Life on the Edge

Amy Carlson essays

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I find myself asking this a lot lately: when is it okay for our kids to see us flounder? Where's the boundary between authentic and too real? At what point does it go from watch-mom-struggle-but-eventually-triumph to mom-are-you-sure-we're-going-to-be-okay?

I quit my job to stay home with my kids and launch a tech startup. The kid part is going as you'd expect: fun, messy, exhausting, frustrating, glorious. When my one and five-year-old and I are not trying to get each other to bend to our equally stubborn wills (we seem to spend a lot of time doing this), we're laughing and hugging and dance-partying. My favorite parts of the day are those when I'm seeing the world through their eyes and letting all of my beeping gadgets talk to themselves for a while.

But there's more. I'm in the process of divorcing my kids' dad and in doing so ending a relationship that I didn't want my kids to emulate. And since I haven't been able to line up the caliber of writing jobs, which would allow me to support us while being home with my boys during the day, I'm doing in-home childcare for less than minimum wage and a few other odd jobs. And we're still not making it.

How much reality is too much for our kids?

I ask because I don't know and because I've never felt like such a fuck-up in so many areas of my life at once. And I've got the most adorable audience, and they call me Mom and ask for snacks and run away when I try to wipe their noses. Then, I get the snacks and catch them and wipe those noses and check my email again, hoping for word about this or that job application. Hoping for a miracle in the form of a job that pays the bills.

When it all comes together, when my company finally takes off or I luck into the writing job(s) of my dreams, then I'll have a story to tell them about belief and determination and, maybe most importantly, a story about not giving up because giving up never gets you anywhere. In the meantime, I try to remember what my face looked like when I had a job that used my master’s degree and made a good living. When I was confident in my ability to give them what they needed. I try to put that face on to mask my own because I'm afraid I won't be able to pull this off, and it's like a clenched fist around my heart when I think about what that would mean for my kids.

My five-year-olds favorite song says, “every little thing is going to be all right.” Most of me knows that. The sunny side of me who is usually very much in charge but has been suspiciously quiet here lately would say that “all right” is the floor and we're reaching for the ceiling. That we'll make it and then some. But for now it's deep ragged breaths, heaving the double stroller up and down the hills on the way to the park, midnight job searches, hugging my kids too tight, crying in the shower, into the occasional curry and behind sunglasses. Life on the edge looks different for all of us—but probably not as different as we think when we're right in the middle of it. 

Even though I'm weighed down with uncertainty about our future, I see now that my most important job is letting my kids be kids. Lucky little creatures of the present, their perspective helps me focus on our bristle block creations, time spent piled on each other on the couch singing along to the Octonauts and teaching my boys how to be good to one another. The what ifs will be waiting for me on my bedroom ceiling, ready for the moment when I'm too exhausted for anything but worry. Perhaps the only thing I know for sure is that the sum of their lives so far has been made up of these moments, and making those count is what counts. If I'm doing that right, I'm doing (the most important) something right, and that's going to have to be good enough for now.

About the Author

Amy Carlson

Amy Carlson can be found running after her two boys, striving for some semblance of kids/work/life/etc. balance (ha!) and telling anyone who will listen about the importance of investing in public education. She crossed a big one off her list of Potentially Big Ideas with the creation of , a free iPhone app for taking & sending thank-you videos. She blogs about her transition from school administrator to tech startup founder at .

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