The kids, once small dependent peach-fuzzed blobs that made poop, are now real people with opinions, needs, and too much homework. They are capable of hiking and bodyboarding, of beating him at chess and drawing freehand portraits better than he ever could, of frying an egg and cleaning the dishes. And their ages hover delicately in a rapidly-shrinking window period where they’ve decided they like him, and want nothing more than to spend time with him. I believe it was Al Franken who said, “Kids don’t want quality time; they want quantity time.”
He still derives meaning (and pleasure) from the work. But as peers are diagnosed with cancer and parents age, he grasps more than ever that time is precious. This is more than a platitude: he wants to allot his remaining time on the planet to explore other versions of himself, versions that may not be compatible with his current physician’s schedule. Perhaps those alternate versions will include a writer, or a teacher, or an advocate through a non-profit. Perhaps a naturalist, a do-it-yourselfer, a craftsman or artist or athlete. Perhaps a counselor to youth in crisis. Perhaps becoming a physician champion for a different medical model of care. Perhaps travel more slowly with family, under fewer restrictions.
This is not a secretary, sportscar and toupee type of yearning. It’s a desire to be present for the people he cares about without distraction. A desire to eat more healthfully and dedicate more time to fitness so that the body he inhabits might last a bit longer. A time to appreciate that he married a woman out of his league. A time to test his brain and try his limits in new and different ways. A time to avail himself of this window with his children.
* * * * *
In a couple of months, I’m cutting back on shifts to a half-time work load, to make my actual career more closely resemble my ideal career. I’m excited about the possibilities this opens up, the sense of promise that accompanies this new crossroads, the chance to reduce the depletion that accompanies work. There’s also a tremendous satisfaction in once again taking hold of the reins of my life direction.
For a long time I accepted unsustainable obligations because work stress seemed like an ordinary and unavoidable part of living. I’m hoping reducing my shift load will put me in the extraordinary position of spending my time in accordance with my values.