It is 5:15 a.m. My almost-2-year-old, Leni, is standing beside my bed poking my shoulder: "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom." Leni and her younger sister, Rae, were named after a few people, including famous sisters from the Torah. Rae is 3 months old and sleeping soundly in the crib. We moved Leni into a big-girl bed because I didn't want two cribs in the house.
Apparently, I didn't want sleep either because now we are up when she is up in the morning.
"Mom. Cheese?" Cheese is Leni's word for food. I need a few minutes to wake up before making her breakfast, so I invite her into bed. It's then that I realize that my husband has fallen asleep on the living room couch again, after a night out with his buddies.
My husband Ariel came to the United States from Israel. He is part of a tight-knit group of Israeli guys that married American women. They'll regularly play poker at Ariel's office or have dinner downtown a few blocks from our apartment.
Rae stirs and coos in the corner. I scoop her up and get back into bed next to Leni. That doesn't last long though, and before I know it Leni is jumping up and down and ready to conquer the world. I am ready for coffee.
The three of us go into the living room where I tap Ariel on the shoulder. He gets up from the couch and goes to the bedroom for another hour of sleep. Sometimes, I wonder if he gets more flexibility than I do as a parent. Do kids really need their moms more when they are younger? I think so.
I may not have the flexibility that he has, but I do have support. Ariel believes I'm his own Wonder Woman and I strive to do it all -- the career, family time, social life, and date nights. I would not be able to manage all that and two kids, under two, without Ariel and our families.
I have my dream job as the head of marketing for a regulated fin-tech start up. My 25-year-old self would be proud because she envisioned this role. However, there are times I wish I didn't have two young kids at home when the opportunity presented itself. It's a lot to juggle, and it would be easier to tackle one thing at a time, but I don't have that option.
Besides the normal working-mother challenges like guilt, sacrifice, and stereotypes, I also have to deal with leaving breast milk in the office fridge. I am sure my colleagues love that. I am also sensitive to the fact that I am usually the last one in the office in the morning and the first one to leave at night. However, balance requires boundaries, and I want to be home in time to put my kids to bed.
I try to manage the guilt of only seeing my girls about four hours a day with the goal of spending more quality time with them on the weekends. For example, I enjoy taking Leni to a children's museum and watching her explore. I aim to spend two Sundays a month like that with her.
I squeezed in a dinner the other night with a friend who told me that one of the ways she feels like a good wife is making dinner for her husband. Cooking isn't really my thing. I will leave that to Ariel, but it reminds me to do something special for him. Work has been crazy lately and he has stepped up at home. And our moms -- who intentionally live next door to each other -- are great, too.
When I was single, I didn't really have a balance. I was always working because I didn't have anything on the other side of the scale that carried the same weight.
However, after becoming a mother, I have found that having more things to balance in my life is more enriching than having just one thing. It's not simply about work-life balance anymore. As a working mother, spending time with my family is important. But I also strive to be an understanding wife, a present mother, a hard worker, and a good friend. There are so many other weights on the scale; to manage it all, I guess I've got to wake up at 5:15.
Jessica Darmoni lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters, and their chocolate Lab Zula. She is a freelance journalist, business development consultant, and the head of marketing at a regulated fin-tech startup focused on cryptocurrencies.