Bend, Don't Break

Bend, Don't Break
Photo by Timothy Newman / Unsplash

Friends of mine have struggled for years to get pregnant. They've wanted children since I've known them and have tried every known approach, from holistic to clinical.

I recently had coffee with the dad-in-waiting, and we discussed their challenges over the years. He shared a little about the moments of despair and how close they've come to giving up. It has consumed them and become a source of stress that impacts everything else – work, friendships, social life, everything.

But they are still hopeful. Optimistic, even. Despite the challenges, they still believe they will have a kid one day. And, towards the end of our chat, with a wry smile my friend said, "Turns out we can handle more than we thought."

As I write this, I'm nearing another birthday. I tend to get reflective around birthdays. The reflection isn't related to aging (I've never felt better), but because it's a convenient checkpoint. New Year's is loaded with residual holiday stress (and a few extra pounds from six weeks of eating, drinking, and poor sleep), so I don't find it useful to try to take stock of the year in January. I'm fortunate that my birthday falls in the spring, when renewal and optimism tend to bubble up anyway.

Reflecting on this year, it's been... A Year.

This time a year ago, I was working remotely for a firm in DC with plans to relocate with my family. We had financing lined up, a realtor looking at houses, and friends who wanted to buy our current home. We shared the news with friends who universally supported us and family who less-than-universally supported us. We were looking into movers and thinking through a packing strategy, all while handling the daily grind of work and raising twin toddlers.

Life was standard for white-collar 30-somethings. Daycare, work, rinse, and repeat. Survive the week, check off  to-dos on the weekend, and try to find some time to unwind.

Fast-forward a year, and things are a little different. We opted to stay in Columbus to support my wife's career, I left my job, and I'm now a full-time dad.

I went from dealing with typical work and career headaches to very atypical headaches. In place of Zoom calls, networking events, and client presentations, I mediate fights over action figures, battle through resistance to cleaning up toys, and attempt to persuade kids that dropping trou to pee in front of everyone at the playground isn't okay.

Parenting is hard under the best of circumstances and can be insufferable under anything less. In a desk job, covering a rough night of sleep or an extra beer at happy hour is easy – plan a quiet work day and grab an extra cup of coffee. As a full-time dad, I've learned the hard way that energy management is crucial, and I've had to change diet, sleep, and exercise to maintain energy levels.

Some family members still resent the DC relocation, and pulling the plug on the move wasn't helpful to our marriage. Add in mourning the (temporary) death of my identity as Ambitious Professional, and there have been some hard times in the past year.

But as I round into another year, the boys and I have a rhythm and plan to spend our summer together at the pool and driving range. I'm much more confident handling them solo and am amazed at how personable and outgoing they are (maybe too outgoing, in the case of peeing in front of everyone at the playground).

We now know where we'll live for the foreseeable future, which beats the uncertainty we faced last year. I've re-examined the role I want work to play in my life, and while it's important and I still have career ambition, I don't plan to let it dominate my attention and energy levels like it used to.

I've gotten to take the boys to weekday lunches with their grandparents. My wife built the foundation for career success and she will positively impact our community for years. I've always liked to cook, but have learned to make a killer crock pot or sous vide dinner while juggling the other duties of a domestic god.

In a year of uncertainty and stress, we're in a great place with the perspective of and gratitude for what we have. We bent but didn't break.

Turns out we can handle more than we thought.