Two Horses

Life Lessons from a One-Year-Old, Motherhood, We Are In This Together

My 15 month-old son taught me a valuable lesson a few weeks ago at our local fair. He demonstrated, in living color, the profound truth of one of my favorite sayings: You can’t ride two horses with one ass.

We had just gotten to the front of the line for the big, beautiful circus carousel filled with glossy painted horses of every color. Long flowing manes cascaded down their necks, and fancy “saddles” beckoned, calling out “Pick me! Pick me!” to every little boy and girl who ran up onto the platform.

Hank meant business when they opened the gate, and he latched on to the first horse we came to, claiming it as his. I was just thrilled that he picked one on the outside row, as I had strategically placed his daddy on the other side of the fence with our good camera, hoping he would capture this magical mother and son moment.

Hank sat up proudly on his fiberglass saddle, gripping the golden pole for dear life as his horse started to rise and fall in those graceful waves around and around.

My little boy was in his element. And I was too, soaking up the sheer joy he exuded as he galloped slowly around in carousel circles while the tinny circus music played.

Once his toddler attention span ran out though, the novelty of his white horse wore off and he started considering his other options. Hank suddenly decided that he wanted to try out the horse galloping up and down right beside his. He started reaching for its golden pole with everything he had, squirming out of my tight hold on his chest.

I figured it would be easier to switch him over there for the rest of the ride than to fight with him about staying where he was. I scooped him up and plopped him down onto the middle horse’s saddle. This thrilled him for a bit, but the excitement from mounting his new steed quickly turned to wails of frustration.

Hank frantically pointed back to the first horse and tugged on my arm. He let out an angry squeal to convince me to listen, so I scooped him up again and plunked him right back where he started, on his original mount. But the tears kept coming.

The ride slowed to a stop, and as I carried him back towards his beaming crowd of fans (daddy and his grandparents) he proudly puffed out his chest and a big smile appeared on his face. He was already thinking about the next ride.

All through the rest of that fun-filled fair day, I couldn’t stop thinking about his carousel ride, and how I fight that very same battle. I completely understood his dilemma. Life often leaves us wanting to ride two horses at once, but once we choose, we often wish (mid-ride of course) that we were on the other one!

My two carousel horses these days are motherhood and my career. I am blessed by the fact that I have the best of both worlds: I have a fulfilling (and most importantly, flexible) job, and I also get to be somewhat of a stay-at-home mom. (Two days a week and on weekends.)

Sick baby? I can work from home, and snuggle him.

Emergency at work? I can drop him at grandma’s and run up to the office at almost a moment’s notice.

But-even with the amazing flexibility I have in my work/family life, I do often struggle with whether I am doing what I should be doing.

I always dreamed of being a wife and a mother, raising babies and making incredible home-cooked meals each day; my perfect little family all gathered around the dinner table at the same time each night like clockwork.

But in reality, my perfect little family is a big crazy blended family of SIX, and our schedule is sheer chaos. We bounce around daily; juggling shared custody of my husband’s three sons and his work-travel schedule and my three days a week at the office and a toddler and football and baseball and naps and school and doctors appointments. Somewhere in there we manage to buy groceries and cook meals, but it’s certainly never like clockwork!

In my craziest moments at home, when the baby refuses to nap and I have a long list of important voicemails I still haven’t gotten to yet and my checkbook needs balanced and dinner needs figured out and I can’t get the Tick Tock song to quit playing in my head–all I want to do is drop the baby off and head to my quiet office where I can actually get something accomplished.

But then there are days at the office when I am dealing with taxes or plumbing emergencies or unhappy tenants and I would give anything to be at home with my son, singing silly songs and reloading his t-ball tee for him 50 more times.

And if that doesn’t complicate things enough, there are also days when I drive by the little rural school Hank will go to in four short years, and I miss teaching. On those days I feel guilty for not using my Masters in Education that I worked so hard for. The one I earned proudly and then put on the shelf so I could be the best mom I could be in these important, formative years. (And selfishly, so I could savor this precious time with my one and only baby.)

On those very same days, I see my friends posting their first day of school pictures on Facebook and I actually cry tears because I don’t want to think about the day when Hank will be old enough to go to school; when I will have to give him up for seven hours a day. Five days a week.

Five days a week that will mean that I have all the time in the world to go to work, or teach again, or both–and I will be wishing I was home with my son.

I know this is going to happen. But if I can already guarantee that I will feel this way in four years, shouldn’t it be easy to be present, right now? 

Shouldn’t it be easy to enjoy every second of playtime or mealtime or snuggle time with my baby, who–overnight–is no longer a baby?

Shouldn’t it be easy to move thoughts of work or responsibilities or dreams-on-pause to the back of my mind? And just be in the moment, fully present; a focused, relaxed, FUN mom?

And shouldn’t it also be easy to enjoy the fact that I have a job that I love, that I am good at, that makes me feel accomplished and helps keep our lights on and groceries in our fridge? Without feeling guilty for missing out on three days a week of Hank time?

The answer to all of those questions is yes. Yes, I should be able to do all of those things. But the problem is, I can’t.

I should be able to ride one horse at a time, because I only have one ass. I fully realize that I can’t ride two horses at once, but just like my little boy, I want to.

My answer to the ages-old motherhood struggle of stay home vs. go to work is this: There’s no right answer. Whichever you choose will still be hard. Because as mothers, no matter whether we are staying home, or working, or working from home, or some ever-changing random combination of the above, we will always feel like we aren’t doing enough. Like we should be riding two horses at once.

Being a mom and having a career aren’t mutually exclusive–but at times it can definitely feel like they are. Especially when you want to do an exceptional job at both of them.

Hank taught me in one short fair ride, that as long as you let your heart lead, and spend some time on each of those horses–you will come out smiling. (Even if you do regret your choice from time to time. Sometimes you simply have to ride it out.)

Just like those pretty fiberglass horses; sometimes you will be up and other times you will be down.

But no matter which horse you’re on, you will still keep moving forward.

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Life is a beautiful, crazy ride – Hold on tight!

150 thoughts on “Two Horses

  1. Beautifully written. I am a working mom as well and have 2 beautiful kids that I send to daycare every day. My work is pretty flexible where I can stay at home with them whenever they get sick. I also have a part-time job at night when the kids are in bed. I do the chores I need to do over the weekend while still trying to spend as much quality time with the kids as much as possible. Even with all these, I still feel that what I am doing isn’t enough. I feel like I could still do more.

  2. Thank you so much! It is hard isn’t it! We are always wishing we could be in two places at once 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  3. I’m not a mama yet, but you so beautifully said everything going on in my mind, I couldn’t have said it better. I have begun to wonder if I will be ‘enough’ to handle motherhood and actualizing my goals and sometimes I fret. But thank you, I will learn to ride the horses- the ones in the amusement park alongside.

    1. Thank you! And just the fact that you are already worrying about it means you will be a great mother! 😉

  4. As a mom with grown children and now a grandmother and part time granny nanny, I know this conundrum all too well. We’re like the circus performer riding two horses, one foot in the back of one horse and the other foot on the back of another. God help us if we jump outside the ring! For the rest of your life, no matter what else you do, the happy moments you remember with your child and loved ones will be the ones that matter most. Everything else, except when we’re creating, is housekeeping.

    1. Oh Kathryn, I am sure you are right about that, I feel so blessed that I have this little one and I am trying to soak it all up right now as much as I can. Thanks for reading!

  5. Working mom here too, and I send my love off to daycare 5 days a week. It kills me sometimes, but I also love my job. It’s hard to split your focus, so I just give both of it my all. It’s exhausting, but I know in 20 years, I’m going to look back and miss these crazy days!

    1. Yes it is so hard! I am always thinking about him while I am at work, wondering what I am missing, but I love my job too. If only we could clone ourselves 😉

      1. That would be amazing! I’d take two clones. One to clean and take care of all the crappy stuff, one to kick ass at work, and one to just watch and play and marvel at how amazing my little girl is.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! And you hit the nail right on the head with your name – Motherhood is truly Beautiful Chaos, isn’t it! Love it!

  6. Yes! I love everything about this post. Currently I am laying on the couch exhausted because I flew last night. (Also a working mom. Juggling being a ️Flight attendant and a mama to two crazy toddlers.). My daughter is watching monsters inc. and all I wanted to do is take a nap while my one year old is… Yet I found myself reading your post and laughing hysterically because this is the battle of my every day. Riding two horses. (Or three.. Or seven..) haha. Thanks for reminding me to be present. Guess I better get off my phone and quit nodding when she talks about how Sully is funny. Cheers!

    1. Haha! Yes!! I love my WordPress time too, and I think if he is dancing happily to the acorn song while I am scrolling through my reader it is a well-deserved mama break that doesn’t hurt in the least! 😉 Cheers to a fellow working mama-I know how hard it is! Thanks for reading!

  7. Great article! I first saw your post on Discover (WordPress) and it had just a two line excerpt: “I should be able to ride one horse at a time, because I only have one ass. I fully realize that I can’t ride two horses at once, but just like my little boy, I want to.”

    I thought this was so powerful! Again, great article (:

  8. Haha! this was a good post. Motherhood teaches alot, and often we miss these times when our children outgrow their toddler ages. Enjoy and cheers for Hank!

  9. I Love, Love, Love this!! I have two teenage boys and have been struggling with the same conflict for about 15 years! At times I even allowed the struggle to get in the way of any pleasure I was getting out of my family. Now, of course, I want time to slooooowww doooowwwnnn! I work very hard at loving every moment.

    1. Thanks Heather!! Well you are a testament to my concern then, I know I will miss it all too so I’m trying so hard to be present, too! Thanks for reading!

  10. I couldn’t identify with this more if you were my own mirror image. I gave up my career to be a stay at home mother and find myself yearning for the sense of accomplishment that my own part time (but time absorbing) freelancing job gives me, while at the same time seeing the clock run down on my daughter’s and now we are at her last year before school and I want to make it an unbelievable year for her but also upskill myself and work harder. Argh! Mom guilt is overwhelming.

    1. Your comment just made my whole day, this is the reason I write! It helps me so much to know that other mamas out there deal with the same struggles and somehow, we all get through it! And yes mom guilt IS overwhelming! I had no idea until I had my baby boy, it rocked my world. So beautifully crazy but so worth it! Thanks for reading!!

  11. Awesome blog. So very true. I have a crazy, chaotic blended family too, and the struggle is real. Am I doing what I am MEANT to do? At the end of the day, I answer for my own life and my own choices. And finally, for me, the answer is a resounding YES.

    1. Thanks! And holy cow, 13?? I will be following you! I bet you will have some good wisdom for me too!! It’s crazy and wonderful at the same time, isn’t it! Thanks for reading! Cheers, my fellow stepmom!

  12. I loved this! Simply beautiful. I found myself smiling, laughing a little, and wanting to cry. Such great images and something so many people can relate to! I try to ride about a dozen pretty horses… all going in different directions, mind you. Eventually, if I manage to hop aboard one and ride it around a while, it takes me right towards another one and I get to leap!

    Thanks for posting such a heart-warming story 🙂

    1. Oh my goodness what a sweet comment! Thank you so much and thanks for reading! I am touched to hear that you could relate to my post, I think all of us women do so much in our busy lives and always think we need to keep adding more 🙂 Thanks again!

      1. I agree! I work part-time and then am a part-time stay at home non-housewife (not married yet! hahaha)- and I LOVE it! I love working a job and bringing in money and I love all things domestic. And yet I still find myself having moments of guilt that I am not doing enough or making more money to contribute (even though I cook constantly, clean, budget, keep the home running etc). My sweetheart always reminds me that I am constantly contributing and am the one that keeps the home together, that he is healthier because of me. Funny, isn’t it, how we feel we should be invincible and able to do it all… perhaps that is ingrained in us from times past-the caretakers of children and home and family, mixed with the more recent shift in The Working Woman and women taking on more leadership in the work force.

        It sounds as though you are riding both horses and doing it quite well! An inspiration to others 🙂

      2. Well thanks a bunch, sounds like you are too! I love it too, I think it’s good to be busy and life is short so we have to pack in the things we love even of it makes us a bit crazy at times lol!! And yes I think women truly keep the world running. . .or at very least clean, fed, organized, and loved! 😉

  13. I am in love with the “Young One” who rides the horse with pure bliss…he lives in the moment…that’s how we should treat life today…coz its “Present” …loved it …beautiful

  14. I can only say… wow. Thanks for putting in words all I have been feeling for months now. Sometimes there’s so much in one’s head, one has problems seeing things clearly. I never managed to point out the core of my worries because honestly I should be very grateful for my life right now and yet… I can’t avoid asking myself a great many questions. Have I done the right choices? What about my degree? Wasn’t that just a waste of time given the fact that I have now quit my well paid job to do what? Be happy? The thing is, I have decided to ride this one horse for the moment. I do not know if it is the right horse, but just like you said, it keeps me going anyway.

    Thank you so much for this read! I would love to repost this on my FB page with your permission!

    1. Absolutely, thanks for reading and I’m glad it resonated with you. I think we all feel this way from time to time! I’m happy to have you share it on your FB page, and thanks for asking 🙂

  15. Wow so true ! Being a mother of two have gone through the same emotions and turmoils a number of times with so many distracting and extremely attractive horses around oh!!! It’s been difficult to chose one and then to stay hopped on it to for long ….
    Well explained experience…

  16. Were’s on the same boat! Well, I guess all mamas are. It’s challenging and at the same time fulfilling to juggle motherhood and career. In the end, what matters is that we are there for our kids whenever they need us (which happens to be all the time haha).

  17. Beautiful baby. The question is this: the dilemma is in turn faced by everyone. How does one choose? Or quieten the doubt in their mind that maybe the other horse is better? How do we decide what is better?

    Great post. I wish you luck

  18. I’m not a mother, but I already I contemplate how I will choose to go about my future. I’m a student in college always wondering if I will have a family of my own that will need my full attention, if I will be able to pursue my career, or if somehow I will be able to do both. I try not to think about the worst possibilites. Reading your post made me wonder when you were in college where you thought you would be and how it compares to what actually came to be. Any words of inspiration for, what I think, is an already uneccesarily over-analyzing woman? I loved your post.

    1. Thanks so much! Before college I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I spoke with some and they told me being on call isn’t the best job if I wanted a family, and I wanted to be a mom more. So I didn’t pursue vet school, and I have never regretted it. I manage an office building now, I have done a lot of substitute teaching too and working as a Para in schools, and motherhood fits in great. It is crazy but wonderful! Have a family if you want because it is for sure the best part of my life, and don’t worry because work fits in too. You might have to get a little creative but it all works out! Best of luck to you on your path! 🙂

  19. What an amazing article and encompasses so much of what I battle with constantly. I can’t even get housework done without trying to ride two horses at once, more often five. I wrote a post on this only recently about trying to clean out chickens whilst clearing under the stairs and at the same time washing up as well everything else. Focus is not my strong point!

  20. It surprising what everyday moments can teach us! I adore the horse metaphor. You can’t ride more than one horse at a time, and you’ll always have to change horses you’re riding as you go on in life.

  21. beautiful beautiful beautiful article. I’ve also had been in this type of situation… and like you said “as long as you let your heart lead, and spend some time on each of those horses”… I did the same I spend some time on both of my horses… and I think it is actually not necessary that you HAVE to choose between the two… sometimes 50-50 gives you much peace than 100-0… 🙂

      1. I REALLY like your site. My daughter is 28. It’s as though you are describing moments in OUR lives. We were always thinking about the next ride. . .

      2. Thank you!! I love that it reminds you of you and your daughter! So much of motherhood is so universal, we all have these same feelings at different times!

  22. I love this! We are a blended family of 6 kids. It is always something around here. I stayed at home for almost 4 years and had to go back to work (then had to quit because of a difficult pregnancy). My littlest is 2 months and I still stay at home. I have my moments where it would be nice to go back to work, but I love being home. I am hoping to find something I can do from home so I can enjoy this time.

    1. Oh my goodness I think 4 is a lot of kids! You must be a master multi-tasker! It is so awesome that you can be home with them, I think that is so good for kids to have their mama (or stepmama!) around! But gosh you must be busy! 😉 good luck finding something to do from home but don’t worry too much, you have a big job already! 😉 Thanks for reading!

  23. Wonderfully written.
    But no matter which horse you’re on, you will still keep moving forward.
    That was a beautiful punch! It tickled my brain. Thanks!

  24. Beautifully written. I have 4 kids (8,6, 3 and 2), I work full time and am also blessed with a flexible job. My husband is a musician with a crazy touring schedule, but when he’s home, he’s stay-at-home dad. We are constantly on the run – taking to karate, errands, homework, but I try to appreciate every moment I have with them all! Thank you and congrats!

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