Ever felt like stretch armstrong? You know that weird gummy plastic toy from the 80’s where you pulled his arms and your friend pulled his legs in opposite directions? That’s what every working mother feels like, pretty sure.
The year I was pregnant, was my most “successful” year to date. I had more clients than I could handle. It was insanity, I remember many nights that I got home at 9pm and shoveled food into my face then collapsed on the sofa next to my husband and mindlessly stared at the TV, without really absorbing what was on. I didn’t know what was on the other side of this pregnancy and so I thought, just do it, make that money while you can. I didn’t know if I was going to stay home, send my kid to daycare, get a part time nanny or what would be right. What I did know is that I like having my own savings and checking account.
Before I had our son, I had a daycare scouted and lined up. I was put on their waiting list halfway through my pregnancy, because apparently, that’s what you do in big cities. Ridiculous. I had every intention of going back to work full time and trying to replicate the year I had before but then my little guy was born. Breastfeeding was so not the dream I envisioned and sleep was scarce, but mostly, I was in love and I felt like time was racing us. He was so little and he needed me. I just kept thinking about all the moms that go back to work before their uterus has even shrunken back, stitches healed and how absolutely incredible they are and how horrid our system is. I was grateful that I owned my own business, eternally grateful that my husband could support us. The first 3 months are a whirlwind and no mother should be forced to leave her infant.
Anyway, daycare was a no go for me. I didn’t want to hand him off like I assumed I would. So I just kept hanging out with this tiny person and attempting nursing. Then one week in early Spring, I got 3 emails from potential clients and I was forced to answer my own question. Am I returning to work? My answer was no, not yet but maybe just this one simple project. Then I took them all on. I took my son to my client’s houses to see if I could measure and photograph with a small person strapped to me. No. Not happening. So then, I hired a “nanny” aka my best friend’s little sister to come over when I had meetings.
All Summer and Fall was a balancing act of managing general contractors, sourcing and scheming designs that reflect my clients, implementing those designs and avoiding hiring a full time nanny because “I wanted to know my son best”. I was part time mom, part time interior designer and full time losing myself. I was answering emails on my phone while my son tried to get my attention, I was on phone calls with him crying in the background. I sometimes used my part time nanny just to sleep and then felt guilty about not accomplishing more during these sacred hours. I was handing my son off to my husband when he got home for work and using that ‘family time’ to give work my undivided attention. To all the moms that strike a balance between these two world’s, my hat goes off to you. I was failing. Sure, I had moments where I thought “I got this” and I would walk straighter, sing louder in my car and make my boy laugh. But then there were days where I was like “how is this not working when I’m this fried?” Oh right, because I refuse to hire a full time nanny and I have no family in this State or in the next one.
My friend is always telling me about podcasts she listened to or things she read and at one point she was really into this book called the Four Hour Work Week and I kept explaining to her that his concept doesn’t work in every career. I felt like, especially mine, I brainstorm in showers, I answer emails in bed at midnight, there are so many details, so many contractors, vendors, stores, discounts, mark ups. But I was melting.
Four Hour Work Week goals aside, I started breaking it down, where lies the meaning in what I do? For me, it’s helping people turn their house into a home that’s a true reflection of themselves, giving them a place that gives back to them. Sometimes that means creating a peaceful environment to unwind, a creative space to inspire or laying out their space in a way that allows them to live fully in every corner of their home. Sure, I love being able to turn a full out design vision into a reality but in the decade that I’ve been doing this, it’s so rare that I’ve been connected with a client, whom I enjoy working with, has a great house, great taste and a budget to match. It’s usually 3 out of 4, sometimes 2 out of 4 but rarely do you find all the above. If it were 4 out of 4, maybe I’d get a full time nanny because the creative fulfillment would match my love of my son.
So, I have a new plan. I think it’s good. TBD on whether it’s profitable.
I think client’s are generally surprised to find out how much of their design budget is absorbed by managing vendors, deliveries, orders, mark ups, billing and the general back and forth of making decisions. Those details are all areas that a motivated client can manage once the overall design and layout is in place, therefore saving them thousands of dollars and giving me a bit more balance. So, my new plan is “design consultant”, I’ll go in map out a design and a plan to implement it, while also connecting the client with the best sources in the City and online, furniture designers, lighting designers, upholsterers, lacquerers, cabinet makers, window treatment specialists, contractors, vendors etc. I will assist with implementation along the way but the client will be the true “project manager” while I offer concentrated design.
So, that’s it, a year in struggling to find balance, succeeding and failing. Here’s to being a more present, inspired designer and a mom that doesn’t ignore her kid to answer emails. No more stretch armstrong mom.
Love to you,