Enjoying the salad years
When I was a young working mom an older colleague told me to enjoy my “salad years.” I didn’t know exactly what she meant, and God knows I didn’t have time to reflect on it, but somehow the words stuck with me.
Now, a quick 10 years later, I think I get it. Not the real definition or the Shakespearean reference (which I finally did have time to look up) but the intent. As a young working parent everything is messy. You just do your best to take whatever ingredients you can find and try and make it work. Sometimes you feel like you manage in a way that is healthy and looks good. But a lot of the time the best you can do is slightly brown iceberg lettuce with goopy ranch dressing and, if you are lucky, a few tomatoes from the back of the fridge. Its mixed up, rarely completely satisfying and it never seems to look as good as what you see on Pinterest. You frequently find yourself wishing you had some missing ingredient – time, money, more help, an empty email box.
I vividly remember Sunday afternoons when my only son was 4 or 5. I was frequently torn between trying to catch up on unfinished work from the previous week and my son’s request that we build Bionicles together. Many times I found myself wishing that he was older, more capable of entertaining himself so that I could have a moment alone. I admit to feeling gleeful when I could set up a playdate at someone else’s house. I knew he was having fun and I could immerse myself in work guilt free.
He turned 17 last week. Sunday afternoons he drives himself to the rock climbing gym or pole vaulting lessons. I am lucky he still wants to hang out and talk over dinner, but I am painfully aware of how fleeting this time is. I think I did as good a job as I could trying to balance my work and parenting responsibilities, but I wish I had heeded the advice to enjoy the time more. The memories of the Bionicle building are far fewer and far sweeter than the memories of being perfectly prepared on Monday morning.
In this age of “always on” work we need to make it OK for young parents to enjoy these precious times. We need boundaries around after hours email. We need policies that allow for flexible scheduling and telecommuting. We need a focus on what people accomplish rather than micromanaging how they do it. We need environments where young parents can utilize their gifts and thrive, both at work and at home.
As messy and difficult as they are, the salad years go by far too fast. Before you know it the main course is here and the waiter is rolling over the desert cart. To all the young working parents out there, I hope you can put aside the smart phone and pick up the Legos. And I hope you can find organizations that support you both as an employee and as a Mom or Dad.
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