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The B.S. of Balance: The Inappropriate iPhone

Hey all! It is my pleasure to introduce our newest columnist, Valerie Gordon! Valerie and I worked together in another life at CBS news. Now she’s tearin’ it up over at ESPN and sharing her wit and wisdom with us, something you’ll be able to read every month here at Good Enough Mother. Her column is The B.S. of Balance: And Other Musings From A Frazzled, Working Mom. Enjoy and welcome Valerie to the fold!

Quick, it’s the bonus round of $10,000 Pyramid! I’ll provide the clues, you tell me what these scenarios have in common:

*In lieu of sleep…

*At my son’s lengthy soccer game / my daughter’s even longer dance recital…

*During a romantic dinner with my husband…

*While with sick child in the pediatrician’s waiting room…

*In the middle of a routine gynecology exam…

Um, I don’t know… perhaps “Odd Places I’ve Felt Compelled to Answer Work Email on my Mobile Device?”

Ding! You’re right! You win the prize for Identifying the World’s Most Inattentive Mother / Wife / Patient! Do they have a mug for that one?

I will admit my obsessive checking of work email is an addiction. But at times, it is also a necessity. I work in a business where news breaks 24/7 and employees are expected to react promptly. So I check my email throughout the day and night – weekends included – often in less than ideal places. When I take a break from my mobile device for even half an hour, I can be sure that when I check again I’ll have 40 new emails to attend to.

Let’s revisit that period of my life I call, “The Year of the Co-Pay,” when my daughter’s frequent ear infections meant we were at the pediatrician’s office every other week either to confirm an infection or to make sure the medication had gotten rid of it. So, in my defense, it’s not as if these were emergency-room illnesses – in which case the iPhone would have been promptly pocketed. No, these visits were mere nuisances, requiring me to use my option to work somewhat remotely while I took time from the office to escort her to check-ups.

As we sat in the germ-infested waiting room where I was sure she’d pick up something worse than an ear infection, a quick glance at my iPhone indicated that someone at work needed information that only I was privy to and I promptly began typing my reply. Nothing will make my children require my attention more than when I’m engrossed in email, so you can imagine what happened next:

“Mommy, watch me….” my daughter requested, doing a little jig with a half-broken toy she pulled out of a bin. “Are you watching? Are you watching, Mommy?”

“Mmm-hmmm,” I murmured, fingers furiously typing, then correcting misspellings. “That’s nice, honey.”

I hit send and look up, in time to catch the disapproving glance from across the room. It came from a clearly superior mother, actively engaging her runny-nosed toddler in picture books she had packed in her purse, designed to teach him his colors and numbers and basic Russian phrases and Quantum Physics and whatever else she thought she could impart during the brief wait for the doctor.

I get it… a truly committed mother, a really great mother, would have all eyes and ears on her ailing child at all times. But it’s not like I was playing Words with Friends… I was doing work during normal business hours. For anyone who has questioned what the elusive “Work-Life Balance” looks like, this is it.

Sometimes it means you allow your child to play with half-broken, germ-infested toys while you answer questions from the office amid judging glances from those who have perfected their parenting skills. Sometimes you sneak away from a candlelit dinner to quickly revise a script in the ladies’ room because your husband has banned your mobile device from the table. Sometimes you use those free moments – the parts of the dance recital when your daughter isn’t on stage… the time in the soccer tournament when your son is warming the bench… even the routine Pap smear – to multi-task your way through your day.

Crazy? Perhaps. But this is “balance” folks.

What about you? Has work beckoned while you are with your family? How have you handled it? Now, if you’ll both excuse and forgive me, I have 40 new emails to attend to.

More from GEM:

The GEM Debate: Fine China or Campaign Contribution?

Single Mom Slice of Life: Lessons Learned Remotely

Ask the Good Enough Guy: Can You Teach An Old Jackass New Tricks?

Valerie Gordon has been navigating the wilds of central Connecticut since relocating to suburbia from New York City four years ago. The 40-year-old mother of two is also a Coordinating Producer at ESPN where she oversees feature production. This means she often has to choose what to watch on evening TV: the big game or anything on Bravo?

4 Comments

  1. Mike McGinley

    June 27, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    What a well-written, fun piece! Looking forward to more.

    Valerie, you should have smiled halfheartedly at that other mom and said, “Yep – there are few vacation days in cable TV!”

  2. Laura Ward

    June 27, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Great piece, Valerie! And, so true!

  3. TechyDad

    June 28, 2012 at 8:51 am

    I’m pretty stingy about my work-life separation. I think it’s from growing up with a work-a-holic father. My father would go to work early in the morning, come home from work, eat dinner, and start on the stack of work that he had brought home. Then, on the weekends, he would tackle a bigger pile of work.

    He kept insisting that this level of output was expected by his boss and he was just trying to keep up. I insisted that he set that expectation by working hundreds, if not thousands, of unpaid overtime hours every year.

    When I began working, I made sure that my boss knew that my work stayed at work. I was willing to sign in and help if there was some emergency, but that was the exception, not the rule.

    Now, if you ask if I’ve been distracted from my kids’ antics due to checking social media? I’d have to answer… Hey, look it’s Elvis! *ducks away while everyone looks behind them*

  4. Shannon

    June 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    What a relief! Balance means staying upright while the tension pulls from both (or multiple) sides. It’s nice to read your take on this, and to get a giggle to boot. I look forward to reading more!

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