Why is this such a big deal? For one thing, it took me a few years to convince myself, and then my boss, that this is a matter of mental health. I don't want to name names or label labels, but it turns out that over the years I have displayed what one could possibly refer to as workaholic tendencies.* So say my friends, my parents, and a few of my colleagues - not the physician colleagues, of course, for whom 12-hour days mean they're just getting started, or for software engineers, for whom all-nighters are just another day at the office.
And then there's my father-in-law's cousin's wife, T, who also happens to be our neighbor, and who can be seen some evenings mobilizing the baby carriage with her left hand, while conducting lawyerly business through the mobile phone in her right. She is a warm and wonderful friend and mother, and was a high-powered DINK career-woman for years until baby-boy came along. After returning to work, she spent the next few months asking the rest of us how we manage to do this thing we do, leaving work on time to pick up the kids, organizing trade-off child-care arrangements with husbands and relatives, and generally carrying on our lives with not a minute to spare. I'll tell you, T: We don't sleep much. But you knew that. Just wait 'til you have to attend a parent conference at the kindergarten, like the one I ditched yesterday evening because, well, basically, I'm sick of them. You'll run back to evening work meetings in a flash.
I'm hoping that the day off is only the beginning of the process of, well, separating from my less-than-balanced tendencies in favor of some normalcy, if such a thing exists. Some things aren't gonna change; I still try to get to work early, 7:30-7:45, so I can get some work done in peace, and because, fact is, in order to be taken seriously in a hospital, you have to be seen early and often (and sometimes late and often). Early in the morning, when most of the kids are still sleeping, and before all the nonessential personnel and outpatient families have arrived, there is a kind of quiet that hangs over the department and lets me arrive more slowly and prepare myself -- body and soul -- for the coming day, from within a peaceful moment and not a flurry.
An additional repercussion of getting an early start? It encourages me to leave work on time, infinitely easier said than done in a world where there is always another sick kid to work with, another parent who needs assistance acquiring a private teacher at home, or just a listening ear, another physician who requests that we strongly encourage her patient to finally get out of bed and into the classroom. There is always that kid I didn't reach today, the social worker I forgot to call back, that staff meeting that drags on and on, until that hour I'd saved for him at the end of my day has long since passed.
That's when thoughts of my own kids start creeping into my head. They lurk and curl around my brain, tugging me toward my locker to gather my things, pack up my workbag, and head toward the stairs. They are relentless, consistent, comforting in their insistence that a colleague might be available to help this child or that parent, but at the end of their 8-hour school day, I'm the only one my kids want, and expect, to see.
Keep the balance,
* The fact that this term attracted no notice from Blogger's spellcheck leads me to believe that I am far from the only one to need it.