Thursday, December 23, 2010

Guest post: O, Christmas Tree

 Last night, I hosted my book club because it was easier for the others to come to me, the emergency doctor on mat leave with a 3.5-week-old baby girl, than it was for me to travel.

         One woman pointed to our Christmas tree and said, "Your tree reminds me of a task we use in therapy:  take two Christmas ornaments out and put them on the floor.  Don't put them on the tree.  Just let them sit there.  See how long you can last.  It's for perfectionists, you know?"

         My four-year-old son had done most of the decorating while I frantically cooked French toast for dinner (using homemade bread I made with my own hands, after my husband forgot to buy bread!).  This meant the tinsel was looped mostly around the bottom of the tree, he'd smashed one glass ball, and all the Christmas lights were plugged in to various sockets, some of them blaring different Christmas tunes, all of them flickering enough to potentially trigger an epileptic fit.

         I cleaned up the glass, grabbed the French toast before it burned, and muted the Christmas lights before I got marooned nursing on the couch while my husband left to put our son to bed.  So yeah, my tree might make Martha Stewart cry.  And yes, the first book club member to arrive helped wash my dishes.  But I've got pretty good work-life balance.  Here are my tips.

1.  I married a laid-back guy 
It does drive me nuts that he'd rather have sex and play World of Warcraft than just about anything else.  But on the upside, we're both on parental leave and getting a bit of sleep instead of going berserk.  That'll come later, when he goes back to work in a few months.  He does most of the laundry, nearly all the grocery shopping, and has taken over the school lunches.  Yay.

2.  Save your money so that doesn't dictate your life
My parents raised me to save like Scrooge ever since I can remember.  Now our house is paid off and our expenses are relatively cheap.  It's important for me to dictate the length of my own mat leave, so after the Ontario Medical Association (me) and Employment Insurance (him) are tapped out, my corporation will pay me what I need until I go back to work.  I know saving money is a laughable concept while you're in school, but when the money starts coming in, remember that paying off your debts means financial freedom, which as far as I'm concerned, equals just plain freedom.

3.  Get a cleaner
I'm with RH+ on this one.  I felt guilty at first, but now, I think it's a good idea to pay someone who does a much better job instead of constantly singing, "Clean up, clean up..." to my family and then end up doing all the tidying up myself anyway.  I don't feel as alone trying to fight the tide of toys, dirty dishes, etc. and it frees me up to do other things only I can do, like write or nurse my baby.

Of course my work-life balance isn't perfect.  I cut back on my shifts during my pregnancy because I wasn't functioning well afterward.  By that, I mean that I almost caused a car accident on the way home on one shift.  This did not go over well during a doctor shortage and I know there will be payback when I return to work.  Plus, well, you already have an idea what my house looks like in between cleaning bouts:  broken glass takes priority, not artistry.  But for the most part, I am happy, which is more than a lot of people can say.  Now I'm going to have a nap, which will make me even more balanced.  Cheers.


  1. Damn, I hope I'm in any condition to host anything when I have a 3 week old. That alone is impressive.

    My husband tortures me about my worries about money, so I'm glad to hear your #2. He says we have enough and I worry too much. But here's the thing: I don't get paid for my maternity leave. No insurance, no disability, nothing. So after my vacation and sick days are used up, I'm probably going to feel pressured to go back to work.

  2. I can't wait until the day we can pay a cleaner! It will be wonderful.

    Our tree is a delightful little mess, too, but the kids love it and I'm not going to waste time on "fixing" it!

  3. I totally agree with saving money and paying off debts. When I was in medical school, one of our deans talked to us about horror stories of doctors taking FOREVER to pay off student loans, and a lot of it is just living within your means and paying off your debts in a timely fashion rather than spending extravagantly. I wish I could just get my husband to listen!

  4. I'm so excited that people have read and commented on my blog on the eve of Christmas Eve! Thanks!

    @Fizzy, I hear you. My husband doesn't worry about money so much, but that is why I run the finances. I'm surprised that you have no leave at all, though (says the innocent Canadian). Ouch. Until recently, self-employed Canadians also had no coverage, but now we can opt in to Employment Insurance, although I didn't check this out in time. I guess your medical association offers nothing either. That really blows.

    @Kyla Agree! I still haven't fixed the tinsel on ours.

    @Kelly, So happy that one of your deans talked about money. Doctors are notoriously financially un-savvy. The Canadian Medical Association offers financial advisors. I also like the following books:

    The Debt-Free Graduate
    Smart couples finish rich
    Suze Orman's 9 steps to financial freedom

    Happy holidays!

  5. Wonderful post! I'm with you and above on financial stability - I've got a new lease on life with smaller house payments, about to pay off my car, and being conservative enough in monthly bills to splurge on me and the kids when I want to. Currently saving for vacations for the next year - after all, experience is much more rewarding than the accumulation of "stuff."

    Happy holidays to you.

  6. You got it, girlfriend. :)

    It's all about recalibrating your priorities. On one hand, I felt bad because other docs make more than me, the part time writer/doctor/mother. OTOH, I save money so I have the freedom you talk about, Gizabeth, without having to burn myself out working so many shifts. So even though one of my friends said, "You ARE a poor doctor!" after making more money in 6 mo than I did in 1 y, I thought, "You can't pay me enough to keep me away from my son" and I didn't get too upset.

    So I salute you for leading the life you want and managing your budget so you can get it!

    And I'm not disparaging people who are struggling financially, which I know many people are. I just hope we can educate ourselves, learn from our mistakes (financial or otherwise), so we can evolve together into shiny, happy people.


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