I had the rare opportunity to have a quiet hour to myself last week. Over this “winter break” time, my congregation holds briefer, earlier Erev Shabbat services. Instead of arriving home close to 10pm, I got home at 7:45. My husband and our 21-month-old daughter would not be returning home from his congregation until about 9:30, and I was determined to seize this rare opportunity for alone time.
I came in, fed the dogs, let them out, put a frozen pizza in the oven, let the dogs in, changed out of my nice clothing into my pajamas, took the pizza out of the oven, and settled myself on the couch with a magazine. There it was, a little after 8pm, and I thought to myself “Wow! This is so great! What a nice evening!”
Then, I thought to myself… wow, how did being all alone, eating frozen pizza in my pajamas and reading a magazine become the ultimate evening activity?
Then, of course, came the guilty feelings that I can’t seem to just dismiss—all week when I work long hours, leaving right after breakfast and trying to get home in time for dinner (if I am lucky) and bedtime (I try my best), I long for more time with Samantha. I wouldn’t trade my gem of a rabbinate at my truly special congregation for anything in the world… but gosh, I miss my kiddo.
Yet, I get an hour by myself and I rejoice?
Now, I know, it’s because it’s rare, it’s because it seldom happens that this alone time is special. And I know that I am allowed to have time to just be, and breathe, and take care of myself and de-stress. But as I looked around my (ok, honestly, not so tidy) house, I started also to wonder if I really should take the hour to clean, or pay bills, or do laundry, or get some work done, so that these tasks wouldn’t take away more precious Samantha time in the coming days.
No, I said to myself, it’s Shabbat. I am a Rabbi and it’s Shabbat, let’s try a little menucha. I get these little hours alone so rarely. And I looked down at the magazine:
THIS is the magazine I am about to read. Of course.
I enjoyed the different perspectives represented—that balance is defined differently at different times in our lives, that balance isn’t what we need…that we need to find a way fit the different parts of ourselves into our limited time and energy. That if you are asking the question of balance, you already have it pretty good—the impoverished aren’t seeking balance. (It’s a “first world problem,” and even more than that, an upper middle class problem at that!) Yet, clearly, no magical secrets to living a balanced life were found within its covers (I wish!).
Amidst discussions of how to “have it all,” or how and why we should “lean in,” or why women can’t have it all, or why no one can “have it all,” or why and how everyone can have it all, the question of balance seems to be pertinent. The push to do everything (and do it well!), or to be everything to everyone (and be the best!) really seems to be an issue of too much of a good thing.
Being driven in your career is a terrific asset. And trying to be the best parent (or partner, family member, friend) you can be is also praiseworthy. And trying to be an involved, informed, healthy, well-rounded individual is also a valuable pursuit. But expecting that we can do all of these, all the time, without dropping the ball on anything—and while making it look easy!—well, I guess that’s pretty ridiculous. But I am certain that I am not alone in feeling that push.
That I should work a 70 hour week (and really bring it at work) and still find time to have a perfectly clean house, cook meals from scratch, work out, and make all my own baby food. (That expensive baby food making gizmo I bought when I was pregnant has literally been used one time in the last 21.5 months.) Oh and have date nights with my husband, somehow, also. And be fully present at work when I am at work, and fully present at home, when I am home.
Is it a pressure we put on ourselves? Is it Facebook? Is it Pinterest? Is it magazines like Real Simple and stores like the container store—that I really enjoy!—making me believe that there are some homes where everything has a place, that complete organization is really possible, and that “balance” is something that can be achieved and maintained?
It is a time of resolutions. What a blessing for us that in addition to Rosh Hashanah, we also have the Gregorian New Year as a time to reflect, prepare, and resolve? I could resolve to achieve balance, to work to “have it all,” to lean in, to manage to do more –for myself and for others—in the year to come. But I have a feeling about how that would turn out. How many times have I made resolutions that have to do with the gym and/or healthy eating?
In 2014, I am going to strive to have more reasonable expectations for myself and for others, and to achieve greater honesty in my social media presence. The real truth is that among the many things that could occupy my time, what tends to win are time spent with my family and time spend caring for my temple family. The house isn’t as clean as I might hope (or my mother might hope), we end up throwing together whatever is around for dinner, I am constantly, comically losing my cell phone even when it’s in plain sight, and sometimes I have to hold back laughter when people ask what my hobbies are. Hobbies? People have those?