Monday, March 07, 2005

The Bare Necessities: Work

February 17, 2000
During the last week, no signs of GVH appeared, and Timmi's pains got worse. Next week she will have a scan to see if the pains she is having are in fact from tumors, but because they are strongest in the places where she has historically had the largest tumors, we are assuming that that's what they are. Therefore, she has started injecting herself every day with interferon, which we hope will stimulate a GVH and attendant GVL (graft versus host and graft versus leukemia) effect. The results of a genetic test have indicated that her present immune system is indeed grafted from Shari’s, and that improves the possibility that the interferon will work. We certainly hope so. If there is no GVH in the next two weeks, she will start getting extra T-cells from Shari in a further attempt to induce the syndrome.

Timmi's mood markedly improved this past week, as well as my own ability to function. A psychologist once told me that in these situations people sometimes need "collapse days". I had a few of those over the last couple of weeks, but now feel like I'm coping again. My life is now slow and stressed - a few years ago, I wouldn't have believed that such a thing exists. I hope to be getting out for more professional work in the near future, and am again making sure to get enough exercise. Those are the things that most help me, so I hope to stay in the coping mode for a while at least. (I also never dreamed that I would ever see work as a kind of vacation!)

Shabbat Shalom to all.

Love,
Sara

March 3, 2005
Several days ago I took an exciting but scary decision. I decided definitely to go to New York this summer to start the MSW program to which I’ve been accepted, even though I still don’t know how I’ll finance the program past the first year. (I wrote about my hope to attend this program in “Plans,” October 2004, and “Waiting,” January 2005.) I made my decision thanks to the feedback and advice of literally everyone I spoke to about my dilemma whether to start the program without knowing I could finish it. Every single person around me – my friends, Don, my children – has told me that I should just go for it, and that the momentum of starting would carry me through. As Shari put it, if this is what I’m meant to do, God will make sure I manage to do it, one way or another. Although it’s hard to escape my fear that things won’t happen the way I hope they will, the chance of finally working at a profession with which I identify completely is too important to me to give up.

Since the age of three and a half, when I started nursery school, I was always part of a framework of either study (which is, after all, our work when we’re young) or a profession, or both. Having children didn’t change that. I had Lisa in the middle of my second year of law school, and was completely determined that parenting wouldn't come at the expense of work, and vice versa. I would do my homework and study for tests while nursing Lisa. Once, when Don was unavailable and we had no other childcare arrangement, I took her with me to class. I sat her on my desk, next to the door in case she needed to be taken out, and gave her a teddy bear to play with. (About half the students who came in past us said something like, “I wish I also had a teddy bear to play with!") This mix of mothering and studying led to some absurd and comic scenes: my six-hour Business Associations exam was the first time I’d gone for more than three hours without nursing Lisa, so there I sat, writing frantically about partnerships and corporations, while my body kept insisting in no uncertain terms that it was time to feed my baby. I left the exam soaked from my neck to my knees!

I went on living an intensely high-energy life, combining motherhood with work (I include study in my definition of work) outside my home; I gave birth to Sheila a week after finishing law school, and to Shari right after finishing my clerkship on the federal court of appeals. When we came to Israel a month later, I immediately entered an ”Ulpan” (a Hebrew language immersion program), after which I enrolled in a Masters program in Jewish law at Hebrew University; Timmi was born when I was one year into the Masters program. The next year, I began work as an intern at a law firm, and Elaine was born just as I completed the mandatory year and a half of internship. I started my career as a licensed attorney with five children up to the age of nine!
After Aimee and then Danny were born, I moved from my high-pressure job at a private commercial law firm to a less stressful job with the government, but due to my relatively high position (as deputy legal adviser at a government ministry) I still worked full-time-plus.

All along, Don and I shared our domestic duties according to practical considerations – whoever was free did whatever was needed at the moment. And when Timmi first became ill, I continued working, because it was natural for Don and me to split between us what needed to be done to take care of her and of the other children.

Timmi's relapse was diagnosed shortly after I’d left the legal profession to study mediation. Under those circumstances, I couldn’t get a new regular job. I wanted to be more available for Timmi and my other children this time around, as a relapse is much scarier than a first-time cancer. Also, it was clear that even if I wanted a job outside my home, no one would hire the mother of a child with such a demanding illness. So I took occasional free-lance mediation work, mostly for divorcing couples. For the first time since I was three and a half, I found myself without a regular framework for work or study outside my home. It was a strange feeling, but I was so busy with Timmi and the other kids that I didn’t really have time to notice it much.

When Timmi died, the vacuum she left behind was harder to deal with than the frantic activity of even the most pressured periods in my life before then. All the energy that I managed to find within myself, first when I was parenting seven children while working at a demanding profession, then as a mother dealing with Timmi’s illness and its fallout for the rest of the family – all that energy just dried up. Almost everything I needed to do seemed totally overwhelming; at the same time, I didn’t know what to do with myself during the long, empty hours of the day. It was almost two years before I was able to return to a regular job, and a part-time one at that. (To this day, I haven't felt able to work a full day, and often when I return from work I don't seem to have the strength to do what needs to be done at home.)

Almost miraculously, though, whenever I've been involved in a mediation, I've discovered that elusive energy within myself. I find it fascinating and exciting to be allowed into the emotional lives of my clients and to help them solve their conflicts. Even before I was able to return to work at a regular job, no matter how hard things were at home (both during Timmi’s second illness and after her death) I was always able to leave my troubles outside the door and concetrate on the people sitting in the mediation room with me, and on my work with them. For the first time in my professional life, I was totally absorbed in work about which I felt passionate, and that passion energized me even when I had the strength for little other than what I barely needed to do to keep my family going.


It was a small and simple step from mediating divorces to the desire to work with people to help keep their families whole. And so I began dreaming of retraining as a social worker and becoming a family therapist, finally applying to the MSW program that I'll start, God willing, this coming June. But the program I’m entering is very demanding. It will mean being away from my family for three summers in a row, each time squeezing a full semester’s course load into six weeks or so, with all of a semester’s homework to do and papers to write. It worries me - what if, however much I want to do this, I really don't have the energy to handle such an intensive schedule?

But I know what Timmi would have said. She would have told me to take the risk and go for it, just as she insisted on pushing herself to her own limits despite her illness. She would have reminded me that perhaps the only way to find some meaning in what we all went through together is for each of us to use what our experience taught us to try and ease other people's suffering, where we can. Elaine does this by working with disadvantaged Jewish and Arab children, and by helping Israeli and Palestinian young women to work together toward a vision of peaceful coexistence. Lisa does this through her work at the Rape Crisis Center. Aimee listens empathetically to her friends whose families are in crisis, and is sometimes even able to help them through, one day at a time. Shari and Sheila hope to make the world a better place through their studies and, ultimately, their work – Shari in film, and Sheila in Middle Eastern studies and communications. Even Danny contributed to a recent all-nighter at his school by giving a Reiki energy healing workshop to the other eighth-graders.

In many ways, our work – whether as students, professionals, or parents – gives our lives meaning. And the work that I need to do, I believe ever more strongly as time passes, is to transform my years as the mother of a family in crisis into something that will enable me to help other families in a similar situation. My plan to study may be scary, but I’ve been through scarier things. I may feel unequal to the demands of such a concentrated program, but I’ve done more intensive things. If this is what I am meant to be doing – and I truly believe it is – then I simply need to start doing it. I can only trust that God will provide me with the strength I need to make it work.

1 comment:

Yael K said...

Good luck with the MSW program! That's really exciting! Mind if I ask why the program in NY and not one in Israel? --I was myself thinking of retraining as an MSW once I make aliyah...

I'll be in NYC until August and if you need any tips, advice, etc feel free to give me a holler.