It’s time to face the facts: My scrap-booking supplies have been in a box in the attic since I moved to Boston about sixteen months ago. Prior to that, they spent six years in a box in a closet, since we didn’t have an attic in St. Louis. The last scrapbook I made covered my senior year of college, a (gulp) whopping eight years ago. And while I love my college scrapbooks, and my husband begs me to “create more memoires,” I think it’s time to admit that it’s just not going to happen.
So, like many moms (and dads) before me, I’m attempting to document our family life in a blog. I’m calling it “Married to Medicine” because our life pretty much revolves around and is dictated by my husband’s career. That may sound antiquated, but it’s actually brought about by simple necessity. I would love to have one of those idyllic (but perhaps mythical) modern marriages where housework and childcare are shared 50/50. Actually, 80/20 would be great, since I’m a stay-at-home mom! But when your husband works 80+ hours a week and commutes another 15-20, the reality is that when he’s home, he’s asleep – or if he is awake, he’s far too tired to help. As I write this, at 10:22 p.m., I’m expecting him to walk through the door sometime in the next fifteen minutes. At that point we’ll finally eat dinner, he’ll check his email, and we’ll briefly discuss anything that needs addressing, allocating up to 5 minutes for any life-or-death situations. He’ll then go to bed around 11:30 – later if he took any work home with him. I’ll follow shortly, after the kitchen is cleaned up. Less than five hours later, at about 4:20 a.m., his alarm clock will go off. At that point I’ll literally kick him out of bed, which will be painful but necessary for both of us. Shortly thereafter, our five month old will wake up hungry. He’ll be nursed and put back down, and he and I will sleep until around 8:30 a.m., waking up to the daddyless home that is our status quo.
To be clear, my husband isn’t “working late” tonight. This is par for the course. His next day off is 9 days from now. Until then, he may see our son awake briefly every several nights if he happens to get back a little earlier, and if the baby stays up a lot later.
And so Daddy’s career is a pretty dominant force in our daily lives: When do we next get quality time with Daddy? Where will Daddy’s career take us next? How long can we count on living in any one place?
“Daddy” is currently an internal medicine resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (a Harvard affiliate, and the main hospital featured on the ABC show “Boston Med”). He’s about halfway through three years of training to become a board-certified internal medicine physician. Technically, he’s already a “physician” and shoulders enormous responsibility in the trial-by-fire environment of MGH. After this is over, he’ll have another four (yes, another four) years of hematology/oncology training that could be here or could have us moving as far away as Seattle or Houston. His post-college academic and professional training will ultimately total thirteen years. Thirteen years of sacrifice on both our parts – sacrifice of income, retirement and college savings, but above all, a sacrifice of what I consider everyone’s most valuable resource and gift: Time. Weekends, evenings, vacations, holidays, movies, friends’ and family weddings (I almost always attend spouseless, often dancing with my dad if he’s there) … Time. A mommy friend of mine who is herself a physician recently explained that it’s never just one spouse who attends medical school and residency; it’s always both. And I will confess to having felt a surge of gratitude and even relief when one of my husband’s attending physicians (i.e., his boss) complimented *me* on my husband’s top-notch doctoring. When I thanked him but disclaimed that I couldn’t take any credit, he said “Oh YES you can!”
And I do try my best to run our home such that he doesn’t have to lift a finger here – I don’t plan on doing that forever, but for these years we’re really both just trying to get by. My goal as a mom is for the limited hours during which “Daddy’s home – and awake!” to go straight to our son. So I’ve taught myself to do it all, even the guy stuff. Definitely not a natural part of my personality, and certainly not always easy with a baby in tow. But well worth it.
I’m sure that many reading this might think of me as some kind of anti-feminist or martyr (ugh!). While it’s true that in addition to the above-mentioned sacrifices, I gave up my bar license, a truly “perfect fit” legal job, and all of my professional connections when we moved out here for his residency … plus even remote proximity to family and many dear friends … BUT (and this is a big but), I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and not all parents with the desire are able. I’m staying home with our son – in spite of my law school debt. I’m still not sure that I actually “can” do it. As in, I’ll often say I feel “blessed to be able to stay home” – but I’m not sure I’m actually “able” to, by anyone else’s definition. My husband ultimately wants to go into oncology research, so after this thirteen-year haul and our mounting educational debt – mounting because his resident’s salary doesn’t allow us to make our crazy-high student loan payments – he won’t ever have a “doctor’s salary.”
“Well why did you go to law school then, if you wanted to stay home??” It sounds crazy, I know…
But I enjoyed law school, I enjoyed my 3 1/2 years of practicing, and I’m glad I didn’t shortchange myself in “being all that I could be.” I have no regrets, but I do have a lot of financial anxiety over our combined educational debt. When my husband and I started down our medical/legal grad school paths, we had no idea he would fall in love with research and choose a career that would pay a fraction of private practice medicine – and oncology research at that, which entails 7 years of post-med school training before you EVEN get that salary. We assumed money would be fine. And as a general rule, I don’t (or didn’t) believe in women making any career decisions based on a wanting to later stay home with children. These days I don’t know what I think about that… I do expect my husband to, eventually, balance his demanding career with our family’s needs – and by balance, I mean sacrifice. But you can’t know, as a happily married grad student, that you’ll even be able to have children. Would I still do law school again if I knew then what I know now about our finances? I guess I can’t answer that until we see about kids’ college and retirement.
Basically, *both* my husband and I are of the “follow your dreams” generation. We’ve *both* made choices that were economically difficult, in pursuit of those “dreams.” But part of what drew us together, and maybe one of our few truly shared personality traits, is our intense idealism. So we’re both living our dreams in this household. And just hoping that our son won’t someday read this and say, “But guys, what about *my* dreams?? Like [insert expensive private college he worked hard to get into]?”
Ooooh this is really long. LOL! I guess my other reason for blogging is I have a *need* to write. It was always my favorite part of practicing law.