When I walked up to my door after my first ever “business trip” last week, I was greeted by hand-drawn signs made by my children. “Welcome Back Mommy!” “I love you Mommy!” Pictures of hearts and smiley faces and drawings of me with my 8-year-old son were lovingly taped onto the kitchen screen door.
Everything made sense walking up to that door with my overnight bag in hand. Everything was right. Everything was how it should be. Forget about the traveling, the speaking, the spotlight. I was washed with an unexpected wave of clarity that reminded me that this and they are what really matter.
I was very excited for the opportunity to “travel for work” – to pack a bag of only my necessities, to check only my luggage, to sit like a lady waiting for boarding, leisurely scrolling on my phone with one hand and holding a Starbucks in the other. It dawned on me in my preparations that this would be the first time since I was engaged that I would be flying alone.
Reality played out instead. I had one of those travel nightmares where my flight was delayed three times, cancelled on the fourth, and then the airline re-booked me for a different flight accidentally on the following day. I got on the last flight of the day to New York, on the last seat, but was sick as a dog waiting for the flight, with alternating sweats and chills. I had lost out on this coveted adulting moment sans children, which of course, since there were no children, must certainly and most definitely should have been relaxing, rejuvenating and enjoyable. I admit, I also shed a tear or two waiting to see if I would get a seat on the flight. And there was no Starbucks in the terminal.
Between being sick and the flight fiasco, I wasn’t sure if Hashem was sending me message after message that I wasn’t meant to be speaking at SKA/HALB the next morning.
Hashem blessed me with a 5-hour respite so I could do my job at SKA, where I sat on a panel with Judge Ruchie Freier and Mrs. Sivan Rahav Meir and then presented two sessions. But then the symptoms came roaring back on the flight home that afternoon as I waited again in the terminal, very much not enjoying airplane travel.
The title of the panel was “Voices of Inspiration: Women who Shape the World, Guided by Torah.” Student leaders created a magazine for their classmates and parents who attended. In their description of the event, they wrote: “Although they are all from different backgrounds and are living in different places, what these women have in common is that they have each found their voice to express what is important to them, while maintaining a Torah-true lifestyle.”
The panel discussion was titled “A Balancing Act: Religious Women in the Modern World.” Sessions ranged from Judge Ruchie Freier speaking about how she remained true to her inner voice on her journey to the bench to Sivan Rahav Meir discussing news room behind the scenes in her high-profile media job in Israel. I spoke about finding my voice in writing as well in my own religious journey. At the end of my final session entitled “Finding Your Own Voice,” two seniors came up to me with a couple of million-dollar questions.
They asked: How do you pursue “your voice” in a profession (i.e. a field that really reflects your strengths and talents) if it means not being able to balance your family life as you would like? How do you have the emotional reserves for everything?
I loved how these girls were thinking about their future lives as mothers and wives in addition to considering what they wanted to major in college and pursue as a career. That they were fully aware of the concept of emotional reserves and being spread too thin due to so many responsibilities. So I was honest with them in my response.
I told them that I specifically went into teaching in a Jewish school, not only because I was idealistic, but also because of the schedule benefits. I told them that I had to cut down on teaching over the past few years not only because I wanted to focus on my writing, but also because I found that teaching high school English during the day and preparing lessons and grading papers at night was becoming too demanding as my children were getting older. I told them that I had to make various decisions over the years that that put my own “talents and abilities” on the back burner in favor of doing what I had to do for the sake of my equilibrium and that of my family’s.
I think they appreciated my truth. I don’t know how Judge Freier and Sivan Rahav Meir do it. I don’t know what systems they have in place to support the lifestyles they lead. I do know that they are both incredible role models for women who are fully engaged in the secular professional world but are staunchly committed to their standards and beliefs in Yiddishkeit. That was the point of the panel.
But I hope that there are more young women out there who are aware that you can’t have it all, that sometimes something has to give. It doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t go for great degrees and pursue talents in a professional setting at the highest level possible, if that is one’s priority. It just means that one needs to be aware of the challenges going in to avoid being blind-sighted and disillusioned.
I talk about this topic with friends a lot. One who would love to pursue her PhD but as a busy mother of four, sees her commitments to her day job and her family as reality checks preventing her from getting that degree. And her children’s tuition is the priority over a new tuition bill for herself as a student. Others who cut down on work hours or left demanding jobs because the balls in the air were getting too complicated to juggle.
Maybe I don’t have the drive. I don’t want to go back to school, and I don’t want to work very hard. Those are my considerations. Other women have their own as to why they want or need to pursue additional degrees or work in demanding jobs outside the home. No need for Mommy Wars. Each woman, family and home is different. And each mother knows in her heart, no matter if her days are spent busy at home or at the office, where her priorities lie.
Judge Freier sums it up:
“While practicing law is my profession, it does not define me; it is what I do. Being a mother and a grandmother is who I am – raising my family and watching it grow is what makes my life worth living.”
Who knew that a piece of computer paper and some Crayola scribbles could make everyday life so worth living.
Until next time,