Having it all isn’t good enough for one Chicago mom

I  was recently asked to do an interview on “having it all.” The request came from someone who said she understood I had a successful career while juggling a large family. I didn’t know if I should be flattered or laugh out loud.

I feel fortunate for my life. I have four children, a loving husband and a job that gave me pride. I manage to get vegetables in my kids’ bodies, make my husband’s lunches and get to the gym. So what if the veggies were never fresh, the lunch was frozen sandwiches and I got up at 4 a.m. to exercise?

So when asked about having it “all,” I hesitated.

The truth is, from where I sat, I felt like I was just barely managing. Having a husband who worked endlessly, no family in town and a boss who turned a blind eye to the fact I always put him ahead of everyone else often amplified the challenge of juggling everything.

I spent my 20s working hard, often at the office until 9 p.m. and putting in a full day on Sunday. I wanted to climb up the corporate ladder fast. I was great at what I did and I felt fulfilled. I dreamed of having babies. I had a blueprint and was ready to execute it at 32, the year Emerson was born. I lined up day care, cut back to 45 hours in the office and became a working mother. It was not easy, but it was achievable. I carried a lot of guilt for not being at the office as late.

It became harder when Emerson was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome. I was determined to successfully give wholly to my job and my child. I never missed work, moving mountains to show that a working mom could still be as effective as anyone else. Nineteen months later, Connell arrived just hours after being in the office to finish up last-minute emails.

Life was organized chaos at its finest.

Sullivan arrived two years later, nearly on the Kennedy Expressway because again, I needed to tie up a few things at the office. I started working from home one day a week. It was splendid. I got just as much done. Maybe more. No water cooler talk, no lunch distractions and multiple loads of laundry done before 8 a.m.

After my company was bought, I feared losing my job. I began to travel, proving unwavering commitment to the company. I missed conferences, plays and school parties. To add to my guilt, I secretly looked forward to sleeping through the night and the peace of getting ready for work in a hotel room by myself.

Ellis arrived that winter. I assured my newer, less flexible boss that the baby would not affect my work.

He was not familiar with the previous conference calls taken from my hospital bed or the full schedule I resumed from home when Connell was a week old. I would take my customary maternity “leave” and be available when released from the hospital. As I was ready to bring my baby girl into the world, my Blackberry chimed. My boss needed revisions. Ellis lay with me in the hospital as we constructed the 2011 Account Manager Comp Plan together.

As 13 years passed, I found I could address an office crisis, feed four kids and treat high fevers all in one day.

Then I was let go. Pointing out my large family and special needs daughter when I was offered a lesser position was a great out for the poor guy tasked with giving me the news. It left me wondering if one working mom could “have it all.”

My outlook on life has changed. In attempting to have it all, I spent too much time working to prove to myself and to everyone around me that I could handle anything. What I do know now is that I would give less time to the guy who didn’t reply to my emails or the silent thoughts that my boys were lousy at soccer because I was not home to make sure they knew how to play.

I miss my job every day. I don’t know if I will go back to that life or take a different path. What I do know is that whatever my next endeavor may be, I will look at it through a different lens.

Life is a series of lessons. Perhaps we can find more success if we decide that “having enough” is a better way to view our worlds than “having it all.”

Amy Connell-Donohue is the mother of four living in Elmhurst.

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