In the early days of my separation from my son’s father, I didn’t know quite what to do with myself.
Couplehood takes a lot of time: there’s dinner making and cleaning up, occasional movie nights and crowd-battling Sunday Ikea trips to replace that shattered lamp, to acquire another bookcase to hold the various household shrapnel that accumulates over the years. There’s also, perhaps, cleaning up after the other person: razor hairs in the sink, jeans on the floor, an extra few coffee cups to be loaded in the morning. Eating my son’s leftover tomato sandwiches and re-using the same coffee cups, swapping weekend retail ventures for crab hunting on the beach with a mini-person, I suddenly found myself with too much time to think.
Many days I dreamed of cold beer on the beach in Greece to relieve some of the stress associated with a major life change, other days I just wanted to don my running shoes and sprint for the mountains, pouring out my worry and loneliness in a reckless, indelible waft over the soil. But there can be no Mediterranean or long solo exercises when there is also a small blond boy who needs the near-constant attention of his single parent. And so, I poured my vibrating energy into my work.
Ten years ago, when I first entered the professional workforce, I had a manager who gave me one of my greatest career compliments to date: “Kristin, you have a really excellent work life balance.”
I worked my butt off at the office, staying late when I needed, pulling overnighters if there was a very large Tuesday proposal due. But on the weekends, I’d pack up my snowboard to head to the slopes. And I’d use everyday of my three weeks of vacation, often jetting to a tropical country, never thinking to bring my laptop, turning off my cell and leaving it behind on my bedside table.
After becoming a single Mom, that balance all but disappeared. Rather than take up gambling or drinking, impossible with a small kid, I took up work addiction. When I wasn’t looking after my son, I was at my computer, prospecting, furiously hunting, writing and seeking more freelance work when I already worked 50 plus hours a week.
“You’re a workaholic,”my friends started to tell me,”Slow down, you’ll have a heart attack before you turn 40.”
It wasn’t a compliment, but I smiled weakly and continued my obsessive urge to work. It filled up my mind, distracted me, fulfilled me in many ways. After all, in America, there’s no such thing as someone who works too hard, right? If you drink too much, you’re an alcoholic, if you gamble money relentlessly, you might have a gambling addiction. If you can’t stop working even when prodded gently, you’re a workaholic. But somehow, the latter has managed to escape the stigma of the other “holics.” But I’m beginning to think it’s just as dangerous.
Having a child has taught me, among so many other things, that time passes in a blink. A baby is a boy overnight, crying becomes talking, and age lines become prominent, etched stories on an increasingly experienced face. And I don’t think there’s room for “aholic” anything in these precious, pivotal, alarmingly fast years. And so I’m going to start making an effort to turn off the computer a little earlier, get up at dawn with my son and not flip through emails, to fling out “aholism” from my repertoire of characteristics. I have the feeling there’s a little blond boy who can show me how to do it.