From Single Girl to Supermom

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By R. Freeman

Balance has suddenly become my big issue. I always assumed, being the child of parents under 50, that I'd have decades before I dealt with end-of-life issues first-hand, and that my kids would be grown and I'd be settled in my career by then.

I'm 28, and have been married for two years. I work for a large software development firm, doing process quality analysis, a job which I didn't think I'd like until I started doing it a year and a half ago. My partner is a minister with the Metropolitan Community Churches, a non-denominational Christian church that has an affinity for, and ministers almost exclusively to, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community. I'm very close to most of my extended family, at least on my dad's side of the family. I was married at my sister's house, with my parents doing the catering, my paternal grandmother doing the flowers, and my paternal grandfather taking pictures. My mom's side of the family is much more conservative, and, to my knowledge, none of them know that I'm a lesbian, much less that I'm married. I live in Arkansas, so my marriage isn't legal, but the community I live and work in is accepting. Most of my bowling league thinks we're the most adorable couple they know.

My maternal grandfather, who I've never been close to (mostly because of his fundamentalist beliefs, which are hard to reconcile with my sexual orientation) was recently diagnosed with inoperable, terminal cancer. He has less than six months to live. He's getting treatment in the city where my mom lives, 14 hours away from here. Mom is his primary caregiver, aided when possible by my father, my sister and my aunt. At the same time, my mother-in-law is in very ill health in another state; my partner and I, along with her sister and brother-in-law, are caring for her. All of a sudden I'm becoming fluent in hospice, bed sores, medications and caring for loved ones' needs from a distance.

I never appreciated how simple my life was when all I had to balance were a few social engagements and work. I'm now juggling the demands of my high-school age stepdaughter, household duties, a full-time job, church, a bowling league, and oh, yeah, a marriage. We've gone from two salaries to one since my partner lost her job, so we're learning to live on my meager, just-out-of-college salary. I've become a whiz at coupon shopping, can make a dinner to send to a sick parishioner or a potluck dish with the contents of my cabinets, juggle six errands and the phone on my shoulder while driving a teenager and her three closest friends to the movies and home again, and still cook dinner. Most nights.

The hard part is when I'm feeling lousy, or want to spend a few minutes vegging on the couch, or just need a nap. Who knew that the back seat of a minivan, with a few pillows and a quilt, makes a great napping spot while waiting for my daughter to get out of practice? I wish I knew how to squelch those 'selfish' needs without feeling deprived. I can't be juggling it all all the time or I may go crazy. My partner helps, of course, but there are some things that I feel only I can (or should) do. That makes it hard to delegate or ask for help.

I think the secret, hard won over my crash course in 'adulthood' in the last three years, is knowing what my absolute minimum needs are and guarding those with my life. I must have five hours of sleep at night or I'll fall asleep at my desk the next day. I must eat breakfast and lunch or I'll kill someone before I get home for dinner. I must have time to check my e-mail at home, without being interrupted, for at least 15 minutes a day. I must have a Diet Coke in the morning. Everything else is negotiable.

I'm adding in some time to call the grandparents (both sets) and Mom and Dad and my sister weekly -- and sometimes daily -- to keep up. I'm scheduling a marathon 3 day (28-hours-on-the-road) trip to go see my grandparents in a few weeks.

I never thought I'd go from single girl to Supermom, especially not before I turned 30. I wouldn't advise it for the faint of heart. I wouldn't trade it for the world, though, craziness and all. Discovering that my daughter and I can bond playing a computer game, seeing the Grand Canyon at night with the love of my life, even just getting the 'married lady' notes from my grandmother with recipes and coupons, all makes me realize that trading the easy times of single life for the challenges of adulthood was the greatest thing I've ever done. I've never been happier.


R. Freeman lives in Little Rock, Ark., with her partner and daughter.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  October 9, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments

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Wow, I am exhausted just reading that. Good luck in achieving some balance.

Posted by: Catwhowalked | October 9, 2007 7:48 AM

Second!

Posted by: anonthistime | October 9, 2007 8:05 AM

I want to know why the first paragraph (and part of the second) are relevant for the story. Does being a lesbian make this balance any harder? I don't think so.

And why are you making "a dinner to send to a sick parishioner" since your "partner lost her job" as "a minister with the Metropolitan Community Churches"??

Posted by: r6345 | October 9, 2007 8:09 AM

r6345- I think her being a lesbian is relevant because it has an impact on family relations, as she noted. As for the second question - maybe she is a good, caring person?

Posted by: Catwhowalked | October 9, 2007 8:13 AM

"I think the secret, hard won over my crash course in 'adulthood' in the last three years, is knowing what my absolute minimum needs are and guarding those with my life. I must have five hours of sleep at night or I'll fall asleep at my desk the next day. I must eat breakfast and lunch or I'll kill someone before I get home for dinner. I must have time to check my e-mail at home, without being interrupted, for at least 15 minutes a day. I must have a Diet Coke in the morning. Everything else is negotiable."

Oh my gosh, I LOVE THIS. It's probably sad that I need to sit down and think about what my absolute minimum needs are, but I do. I think it's a great exercise for everyone.

R, You sure are handling a lot, but it ysounds like you've got the best attitude you can have. I think you should be proud of all you get done each day.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 9, 2007 8:13 AM

I hope your partner and step-daughter are doing their share! You're a team, after all.

I like bare minimum list, too.

Posted by: atb2 | October 9, 2007 8:50 AM

Hi everyone. I agree on the "bare minimum" list idea. Every should have one clearly posted throughout their house and maybe on their forehead too. And I do think R.'s sexual orientation is a factor -- an added dimension to the pressures on her right now.

FYI -- Note that you need to "Click Here to Post a Comment" or the blog program will eat your comments. Check to make sure your comment actually got posted. WashPo trying to fix. Thanks!

Posted by: leslie4 | October 9, 2007 9:01 AM

Wow. That's not a Hax "wow." That's a wow of admiration for your grace and maturity in dealing with everything on your plate. This is a great guest blog and my hat is off to you. Is your partner still looking for a job?

Posted by: mn.188 | October 9, 2007 9:18 AM

Wow, what a busy life. Best of luck in making it all work out. I love your bare minimum list too. I would suggest asking your partner who is currently unemployed to help out more as well as a teenaged daughter. But you are certainly working time and half. I hope things work out with your family as well. I hope they can one day embrace your partner with all their hearts.

Posted by: foamgnome | October 9, 2007 9:22 AM

R,
You have so much on your plate you need a platter! I hope all goes well for you. In the last two years I have gone thru two long-distance parent illnesses and it isn't easy. You do have to take care of yourself as you are no good to anyone if you get sick.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | October 9, 2007 9:22 AM

Thanks to everyone that's been so supportive so far. To answer the outstanding issue, my partner had a 'day job' that paid - the church is tiny, and can't afford to pay more than a token salary at best. She is still looking for another paid job.

The sexual orientation is important if only to explain part of why the family issue is so difficult, and to explain my family, which could be confusing otherwise.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | October 9, 2007 9:34 AM

I commend the author for what she is going through, and yet her willingness to continue to try to be there (when she probably could shirk the duties if she wanted) for the daughter, and for grandparents on both sides.

[r6345 - I understood it to mean her partner used to have a 'paying' job and is now a minister, which is quite possibly not paying, so she is still 'working' but not getting paid.]

Posted by: _Miles | October 9, 2007 9:36 AM

Oops posted same time but my guess was correct. Rock on Rebbecca.

Posted by: _Miles | October 9, 2007 9:36 AM

R,
I admire that you are doing so much, and with such grace. It sounds not only like you are keeping it all together, but also that you are managing to enjoy life as well, despite the curve balls that are being pitched at you. Good for you. Your minimum list sounds very bare bones to you. Maybe it's enough for you, but I wouldn't be able to manage on 5 hours of sleep a night. Of course, age might also be a factor. My bare bones list:
8 hours of sleep on average, and never less than 6. Three good meals a day, one of which I don't have to prepare myself. One cup of coffee in the morning. Sleeping late on Sunday. Time for leisurely bubble bath once a week. Time to read at least a little every night before bed. Sunday brunch with my family and Sunday dinner with my family. Having time to vacuum at least once a week. Dishes done before everyone goes to bed.

Posted by: Emily | October 9, 2007 9:47 AM

I too like the bare minimum list. Mine includes a decent night's sleep, coffee in the morning, and a few minutes to read a good book in the evening.

Parental illnesses (or grandparent) are going to be one of the biggest issues facing the Gen X/Y crowd in the coming years. The impact will be much larger since our generation was encouraged/had to travel around the country to find work. Many of us live far away from our parents (I'd actually like to see some stats on that -- wonder, has it grown since baby boomers?)

In my mind, its danged unfair for us to not consider what impact our coming aging and infirmity will have on our children. I plan to keep things as easy for them as possible and hope to cultivate a positive relationship with my children that will last a lifetime.

So many of my friends' ill, old parents have been careless with their children's emotions since childhood. Now these children feel duty-bound (rather than "love-bound") to take care of people who are more of a PIA than anything -- I don't want to be that for my child.

Posted by: goodhome631 | October 9, 2007 9:50 AM

Here's a story I like, that is relevant to today's post. A man once complained to the Lord about his burden. The Lord brought him to a room filled with other people's burdens and said put yours down and pick up one that suits you better. The man picked up one, then another, then another,each heavier than the one before. He said Lord, I think I will keep the one I have. In that spirit, I will keep the ones I have, it could be worse. Keep plugging away Ms. Freeman.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 9, 2007 10:05 AM

Hmmm...my bare minimum list...At least 7 hrs of sleep or I a walking dead girl. Coffee and bowl of cereal for breakfast, something small for llunch and a decent dinner. ALso, I need to work out three-four times a week, and be able to read a bit in bed before it's time to crash. I guess I need to work too...*sigh*

Posted by: Catwhowalked | October 9, 2007 10:18 AM

I need a shower in the morning and a hot cup of coffee to drink on the way to work.
I need cool weather so I can take the dog for a nice long walk after work to clear my head.
I need as much sleep as an insomniac can muster.
I need a nice piece of cheese and a glass of wine while cooking dinner.
Oh, I also need at least 300 count sheets :-)

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | October 9, 2007 10:24 AM

300 count sheets? That's really roughing it! ;-)
I need some cool weather now too...can someone take care of that?

Posted by: Catwhowalked | October 9, 2007 10:31 AM

Okay, I came up with my bare minimum list:

5 hours of sleep, or I'm going to lose my temper with someone
Coffee with half and half in the morning, or in a pinch, a pot of tea
To be able to read myself to sleep at night
A book (at least one) with me at all times
Cardio exercise 30 minutes a day (minimum)
Hugs and kisses from my husband and children

I think that's it. Everything else is gravy.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 9, 2007 10:32 AM

My minimum requirement: I need to squirt at least once a day.

Posted by: ISquirtLikeOldFaithful | October 9, 2007 10:38 AM

Eeww, FO4 - Too much information.

Posted by: Emily | October 9, 2007 10:53 AM

Wow, Rebecca, I remember a couple of weeks ago you mentioned your household had gone from two paychecks to one. That's tough enough...but then throw in all of the other responsibilities, and that's definitely a heavy load! An amazing life change in such a short time and at a relatively young age, but you have a great attitude, and that's half the battle.

Posted by: pepperjade | October 9, 2007 11:29 AM

Oh, I forgot to mention too that today is our 2nd wedding anniversary. What are we doing to celebrate? I am at work, my partner is driving a sick child to the doctor and getting an oil change, and then tonight we'll be at church planning the National Coming Out Day service for Thursday. I hope to maybe go out for dinner tomorrow - mmmm, McDonalds. LOL.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | October 9, 2007 11:43 AM

Are people still having trouble posting? Please let me know so I can keep in touch with the washpost tech people.

happy anniversary, rebecca!!!

Posted by: leslie4 | October 9, 2007 11:49 AM

Leslie: yes.

Rebecca: I am curious about your choice of a home. Your skillset is one that would afford you the opportunity to live in a variety of cities/regions, I suspect. If you don't mind disclosing your thought processes as a couple, why Arkansas as opposed to Boston, RTP, Northern California or elsewhere? Did you just end up there, e.g., did you take a chance on whether it would be accepting/hospitable or, did you know it would be a healthy environment before you located there?

Posted by: mn.188 | October 9, 2007 11:53 AM

We are here because of a contentious joint custody agreement regarding our daughter (my partner and her ex-wife came here because my partner was called to lead the church here after she graduated seminary). I was in north Florida before we were together. We've considered moving after our daughter is out of school, but in the meantime we're stuck here - at least until our daughter is in college. I'd love to move somewhere that I could make a decent living - with my M.B.A. and skill set you'd like I was employable, but here I'm lucky to make what I do. Ah well, all in good time, I suppose.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | October 9, 2007 11:58 AM

Rebecca - It sounds like you have a great attitude. I think being younger may even be an advantage for you. I'm just a few years older and there is NO WAY I could live off of 5 hours of sleep a night. Maybe here or there, but consistently - no. A few years ago though I think I was better able to handle the lack of sleep.

I really like the idea of a bare minimum list. Makes me wonder about what my bare minimum requirements are. I think...

1 - eight hours of sleep/night (with the exception of caring for a newborn - I can deal with less than 8 hours simply b/c I know it won't last forever)

2 - dinner with my family at least 4 nights a week

3 - a "skinny" cappuccino every morning - caffeinated! (yes - even while I'm pregnant - it is my one indulgence)

4 - at least weekly (usually a lot more) telephone calls with my mom

Otherwise, I can pretty much adapt. Though my "wants" are FAR FAR greater.

Posted by: londonmom | October 9, 2007 12:56 PM

One I wish I could add: Afternoon nap. Am I the only one who gets a little tired this time of the day???

Posted by: Catwhowalked | October 9, 2007 1:43 PM

Oh, I love an afternoon nap. I've even been known to sneak off and nap in the back of the van at lunch if I'm really exhausted! But since I don't have the van today, I'll just have a cookie and hope for the best. :-)

Posted by: RebeccainAR | October 9, 2007 1:44 PM

Rebecca, nice guest blog. While I think that the idea of a 'bare minimum list' is fine, I suspect that most of us could do without the items on that list if we absolutely had to. A co-worker's son just got back from Iraq last week; he was describing what life was like on the front lines. Certainly not pleasant, but he got through the tour.

Makes one appreciate the fact that one can make "bare minimum" lists where one specifies how much sleep will be available each night.

I think pATRICK was right - I'll just keep my own set of burdens, rather than swap them for somebody else's. The grass isn't THAT green on the other side of the fence.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 9, 2007 1:58 PM

Second try.

ArmyBrat,

The grass is greener where it is fed and watered! Speaking of which, when the **** is it going to rain?! Four months without substantial rain AND 90 degrees in October. This is NOT how you say "Welcome to Autumn"!

Rebecca,

Best wishes with the in-laws, the out-laws, the family and the kids. Caffeine and a sense of humour help. If you really want to rarely have to deal with a teenager, here's the high school equivalent of wet saddle blankets: marching band. Gets them tired, keeps them out of the house 21 hours/week (minimum), and the scholastic requirements are higher for them than for the athletic programs.

Maryland Mother

(Unofficial motto: Drugs? I don't do DRUGS! [as seen on my coffee mug])

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 9, 2007 2:24 PM

LOL, Maryland Mother. My daughter is in marching band AND NJROTC. Marches, PT, and has to wear a uniform several days a week (of one kind or another). It is great, and if she's impolite then Sgt. Major hears about it. :-)

Posted by: RebeccainAR | October 9, 2007 2:38 PM

Now if only it would get cold enough to justify the Under Armour.

I feel for the kids though, wearing wool uniforms in this heat, for hours on end.

At least they're doing well. Unlike the football team--they lost 45-3 one game.

Top Ten things ways to upset your drum major:

10. Listen intently to the instructions. Do exactly the opposite.

9. Empty spit exactly in the spot where s/he steps down from the podium. Get the entire brass section to do this. Often.

8. Harass the cheerleaders. Blame the comments on the drum major.

7. Invent your own tempo. Stick to your guns no matter how big his beats are or how much he glares at you (the pit is full of rebels).

6. "Confess" to your band director that you just can't follow such bad conducting and obscured beats.

5. Drop vital instrument parts during drill (bells, foot joints, slides...)

4. Wait until he's just finished an hour of basic reviewing. "Forget" to step off on your left foot. Repeatedly. (The pit can't join in on this one!)

3. Whenever you see him trying to find his tempo, immediately start singing, playing or tapping your foot loudly and out of tempo. Annoyingly infectious songs or songs in a completely different meter are especially effective ("Wild Thing"?)

2. Wait until the busses have left before looking surprised and announcing loudly, "You mean they aren't coming back to unload the instruments?" Note: You need at least three people for maximum chaos.

And the number one way to upset your drum major is:

1. In your sweetest and most respectful voice ask, "As God, why can't you make our team win a game?" Look serious. Expect an answer. Wait for one.

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 9, 2007 2:50 PM

Good luck, Rebecca, in getting through this difficult period. Hope things start getting easier soon. I agree with the poster above that your partner and daughter need to (probably already are) pitch in because there are so many burdens to be shared right now. You're lucky that your daughter sounds like a great kid!

Posted by: mehitabel | October 9, 2007 3:13 PM

This is a nice, honest entry about the struggles of real people. It's nice for a change to see that everyone's life is not a bowl of cherries. I know my life is not. Keep on keeping on Rebecca and good luck.

I know others have commented on this, but as the friend and cousins of gays and lesbians, Rebecca's orientation does have a lot to do with her balance issues with family or even in her community. My cousin can't come out of the closet because of where he lives. It's sad but true.

Posted by: gartht799 | October 9, 2007 4:07 PM

"3. Whenever you see him trying to find his tempo, immediately start singing, playing or tapping your foot loudly and out of tempo."

Posted by: maryland_mother | October 9, 2007 02:50 PM

Don't tell people to tap their feet. Our college band leader, Jim Walker, told us that the audience can hear the foot-tapping, and if it's a recording session, the microphone can pick up the foot-tapping. Imagine how much easier life would be for Idaho Senator Larry Craig if he had learned early on never to tap his feet.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | October 9, 2007 4:15 PM

Well, Matt, OUR university Band director, James Berdahl, told us not to tap our feet because it was unprofessional!

Posted by: old_blue_in_exile | October 9, 2007 5:33 PM

Rebecca, thanks for the thoughtful post. You really do have your hands full. I bet that it's great to be part of such a caring and inclusive church community in times like these.

And it's great that you included some of the good times (video games, the Grand Canyon) along with the list of burdens. It helps to keep things in perspective.

We are the same age, by the way, and I'm in awe of how you manage it all when I can barely keep up with my dogs.

My list of musts:

1. At least 8 hours of sleep (usually 9).
2. A meal or snack every 4 or 5 hours or else I turn into a monster (just ask my husband; he keeps granola bars in the car to feed me to stave off the crankiness)
3. A completely quiet place to do my homework undisturbed, and then comlete silence to fall asleep (my earplugs are my best friends).

And that's it! My husband has learned the the occasional take out and movie night also help keep me sane.

Posted by: Meesh | October 10, 2007 8:59 AM

That, or course, should be "complete silence."

And I learned about the "feeding time" need when I was in the car with my family and husband. We are all the same way about food. We were trying to find a restaurant, and it had been 6 or 7 hours since any of us had eaten. My husband was driving, and the rest of us were being really ugly, talking about how we should just go to the drive-through, that we'll never find a place to eat thanks to my brother taking too long to get ready, or my mom not making a reservation, or me for making us drive to the place that had a 2 hour wait, etc.

My husband later pointed out what happened, and a light went on that we were just hungry. He was like "I've never wanted to get to a restaurant so bad in my life. I thought you guys were going to start eating me."

Posted by: Meesh | October 10, 2007 9:08 AM

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