Getting the Job Done: Women and Work Life

Posted on October 12, 2011 by


Women getting their "busy" on

Women are good at compartmentalizing, juggling, balancing and yeah, bringing home the bacon. Well, some women. I have orange sticky notes all over my desk outlining each day otherwise I’d stop somewhere after walking my dog, Orli. Actually, after walking Orli and drinking crazy strong tea with Gail.

See, it seems to me that after Gail and I have figured out an issue in her life, an issue in my life, guzzzled caffeine and agreed unequivocally that raising teenagers is a challenge, there isn’t really time left to do much else.

But every day, according to my desk plastered with sticky notes, there is more to do. One day I’m a therapist, another I’m a writer, every day, every single minute, I’m a mother and then there’s the maid. But we won’t talk about her today. Suffice it to say, I’m also a maid.

I try to keep my hats to a minimum. But, I have friends who change hats in a blur of efficiency, moving seamlessly from one role to the next.

However many hats worn, we women clutch our phones, rush to the gym, rush to work, rush to make it home to pick up kids, rush to the grocery store and rush to sit down and listen, really listen to our children, our partner, and our friends.

Take my sister, Sarah. She’s a frenzied hat-wearer. She wakes up and dashes to an exercise class. She comes home (it’s still dark outside) throws some crackers and carrots into her boys lunch boxes and gets to work as a school librarian all before 8:30 a.m. every single day.

Then, when she’s done with work, she picks up her boys, brings them to various practices, makes dinner, attends their games, cheers them on, brings them back home and helps them with homework. Me? I get tired listening to her tell me about her day. She dashes. I’m a long-distance plodder. You?

When I worked in a nursing home, I listened to men and women at the ends of their lives. They had stories of children who had died, husbands who had left, wives who had slipped away in mid-life of cancer; hardships and heartbreaks recounted over and over, as if to wear the memories soft enough to put them down once and for all.

Their rooms were decorated with framed pictures. Pictures of the children they had spent time loving and growing, dogs that had died, fishing trips with cousins from Milwaukee. After they had told me about the pictures (which they did each time I spent my alloted twenty minutes doing “therapy” with them) they got to  the real grief, greater than their stories of big loss and the smaller to-be expected losses of children leaving home and dogs dying.

Their new and confounding grief (a loss shared by both men and women): they all wanted their “busy” back. They wanted to know what the air outside the nursing home tasted like, how old my children were, what I would make for dinner and why I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring? They wanted their lives, their homes, their kitchens, their responsibilities and their jobs back.

They missed the juggle the buzz of daily existence. They missed the days that ran against each other and surprised  them with another sunday.

Their idle hands, folded on their laps were thick fingered and curled, or cool and thin, wedding bands spun around once plump fingers. Their hands rested. All done.

So, when Gail pushes back from the table and tells me she has a deadline and I think hard about what my orange sticky says for Monday or Tuesday or whichever day it is, I remember all those hands.

If women are good at compartmentalizing, then it figures that sometimes we get wedged inside one of the compartments. And have to figure how to master yet another task.

When I’m wedged inside a compartment, unable to jump to my next task, when my sticky notes go awry, when the car sputters to a confounding stop, when a client teeters along a sharp cliff of indecision, when the blog needs attention and a kid needs attention, and when Gail isn’t around to drink that cup of tea with, I wonder how other people get it all done and still appear unruffled.

Does busy look different for women than men? Is it because I talk to my friends, primarily women, about how to strike a balance between work and home life that  my take on the issue is that women are asked to balance more? I have some male friends who report feeling pulled in a million directions too…

Either way, female or male friend,  I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to listen.  Because conversation and tea? They keep us connected and in order to do any of the jobs we’re doing, we all need connection. Also, I love feeling that a day is mine  to squander.

Only, it isn’t really. I have work to do….thankfully. And you? How do you keep all your balls in the air?

For the record, thanks to the men and women of Spring Acres Nursing Home, I had the privilege of learning the loss of busy is a shared by both genders in old age.