This Message Was Sent With High Importance

When I got to the hospital this morning, I opened my work email and did a double-take.  Fifteen new messages, and all of them with a little red exclamation point next to them.  If you hover over the exclamation point, it says “this message was sent with high importance”.

I had to laugh.  Really?  Every single thing anyone has to say to me is of such high importance that it has to be flagged?

I love my job and I love being a single mom, but to tell you the truth, my double life wears me down a little bit sometimes.  I could use a break.  Or a nanny.  Or a cook.  Does anyone have a nanny who cooks that I can borrow?

Sometimes I get caught up in work and all the things that are expected of me during my residency, so much that when I get home I am too tired to interact much with Caroline.  I get her fed and bathed and put to bed, sure, but it’s more like I am surviving than living.  It’s hard to pick out exactly what should be demanding more of my attention, which, let’s face it, will never be undivided.

I mean, sure, my patients will always be one of my top priorities: a woman who is too embarrassed to smile because she is missing her front teeth, a man who needs multiple root canals and lives in pain because of it, a cancer patient who needs infected teeth extracted before she begins the chemo and radiation treatments that will save her life but temporarily destroy her immune system.

But what about my daughter, who needs me more than any of those people?  They just need a dentist… any dentist.  Caroline needs me.  I’m the only stable figure in her life.  All the little things like reading her a book before bedtime, blowing bubbles, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, listening to her daily list of who she hugged at daycare, or just sitting down and talking to her about what she did that day… those messages are of ”high importance” too.

So, I try to be strict about compartmentalizing my day.  When I’m at work, I devote my full attention to my patients until I’ve dealt with every issue and every chart.  When I’m home and Caroline is awake, that is her time.  I don’t pick up the phone, I don’t return pages, and I don’t turn on the computer.  She’s in bed by 7:30– partially because she needs her rest, and partially because I need my time.  After she’s in bed, I take a half hour to quickly clean up and get ready for the next day, and then that time is for me.

The thing is, not every single thing is of “high importance”.  Some things are.  But the others… you just have to draw the line somewhere and let go of them.  That chart that the finance department desperately needs right this second?  I’ll get it to them after my next patient.  That fourth book Caroline needs me to read before she can possibly go to sleep?  It’s 8pm and I think three is enough for tonight, kid.

It sucks to feel like I’m being pulled in a million different directions, and I can’t always figure out who needs me the most.  Fortunately, I can usually scrape together enough hours in the day to devote to everyone… including myself.  It doesn’t leave much time for sleep, but hey… there’s always caffeine, right?

Working parents, married or single– how do you manage to fit everyone in to your day?

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  1. by Kayla

    On August 10, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I think you just…do. I’m a married parent who works full time and I’m pretty sure I just learned something from you. I try hard to give my daughter my undivided attention but there’s always those “5 minutes” it will take to unload the top rack of the dishwasher or put a load in the washer or throw something (anything!) in the oven for dinner.

    It’s hard. I think we all do the best we can in this sense. Some days my husband comes home to a hot meal and clean clothes but a cranky wife and daughter. Other days he’s eating cereal and milk but we are all dancing to Fraggle Rock.

    But at the end of EVERY day we are all clean, well fed, happy, and healthy.

    I try to tell myself it’s a nice balance. :)

  2. by Jen

    On August 10, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I don’t :) Sorry, not the answer you were looking for, huh? I started at this question and tried to think of the answer, but I don’t have one.

    I am married, but there will be days that I do not see my husband. He will come home after Matt and I are in bed. My son usually only sees him on Tuesdays and the weekend.

    It is really so difficult. My students and my son get all of my attention and my husband and myself don’t get much. I love my job, I really do, but it does require work to be done after the school day. Most parents work, so when can they get in touch with their child’s teacher- at 7pm at night! Monday through Friday is a vicious cycle of feeling overwhelmed, breaking down and crying, getting sick (not enough sleep and tons of stress), thanking Jesus for the weekend. Repeat.

    So, how do I cope? Eh…obviously I don’t do a very good job of that! I have asked my inlaws for help- they live 15 minutes away. I’ve asked them come over once a week and help with the dinner, bath, bed disaster. They cannot- they have to play tennis and other bs.

    Dinner is the hardest. Since I have the summers off, I am doing lots of extra cooking so I can freeze dinners for the school year. It’s easier now at 2 1/2 than it was at 6 months. Judge if you may, but a 1/2 hour tv show before dinner gives me freedom and 2 hands.

    I give you a lot of credit, Julia, not like that makes it any easier. I wish you lived closer and I could help!

  3. by Joy

    On August 10, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I agree with Jen. You don’t. I’m a single mom, working full-time, 3/4 time student, co-chair for a volunteer organization, a small side job, and…my son was recently diagnosed with “special needs”. Up until THAT point anyway, I thought I had it all figured out and was doing all of these things for my son. So he would be taken care of financially, know the importance of giving back, and valuing education. Once we got the diagnosis, I realized all of those things are great for him to know when he’s older, but don’t help him in the now. I’ve put the volunteering to the side and do what I can when I can, homework is done when he’s in bed. Although there are days when I just can’t muster up the energy to play, I try to make sure that it doesn’t happen all that often. Some things, you’ll just have to sacrifice to make time for the two people that matter most – your child and you. Even if that means CLEANING may only get done every OTHER week… :)

  4. by Cat

    On August 11, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I am a single mom of a two year old and luckily I was able to find an apt in the same building that my parents live in so I have tons of help from them but before that ( I also wok FT and go to school) I would hurry home get like 1/2 hour with him and have to put him to bed because, like you I also needed time to get things done, unwind and he also needed to be put to bed for a 7am wake up and a drive to grandma’s. Even now I feel like I get a few days with him because his dad and I have a visitation schedule which includes him getting him all weekend on alternate weekends so its pretty hard. You feel guilty and at the same time you feel like your damaging them for life but I know that’s not the case I try to make up every single day that I am with him either by playing, coloring, reading, the park or just talking to him.

  5. by Berit Thorkelson

    On August 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Well put. I actually think about this a lot. I do what you do, try and give work my all at work, and Roy my all when it’s Roy time, and cut my losses in the grey areas. It’s really about deciding what is important. Isn’t funny how the answer to that is so different now than it was BK (Before Kids)?