basement – honestly I don’t know and I really don’t care) so that I can get the most important meetings in without interruption (I don’t say thank you to him enough, not even close). Yes, they are the village I have right now and although they drive me crazy 22 hours a day, I get to keep them – in quarantine and in health.
True, this new normal is hard. I still feel like I’m failing at least 3 – 333 times a week. The days are long and — I’m just going to say it — some of them end in tears. Like tonight. Nearing the kids’ bedtime, I was on my computer when my daughter came in and said “Mom can I talk to you – I’m afraid I might cry when I tell you this.” This usually means she did something she knows she shouldn’t have. I’m ashamed to admit, I was frustrated that she interrupted me while I was on a roll with something for work. But I took a breath and gave her my undivided attention. What she said next floored me. Through 8-year old sobs she said “I’m afraid of when this is over and we go back to school and you have to go back to work and I don’t get to be with you every day. I’m afraid because I am going to miss you so much.” That’s what she said. While I am ignoring all of them, doing work and beating myself up because of it — THAT is what she’s thinking. It’s funny how kids can change your perspective in an instant. As I hugged her and cried with her, I realized that while my new normal is hard, frustrating, scary and stressful — hers has been a dream come true.
So to my family, my village, I say thank you and I love you. I say it now because five minutes from now I may very well be yelling at you. That I know. During this uncertain time, if I’m being honest, I don’t know how much my kids will learn from me. But I am certain that they will continue to teach me an awful lot.
I know I’m not alone.
We are all living a new normal where life has no partitions. It’s happening all around us all day long. To parents and non-parents alike – I implore you to give yourself a break, because everyone else around you already has. None of us chose this new normal, but all of us are living it every day. People understand. I understand. All we can do is support each other through it – from a safe social distance of course.
Please stay safe and be well – I hope to see you all very soon.