I'm not coming back
Not working. Not cooking. Not cleaning.
I never thought I'd want to be a stay-at-home-mom, but let me tell you... as intense as it is (and it is indeed intense) parenting full-time while traveling (stay-at-travel mom?) is 1000% better than attempting to parent while managing a business, a household, and a marriage.
I love it, and I don't want to go back.
What would our lives look like if we didn't go back?
This has been the intermittent but consistently-returned-to conversation of the last three months while on the road.
At home, my schedule is exceptionally demanding. I have nearly every moment accounted for before I even wake up in the morning, and I begin working at 5am. Often, when someone asks me to coffee or dinner or for a networking meeting, or even to drop by and visit a friend, I need to schedule at least a week in advance, and I've been known to check my calendar and say things like, "I can see you between 10:40am and 11:05 am next Wednesday, but I'll have a hard stop at 11:05", and I mean it. My husband works 60 hours/week in high-tech (which, don't get me wrong, is appreciated, since it funded this trip) but it means I'm often single-parenting while trying to expand a business. And since we are a non-screen family, there's no "throw the kids in front of the TV so I can make dinner" time.
In short, what I've realized is that the life I've chosen is frantic. And it's time I make a different choice.
On this trip, we have very limited funds and almost zero solitude, but what we have in spades is the following:
I have learned that I value these things over convenience.
So how can we have more of what we are desperate for (time/energy/freedom) at home? Is it feasible to alter our lives to get more of what we crave and be less slave-like to the clock, to chugim (children's activities), to work, to keeping up a house and keeping up with neighbors?
All possibilities are on the table, and every single one is scrutinized meticulously, methodically. Now that I understand that the way I thought I wanted to live (work harder, have more) failed to earn what I needed (time/energy/freedom) what other lifestyles are feasible? The only requirements we have are housing and nourishing ourselves and our kids. We have discovered that we can do that anywhere, and that we actually enjoy it. At home, 90% of my time with kids is logistical management:
Did you put on your shoes? Put on your shoes! Put! On! Shoes!
Do you have your hat? You have a school trip tomorrow. Where's your white shirt?
Yes, I'm making dinner. No, we're out of katsup. No, I'm not making french toast and spaghetti and meatloaf. No, you may not have katsup for dinner. Damn, I forgot we're out of katsup.
Where is your book report?
Hurry! We're late for school/English/swimming/piano! Get in the car! GET IN THE CAR!
While we're in "travel", however, although a good 30% of the time is still dedicated to "Put. On. Your. Shoes.", 70% of the time looks like this:
You know that Jack Johnson song Banana Pancakes? The lyrics that have always caught me:
Pretend like it's the weekend now. We could pretend it all the time.
are what I want. I want to pretend that it's the weekend. All the time. Now that I've tasted what that's like, I can't go back.
I won't go back to frantic.
So, what next then?
We spent a month in Goa, and found a community of self-labeled ex-high-tech "f*ck this sh*t Israelis". These are families like ours who left Israel, but more significantly, left the rat race. They decided to live with "less" and got more. They don't have cars, they work part-time online, and they spend very little (because it's India.) They live at the beach in very small apartments, and they have formed a school, a community, and a life. Let me tell you, we considered it. I think we would be perfectly happy in Goa, given that there's a beach, hummus, and Amazon delivers. But then again... my sister and my parents live in Israel. Can I really live a plane ride away? Is freedom worth giving up my family? I thought long and hard about this, and came to the only conclusion I could allow myself. No. I will not leave my family. It would break my heart, and then, ultimately, what have I gained? On to the next option.
What about staying in Israel quitting work? Could I really quit? We've played endlessly with this possibility, and sadly, the answer is this: If we want to continue to live in a house and drive a car and send our kids to private lessons and buy wine... no. If we want a one-parent-working family, we have to cut our expenses significantly. So we explored that option, too.
Can we live in Israel, on less money? Can we move to a small apartment? Can we relocate to a cheaper area? Can we live without a car? Without meat? Without chugim? Without private health insurance? How much can we live without, and still be responsible parents? How much is this freedom worth to us?
You'd think that these decisions would be ours alone... but we have four children. And (most of them) are not babies. They have opinions. And priorities. For the most part, on this trip, we have run this family as a democracy. Everybody gets an equal vote (except Lev Ari, since he's three and therefore easily manipulable - all anybody has to say to sway him to their side is "there will be chocolate") and I have been outvoted more than once, as has my husband. I retain veto power when it comes to finances, health or safety, but for the most part, majority rules. The kids have less than zero interest in moving. They love our life, our friends, our house. They don't want to move. On to the next option.
What if I continued to work, but my husband altered his work? Can he freelance instead, and work less hours? We combed through that possibility for at least a month, and performed a ton of research. How much demand is there for what he does, on a freelance basis? Answer: lots. How much stability comes with such a life? Answer: zero. Freelancing (as I know very well, since I initially freelanced before I founded my own company) comes with not only zero stability, but also zero flexibility. You work when there's work. You get paid when you work. There are no sick days, vacation days, flex-time. Can both of us really work like that, without a stable paycheck? What if we both have a few low months... will we lose the house? Can we live with that fear? Nope.
What if he changed careers completely, and became a gardener? Yoga instructor? Fish farmer? (Yes, these are all real possibilities that we've explored, discussed and researched.) He could do any of these things, but that means I'd have to scale up my business, and scale it up BIG. Or, I could close the business entirely and get a regular full-time job as a Director of Marketing at a high-tech firm in Tel Aviv. Can I handle being the breadwinner? Can I handle the commute? Lots of women do it. I'd have to hand the house and the kids and the meals and the cleaning and the shlepping over to the hubs.. can I relinquish control like that?
Discovering the grey
And what if things were not so black-and-white? What if we played with the grey area of life? What if we didn't institute major changes, but instead, I worked a little more and he worked a little less while parenting more? What if he played with his schedule at his current job? What if we became a little looser about screen time? What if we didn't need each kid to have private English lessons plus swimming lessons plus Tzofim plus plus plus? What if we took a breath and RELAXED a little more? What if I took less meetings and did more yoga?
Can I see the grey? Can I live the grey?
So far, we've drawn zero conclusions. But honestly, we don't need conclusions yet. What we needed was to recognize that we want something else, and the time and mental space and energy to ask the questions and explore the options. I don't know the answers yet. But I know how to ask the questions, and that's a start.