Back when I lived in DC, worked full-time, and fancied myself a young urban professional, I used to say I didn’t want to turn into one of those moms who wears Lululemon all the time. My thinking was, “Just because you spend $100 on yoga pants doesn’t mean you should wear them all day long.”
Now, before I offend half of my (two) readers, hear me out. First of all, I love Lululemon – I dream of having racks of coordinating yoga outfits and to look fashionably fit while walking out of a yoga sculpt class, glistening with sweat, to pick up my kids from school. But the all-day Lulu outfit was a symbol, the uniform of many a—gasp—stay-at-home mom! I’ll admit it, I used to be one of “those” women who worked full-time and couldn’t imagine not putting on professional business attire to start my day. I knew being a full-time mom was incredibly challenging and admired all the women who did it – my mom, some of my best friends – but I just didn’t want to do it myself.
The truth was, I was insecure about who I was and how to balance my family and my career. After having kids, I felt like my career took a nosedive. I wanted to move forward but I didn’t have the energy. And I felt guilty. It sucks to drop your three month old off at daycare at 7:30 pm, pick her up at 5:30 pm, and put her to bed two hours later. I felt guilty. But I also felt guilty because I didn’t want to be a full-time mom either. I looked enviously at my friends who’d already made that choice and felt like there was something wrong with me for not making that sacrifice and for not even wanting to try. I felt guilty. Was I missing a maternal gene?
Fast-forward a year. I’m getting ready to move to Hanoi, a city I’d never visited in a country I’d never set foot in, where they speak a language I don’t understand. 26 hours away on a good day. And I was flying with a 2.5 year old and a 2 month old. I’m organized. I plan. That’s what I do. So I had a plan: I was going to have my second daughter, move to Hanoi, take a few months off, start a part-time job, while simultaneously pursuing an Executive MBA. I was so smart. I even interviewed for my Embassy job the night before my scheduled c-section! I took a perverse delight when I casually mentioned I was delivering a baby the following day and the interviewers gasped and said, “Well, we’ll hurry this interview up then.” I was ON IT. Ah, “the best laid plans…”
So we get to Vietnam, spend a few months settling in, and I’m ready to start (chomping at the bit, that is) to start working. Well guess what? That wasn’t going to happen. Gotta’ love government bureaucracies. I thought I’d start in a month or two so I focused on my Executive MBA program and headed off for the retreat weekend excited to embark on a new adventure. Well, the program wasn’t what I expected, and I didn’t want to spend time away from my kids pursuing a degree that I didn’t think necessary nor desirable. Scratch that off the strategic planning chart. If you’re keeping score, this left me with no job, no MBA program, and NO PLAN. Plan B? Stay-at-home mom. OMG.
So, I donned my Lululemon uniform and plunged into mom-dom: breastfeeding, (literally) cleaning up spilled milk, school drop-offs, swim lessons, sitting cross-legged at baby music class, watching bad TV while the kids napped. There were certainly upsides: I spent time with my kids, including doing all things I’d never had time to do in D.C. But I still felt anxious, like I spinning my wheels. I wanted staying at home to be my choice, and it wasn’t. Which left me a healthy dose of resentment on top of my trash heap of a plan. Slowly, and I mean slowly, some things started to click though.
1) The Lulu uniform ain’t so bad. Comfortable, stylish, adaptable. (Far more embarrassing was the Southeast Asia version I began to adopt. I won’t go into detail but suffice it to say that it involves $5 elephant pants sold to Millennial backpackers throughout the region… Seriously.)
2) Personal goals still mattered. Check that, they mattered more than ever. And fitness became a huge one. I achieved a personal fitness goal of getting into crow pose this fall and then, this winter, finally getting into full wheel. I used to tell myself I’d never be able to do either. When I pulled off crow I screamed – in the middle of yoga class, very un-yogi of me – “I did it!” It felt awesome. I felt like me. I felt like I was shining again and my perspective began to shift.
3) Usually when an older person tells me how lucky I am to be staying at home “because I’ll never get these times back,” it’s when one or both children are wiping snot on my pants or exploding their fruit squeezies on themselves. And I want to punch the well-intentioned stranger in the nose. But in those rare (very rare) quiet moments, I begin to realize they have a point. The chaos is kinda the good stuff.
These are among the many things I’ve gained perspective on having quit my job, left my friends, family, dog, and home, moved halfway around the world, and gone waaaaaay outside of my comfort zone. And that’s what Shine is about. I’ve spent lots of time in the past few years reading, thinking, and over analyzing life. And doing it amidst the craziness of Hanoi has given me a new appreciation for the things that matter in my life: family, fitness, food, and frolicking (traveling, kids, having fun). I hope my crazy ramblings might be helpful to others going through the same life adjustments. And I hope you’ll share your ideas with me. Because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to find balance.
P.S. I can still rock a D.C. business suit with the best of them!