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Jet Lag

Each Wednesday evening, after my kids are in bed, I switch bags.

I take my wallet, cell phone, and keys out of my work bag, the bag with my business cards and train pass that I use during the beginning of the week, when I commute an hour each way to and from my office. I drop them ceremoniously into the bag I use the rest of the week, the one with the crumpled diapers and wipes, old pretzel crumbs, crayons, and teething toys, my “mommy” bag.

This ritual marks my transition from professional to mother, from one time zone to another, and sometimes, at random moments during my week, I suffer from jet lag. Which time zone am I in today? Staff meeting at 10? Or morning nap at 9:30? Lunch meeting at 12:30? But aren’t I picking up carpool at 1?

Jennifer Murphy, in an article for the National Post on how to beat jet lag, writes: “Despite opinions to the contrary, the biggest cause of jet lag is not the number of hours traveled, but the time zones. Experts say that changing time zones throws off the body’s circadian rhythms.”

I live in two radically different time zones, between which I commute on a regular basis. Help! Does anyone have a top ten list for curing the working mother’s jet lag???

In a piece about Caroline Kennedy in last week’s New York Times Magazine, Lisa Belkin, the author of the Times’ “Motherlode” blog, writes about how our society’s expected work trajectory is not conducive to mothers, many of whom jump off the fast-track and then have trouble getting back on. “Someday, perhaps” she speculates, “work will become more a lattice than a ladder – a path that allows for moving up, stepping down a notch or two, taking a few large sideways strides, making your way upward but not necessarily at a sprint.”
She got me thinking. Maybe this working mother’s jet lag is actually enriching. Maybe our lattices ARE our ladders, and, no matter how we decide to juggle our lives as mothers, we never “get off the ladder,” or even step down a notch or two. We’re always sprinting forward. It’s just that our ladders have different dimensions. They’re broader, wider, stretching, like Jacob’s, from earth to sky – and it’s hard to adjust their margins to fit them onto a resume.
The distinction between the time zones of “mother” and “professional” is, to some extent, artificial. Okay – so I sometimes show up at work with a coloring book instead of a notebook. But I bring the innumerable skills that I’m developing as a mother into my work life. And my life as a professional, similarly, impacts my experience as a mother.

So forget the melatonin. Bring on the jet lag.

–Maya Bernstein