Walking the TightRope

“How do you do it? The kids, the job, all this travel…you make it seem so effortless…”

I stared back at her and blinked.

There in a crowded conference was someone accusing me of having my shit together. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Do I tell her I forgot to pack enough underwear because the kids had thrown mine out of the suitcase in a fit before I left? Do I tell her my husband had to miss a very important day of work because one child was sick and no one could go to my girlfriend’s house? Do I tell her I had to miss having a girl’s day with my daughter at Barbie’s real Malibu Dream House in order to fly to this stupid conference?

No. I just blinked back and smiled and nodded.

Tonight I’m picking up the pieces of my life. As I do every night. Tonight those pieces include another sick child, strewn across my bed, puking on towel after towel and soiling pantie after pantie. I’m washing the towels in between attempts to entertain her still not 100% brother, and a good 10 hours worth of work.

I’m canceling dentist appointments, scheduling doctor’s visits, and wondering exactly how a new washer and dryer will get delivered between important work calls, school pick ups and drop offs, and my in-laws arriving in town.

I’m piecing together the schedule for this week and next, juggling a generous friend’s help with babysitting, a nanny I can afford a few days a week, and a double-birthday party that will be thrown somewhere in between another trip to San Francisco and a work/vacation to Florida.

I’m screaming in my head that this MUST get better. It WILL get better and it’s just what everyone does to get by.

It is…right?

I’m going to scream ONLY in my head from now on. Those that know and love me too well hear me scream out loud and then keep things from me. Well intentioned but maddening.

Hey, how’s today going? Things are good here. Busy, meeting a lot of people, networking…what? What do you mean you’re home? What? What do you mean he’s sick? What? Why didn’t you call? Did you call the school? Do you have Pedialyte? Is he upset? Did you give him a towel? …

…and on and on.

I have a friend who jokes that I’m never zen when away from my home. It’s true though. I’m worried. I’m wondering. I’m also feeling the guilt of leaving. Of NOT being there for the first, scared puke. NOT being there to comfort. Not being there to find the favorite shirt. NOT being there to paint Barbie on our toenails and sip pink lemonade.

Of course, there are speeches to be made and careers to further and sacrifices for all. A paycheck needs to come in the mail. A job needs to get done.

Up and down. Back and forth. Around and around until I’m dizzy. Where am I supposed to be today? Dentist. Then conference call. Then emails. Then school pick up. Wait, do I need to do school drop off today? No…today’s Dad’s day for drop off. Then pack. Then blog posts, then maybe follow up on that other thing. Then the other conference call. Then more emails. Then a memo. Then I need to start dinner, then get kids ready for tomorrow…what was tomorrow again? Right…make sure I’m packed and nanny comes over, and she has the instructions for school and the permission slip and that snacks are packed before I board that plane…. what day is it again? Was I supposed to pick up that prescription? Oh…and it’s sharing day at preschool…


I chose this. A very wise woman reminded me of that recently. We don’t all choose to be mothers. We don’t all choose to have careers. Both are choices and there are ramifications for those choices. I can’t hold anyone else responsible for the dizzy but myself.

Of course there are days both choices make perfect sense. I am lucky to work from home the majority of the time, to be able to be waiting in the school pick-up line instead of being in an office cubicle.

I get to speak in front of hundreds of people. Meet wonderful friends in other cities. I get to host a show, I get to make my voice heard. I get to help others do the same, all for a paycheck.

I also get to stroke my daughter’s hair tonight, as she lays next to me while I type. I get to see my son build a lego space ship and fly it over to me at 2 in the afternoon. Not after hours, not before I leave for an office. But in the middle of the day.

I can finish memos and emails as I tuck kids in bed. I can write scripts as I pack tomorrow’s lunches.

Staring at the woman at the conference I smiled and nodded because I knew it was at least partly true. At that MOMENT everything was under control. I had navigated my duties at the conference, I had planned and prep’d my kids for me being gone, their Dad was ready, the nanny was ready… I HAD IT ALL BABY!


No, I just knew how to lie in the face of such absurdity. I mean, I could have blurted out “BWHWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” at the very nice woman’s face. Maybe I should have.

But I didn’t.

I blinked.

And I will keep blinking as I walk this tightrope and attempt to not fall on my face.


  1. Damn, but you nailed it. This is me every time someone accuses (yep, totally the right word) me of this. And I think, “You see me juggling these balls up in the air and you have NO IDEA of the number of balls that I’ve dropped on the floor. Look near my feet.

    Keep blinking. And breathing. And trying to keep it together. It’s the best we can do sometimes.

    I loved this post.

  2. There is some serious comfort in knowing you do it too Kelly.

  3. Very powerful! My heart stopped beating as I read this. How most of us make it through every day is beyond explanation.

    I went out tonight for a networking event and came home to vomiting child with a fever. Now I’ve got the guilts. The pressure we put on ourselves!

  4. I would say “hang in there,” but that implies a temporary measure until help arrives . . . and you probably already have all the help that you can reasonably expect. 😉

    Seriously, when I think about your life or mine (similar in the overlapping duties, just with a different shape), here’s what I wonder: what are we WILLING to cut? Not work and not family, sure. But SOMETHING.

    No matter how hard we try, there really are only so many hours in a day. You already use them well (better than I do, I’ll wager) — but how might you give yourself back just a *little* time so things aren’t quite so crazy?

  5. Writing is my “time” Tim. And no way I can give that up or I’d go insane. You guys are the glue 😉

  6. Myrna the Minx says:

    So this made me breathless just reading it. I dont have kids by choice although I love kids. I think I just have always known what I was capable of handling and what I’m not. It’s hard to manage just me and keep breathing sometimes. I dont know how you guys do it!

  7. By the way, one more note — to you and Eliz above — as a dad who tries hard: when you’ve got a spouse, let them take on some of the first-contact duties, and abandon any feeling of guilt around that. I’ve got excellent child-comforting skills . . . and I can swab up vomit with the best of them. : )

  8. This is such a wonderfully written and honest post! You are so in my head right now. Trying to manage a family, business, and social life is terrifying, difficult and rewarding. I am an IP attorney, mom of two, beauty blogger, IP Law blogger, and involved in the Junior League, and Dress for Success. I am fortunate enough to work from home to be there for my kids, but it gets so hectic and draining at times I just want to give up and quit. But like you I chose to be a career woman, mom, and community service evangelist. I love it and I despise it all at once. But I don’t think I would have it any other way.

    Thank you for expressing the conflict within in such a beautiful way.

  9. Myrna I have to say it’s just an auto-pilot reflex some times. If that makes any sense

  10. Yeah Tim. My husband does more than his fair share…but I think it’s usually because I’m so over extended. Adding to my guilt.

  11. Wow…I’m so impressed that you have brain cells left to write this like this. You are so…me. Except substitute “I get to host a show” with “I get to save lives from cancer.” But same difference — impossible to imagine giving up a part of your life that’s so deeply fulfilling. I keep hoping it gets better. But what’s that saying about the definition of insanity…?

  12. I live on the Turkish riviera in a penthouse about a mile from the Med coast, I travel often, and have the distinction of not having had a job since I was 19. It irks the living hell out of me when people say, “oh, you’re so lucky to have that life!” Uh, luck? LUCK? No, I frickin suffered to have this life, and still do – there was no luck about it. I made choices, hard ones, as is necessary when you decide not to live the 9-5 desk life and not to stay put in your home town. People don’t see the months of eating ramen noodles three times a day for months on end in order to finance a trip to Europe. They just see the photos on Flickr and moan about how lucky I am (and with that, implying that they aren’t lucky). Most of them would scream and run the other way if they saw the sacrifices I have to make and stresses I have to go through on a daily basis to do what I do and have what I have.

    The truth is, “enviable” lives like ours always come at a hefty price, but people never want to hear about that that. It’s frustrating because it’s like they’re saying they think the only way we could get what appears to them as our perfect lives, is if it magically fell into our laps…like we couldn’t possibly be hard workers who often stretch ourselves to the limit in order to have what we have. Personally, I resent that.

  13. I didn’t even know there WAS a Turkish Riviera. But yes, I hear you loud and clear. Sometimes the grass is greener. For sure.

  14. You’re right…you made the choice. Many choices on many levels. And sometimes your days will be fulfilling and carefree and sometimes they won’t. That’s called life and I KNOW that you know it.

    What’s really cool….yes, I said cool…about your situation is you GET to make the choices. They are not, for the most part, made for you.

    You have talent, drive, determination, smarts, wit….I could go on. And because of your talents/gifts/what have you, you GET to make this choice.

    When all is said and done, I’m sure your kids will look back and realize just how awesome of a mom they have and how you inspire them to drive their own destiny. And in the face of life happening – ie, shit hitting the fan, like it does to everyone, you handled it the best you could.

    That’s what they will remember, Erin. And that’s what you should remember too.

  15. Kath just made me cry.

  16. I’m not sure I don’t know many women who don’t feel like they are walking a tightrope, whether they have a career or extra-curricular activities in addition to motherhood or not.

    The hours have a way of filling themselves, even at home with three children, it’s not many women I know who eat bon-bons and watch daytime television. Maybe I just surround myself with “that kind of woman”, but children will always have a way of filling your time with more and more need, and as they get older, I find it takes more time, not less. And more of the emotional/psychological time. I hate to say it, but for me the physical demands of toddlers and young children are becoming the salad days of parenting. I’m finding that as my children get older, my time for other ventures is becoming less – they can feed and bathe themselves, sure; but, shepherding children through puberty, potential social/emotional land mines of middle school, the increased activities and time demands of their own, I’m stretched and torn in ways I’d never had imagined. The late nights with a 2yo are the easy parts, right now.

    I know more parents – or at least one parent in each household – who are giving up more as their kids get older because the psychological energy is more. Someone once said that if you want to be a good writer, you should take a day job as a shoe salesman so that you don’t bring work home with you. I’m beginning to believe the same about parenting older children. I’m well rested in body, yet completely exhausted in other ways. Still, a joy to behold as they become full-fledged people…still…I’m exhausted.

  17. I hear it often as well.

    I am a single mother with very little help. I also work full-time, blog in addition to that (for 4 blogs now) and handle every bit of housework, shopping – you name it. Now the speaking engagements are coming and I just got back from SXSW as well. Traveling with kids is SO hard.

    I feel you and this post is awesome.

    I’m just incredibly happy I don’t have a husband to clean up after as well – because, then, I’d be losing my shit on a daily basis.

    Also… I wrote this piece for one of my blogs a while back and I really think you’ll appreciate it – this is my reaction to someone calling me a superhero:

  18. http://www.flickr.com/photos/melissamaples/3049237829/

    This is where I live, amidst the 5-star hotels and luxury resorts. 🙂

  19. Wow. Sometimes you have these periods where you just feel tired & overwhelmed and that you are the only one who doesn’t have your shit together. The only one struggling to somehow get it all done. The only one wishing it was easier. Just for one day.
    And then you stumble upon a post like this and realize you’re not. Thanks.

  20. It’s so strange, because while it’s happening it’s so frantic and you feel like you have china plates crashing around you at all times. You wish for peace and quite. Too many people need you all at the same time.

    And then they grow up and leave, and you want to kill yourself because you have no reason to be on earth, no one needs you, and you end up with two large dogs, mentoring young people to keep feeling like a mother. I don’t know which is worse (or better). Love you, Erin.

  21. I’m at that phase that I come to often in my life when I kick myself in the head for never having made a career for myself outside of raising my kids. And then I read this, and I realize that I could NEVER do what you do. It makes me appreciate you that much more.

    Thank you for doing what you do.

  22. I loved this post.
    Especially the acknowledgement that this kind of a life is a choice–a crazy, emotional, chaotic, and deliciously love-filled choice. Not that knowing that makes it easier, but somehow it makes it more of an accomplishment that simply pure turmoil.

    And yet, today I found myself walking past the pet adoption mobile as if three kids and a career wasn’t enough…

  23. Great post. Great honesty. Great woman.

    And you made me feel significantly better about the work/mother struggles I dealt with today, which were, retrospectively, not that bad.

  24. I’m on that tightrope too. I’d reach over to hug you but then we’d both end up splattered on the sidewalk. This is the curse of love on the tightrope.

  25. I love you. I love your truth.
    That is all.
    p.s. It gets better as they get older, I promise.

  26. Ahh, so those are the joys of motherhood I am going to miss 😉

    Seriously, you did look pretty zen in the one picture I saw of you online wearing your stetson. I was only able to sit in on half of your panel, but you presented yourself well. Sometimes keeping it together is just the appearance of such.

  27. Ah, so true. I think it’s fake it till you make it. And right now, for me at least, I’m faking it one day at a time.

  28. i have 5 kids. someone ALWAYS has SOMETHING. and people always tell me that they don’t know how i do it and keep my sanity. and i do the same thing…i blink. i fake smile. and i sigh inside. because i don’t always know how i keep it together or if i really am keeping it together.
    wow. great post!! thanks!

  29. You are so right regarding all your thoughts even at 62 as my six year old grandson left my home from a Friday sleepover and we kept my husband’s daughter Tracy who is developmentally disabled an extra night (we keep her every other Friday from her group home) and tonight Joes daughter (my step daughter) and my step grandson who married my step daughter (don’t try to figure that out) is coming to dinner so we can see them and their baby my granddaughter or great granddaughter. My schedule is so horrendous even after 43 years of working often I want to throw up and wonder what kind of mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, wife, and friend I am as I continue to cut up the pie to fulfill all my obligations. Work is a constant struggle in today’s economy and really after it’s all done who’s got enough of me not to mention is there anything left for us there is?

    Here, here as I’m telling you it sounds like you’re exhausted and remember there is no peace for those of us who fill our lives with family friends and obligations. That’s what life is really about and as I lament about my previous years filled up as they are honestly my album of life is filled with laughter, smiles, happiness, sadness support when needed and yours will be too as you are a fine parent with a wonderful history and a lot of good you’ve spread in this world already. Keep up the great work and parenting and remember you can be my family or friend any day as you’re the right kind of person friend and family member we need today so learn by heart the struggle is worth the journey the memories immeasurable blessings and great health…

    Hugs Dorothy from grammology

  30. Dorothy I would need a GRID to figure that out. lol

  31. You may not have it all together, but having followed you for a long time, I will say that you are a most amazing person. Keep it up.

  32. I am, at nearly 5 a.m. after a night of insomnia, and several days late, only just now getting to this.

    Not fair to make me cry at the keyboard in the dark when I haven’t had sleep and “tomorrow” morning (read: 2 – 2 1/2 hrs from now) my kidlet wakes up to spend more “Spring Break” with me denying me even the usual “time to do stuff” that kindergarten usually brings now.

    My blog is oh… 3-4 weeks behind. My brain is fogged. My calendar is scaring me b/c I’m definitely starting to go beyond the “only 1 trip a month maximum honey” limit I set for myself before the year started… and I’m also kinda laughing because you really *did* look like you had it all together down in Austin and I kept thinking “damn… I know she’s at least as busy if not busier than I am… and I know her husband is just as busy as mine… how does she do it all?”

    Now I feel a little bit better knowing that you do it the same way I do – dropping the knives you can’t juggle without bloodloss and keeping the rest going by telling yourself “something’s got to give soon – I hope it’s not me.”

    Love you sister. Thanks for writing this.

    Made me feel slightly better thinking about my lack of coherent answer when my daughter looked at me yesterday and said “Mommy, why do you work here at home and Daddy works in an office?” as we were playing ‘Pretty, Pretty Princess’ and I was also deliberately deciding to let some of the knives just clatter to the floor.


  33. Fortunately below every tightrope there is usually a safety net.

    You have my number. : )

  34. Your post brought back memories, some painful, some heartwarming. I, too, worked from home and had a hectic travel schedule. My two are now off to college (well, one is in last days of high school and has few demands on me anymore). I’ve said for a while that women were sold a bill of goods when told we could have kids and a career and do both perfectly well. Not sure who suffers most in this scenario, but mom herself is up there at the top with kids. If I had to do it all over again, though, not sure I’d choose differently.

  35. My damp eyes were glued to your post and my heart beat just a bit faster than usual. You aptly represent the archetype of a woman. I reared six children, have two bonus children from my current marriage and we are awaiting our 14th grandchild. I had no assistance, financial or otherwise, from family during those child rearing years. The children and their families live across the nation and we manage to visit all of them two or more times a year. I obtained my bachelor and master degrees while raising a house full of children. I attended almost all of the sporting and school events and all of the teacher’s conferences. I’ve always worked full-time – except when I took the 4 years (that’s right, 4 years) to obtain my degrees, then I worked part-time. I now work full-time and assist my husband in the lodging business that we own and operate (operate year ’round and without employees.) Of the combined eight children – 7 have college degrees and the eighth is owner in an old & very successful business. All of the children are self-supporting, all of the grandchildren are seemingly happy, active and doing well in school. I say all this because I want you to know that “GUILT” was the word I focused on in your blog. Why, why, why do we riddle ourselves with guilt no matter what we do and no matter how well we do it? Keep writing – it will keep you sane – relatively speaking. :))


  1. […] life, my work, and my passion. Between the punditry you’ll find stories of my struggle with balancing motherhood and career. Posts about my family’s moral compass, teaching sex to my kids, and even just my thoughts as […]

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