Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Life Is A Circus

Sometimes I get wistful about my working days.

After a long day of fetching snacks, wiping up messes, breaking up fights and nagging to do chores, I stop and look around and think,  Seriously?   This is my life?

I think with longing about the last full time job I had before having Greta.  I was a consultant for a global professional services firm.    I worked in downtown Boston, in a beautiful old historical building that had been converted into large, opulent office space.   Marble floors, soaring ceilings, even the furniture reeked of power.  

I was very good at what I did.  I knew I was good, because clients liked me, my boss gave me rave reviews, and I was known as a rising star.   I had clients all over the globe, and spent my days rushing from board room to board room, flying to New York City and other vibrant cities.

The day I was to tell my boss I was pregnant with my first child, I took him out to lunch.   Before I could get to my big news, he grabbed my hand and said "Eleanor," (I was known as Eleanor at work, I thought it sounded soooo much more professional) "I have fabulous news.    You have been chosen to go work in our London office for six months to a year.  It's our financial services hub.   You're going places, kid.   This is the first of many next steps for you in our firm."

I choked on my endive salad.    My heart soared, and then sunk.   There was no way I was going to London.   I mustered my composure, and told him I was four months pregnant.    His face said it all:  my rising star days at the firm were over.   I was mommy-tracked.

I decided not to go back to work after my three month maternity leave.   By then having an infant at home was already starting to kick my ass, but I couldn't dream of going back to spend my career in a rut.   I didn't feel strong maternal tugs, but I couldn't bear the idea of leaving my baby.    I was stuck.    I couldn't have known it, of course, but I would slowly unravel over the next four and half years, sinking into depression, anxiety and addiction.

So I have a tendency to romanticize those working days, back when I knew exactly where I stood, all the time.     After a good client review, I got a raise.   After a good bout of parenting, nobody appears to notice.  Some days it is easy to wonder what life would have been like if I hadn't walked away.

Today I took Greta and Finn to the Big Apple Circus.    We took the train into the heart of the city to meet up with my parents (Mimi and PopPop), and I couldn't resist walking the kids a block or two out of the way to take them by my old office building.    As we plodded, slowly, down the sidewalk I had walked down countless times before in my previous life, I got nostalgic.   How many times had I looked like that young woman over there, clacking down the street in her high heeled shoes and power suit, chatting on her cell phone, glancing at her watch?    How many times had I distractedly hailed a cab, on my way to an important sales pitch?    It felt like another world.  It felt like a million years ago.   

We finally got to my old building (the firm has since relocated), and I stopped them, and said, "I used to work there, before you were born." 

"Which window was yours, Momma?"  Greta asked, and I pointed to a tall, arched office window on the third floor.   Her jaw dropped.

She was full of questions about what it was like:   What did you wear every day? Did you have a computer?   Were you in charge?   Did you make a lot of money? 

Finn had only one question:   "Where was I?"

I asked them to stand by the front steps for a photo:

I clicked the picture, and it hit me.   A wave of gratitude so strong, my knees started to shake.  

I remembered, really remembered, how afraid I felt at that job, all the time.  How it didn't matter that I was good at it because I felt like a fraud, like a little girl playing dress up.   How  I felt that at any moment people were going to realize I had no business being there.   All I cared about back then was the next accolade, the next raise, the next promotion, because that meant I was a good person.   I never questioned my fear, not once.   I never thought to wonder:  Am I happy?   Is this what I want?   It was a challenge, and I never backed down from a challenge.   Even when it ate me alive.   Especially when it ate me alive.   I buckled down, worked harder, acted the part.    I was chasing something - or perhaps more accurately I was running.   Running, running all the time and I didn't even know what from.

I was so very grateful, because I know that what I do now is important.   I don't love every minute of it, but I know what I want.    I want to spend the day at the circus with my kids.    Today I'm not running, I'm not chasing.   I'm able, most days, to roll with it.    I know that no raise, no accolade, no promotion could ever be better than this:


  1. There certainly are fewer "performance indicators" with parenting! But the highs are higher.

  2. This was such a beautiful post Ellie. And you're right, what you are doing now is so important. Not just for you and your family, but as an example to other families wondering if having one parent stay home is right for them. I decided to go back to work after my maternity leave because it was the only way for one of us to stay home. I happened to love my job and my husband didn't. It's a struggle when only one parent works. I won't claim to know what it's like to be the one who stays home, but I can tell you with all honesty that I respect and admire you. You're writing is beautiful. It sounded like a perfect day.

  3. This post brought tears to my eyes. I am glad you are right where you are.

  4. Both you and Robin have blown me away this morning with your posts. I got the same goosebumps and tears when I read this. As always :) I felt the exact same way. I called it my imposter disease. When would my mask be pulled away and they would see me for the fraud I really was. Interestingly, after getting sober, I am now in the same job as before. I no longer feel like an imposter. You're right - how can any accolades beat two sweet faces sticky from cotton candy? Love you!

  5. Aww... just awwww..... it's just so impossible to describe, but you do the best job of anyone I know. London. That would hurt. And there's always a small voice in the back of my head reminding me that someday it just might come back, healthy and in balance... but then i remind myself to live right now and whatever will happen will happen. Right now I need to make some lollipop pizza for some very hungry stuffed animals.

  6. I sometimes get frustrated that when I drank I seemed to be so much more competent than I am (or feel) now. I realize in retrospect I also felt like an imposter, but I moved through my life with such a determination then. I know that is only because I didn't have to deal with all those pesky emotions that I busy was stuffing down with martinis. My sober life is so much better, but I hate that I am more fragile now.

  7. Thank you, everyone.

    And Diana - you describe it perfectly - that feeling that I'm more fragile, even though sober is so much better. That illusion that I was tamping down the anger, resentments, boredom and sadness was strong. It's just that all the good stuff - the joy, laughter and grace - goes with it, too.

    Robin - lollipop pizza. Mmmmmmm.

  8. It's so easy to glamourize "career life". But you're right, the grass isn't always greener, and I'd take comfortable Mom shoes over high heels anyday. :)

  9. Thank you for this. I often wonder what my life would be like if this thing or that thing had worked out or if I hadn't moved so much. I need reminders sometimes to let me know that right here is where I am meant to be.

  10. What a great post! I love knowing your 'back story' Ellie - it just makes it all richer. This is a book all by itself.


  11. Thank you for this. I often wonder what my life would be like if this thing or that thing had worked out or if I hadn't moved so much. I need reminders sometimes to let me know that right here is where I am meant to be.

  12. There certainly are fewer "performance indicators" with parenting! But the highs are higher.