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Careful What You Wish For

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

We just got back from an incredible trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This was exactly the kind of vacation I needed right now—a rented house in the mountains overlooking the whole city and ocean that came with a house manager and cook, a beautiful outdoor pool/lounge, five bedrooms each with its own bathroom, an open-air living room and kitchen (plus flat-screen TV), and just the right amount of charm and quaintness you'd want in a massive Mexican villa (the owners are friends of my mother’s so we got a great deal on it). But the best part: The hardest decisions we had to make on this trip were what we wanted for breakfast, lunch and dinner; what, if anything, we wanted to do each day (in-house massages for the girls; golfing for the boys; sailing for everyone, see photo); and whether or not we needed more beer from the store (yes and lots of it). I haven’t been that relaxed and pampered in…well…maybe ever.

I hate to admit this, but even though I missed him I didn’t worry about Preston while we were gone—probably because I knew he was in good hands with my parents, who kept him very busy. I also didn’t, or tried very hard not to, worry about my current state of unemployment—I made my husband a promise before we left that I wouldn’t let any concerns or uncertainties I had ruin the trip. I promised him I would not obsess over my unknown future, or the obvious implications our new circumstances have on our childcare situation, and anything else related to my quandary over this fork in the road of my career that I mentioned last week.

We both really needed this vacation, and we both deserved it after the difficult year we've had. 

But I’m a notorious worrier; it's genetic, my dad's a worrier too. I wish I knew how to take things day by day. It didn’t take long for me to settle into relaxation mode—it was almost impossible not to vacate your life at a place like this—but it was always there, lingering in the back of my mind: What the hell am I going to do with myself when I get back?

I’m so used to being “too busy” to think, much less do. Being “too busy” is my reason for everything—too busy to make and send out holiday cards; too busy to buy gifts ahead of time so I pay the extra fee for overnight delivery; too busy to remember to schedule (and keep) a dentist appointment; too busy to clean out my closets and donate clothes to Goodwill; too busy to cook healthy dinners; too busy to work out; too busy to call friends back; too busy to take care of myself, and certainly too busy for anything that doesn't involve Jay and Preston.

Today marks my first official day of not being “too busy." And it just hit me that I’ve been leaning on that crutch for as long as I’ve been too busy working, since I graduated from college in 1996. Come to think of it, that excuse has been my “out” for a lot of things—a legitimate out, but still an out. When I was a busy nightlife reporter running around town attending fancy celeb-studded parties, charity events, and bar/restaurant openings, I was way too busy for anything else then too (including a boyfriend). I was juggling a day job at Playboy and a night job at Chicago magazine, and several freelance writing gigs, pulling double or triple duty like some kind of Superman/Clark Kent character. I routinely brought my “going out” clothes to work and changed in a bathroom stall before hitting the party circuit at night—even Clark Kent had better accommodations than the coed bathroom at Playboy. My apartment was merely a place to sleep, not that I allowed much time for that either.

In the last couple years my life slowed down but my juggle didn't: I traded in my party shoes for poopy diapers, but still had the demanding full-time job, this weekly blog, a new monthly writing gig for [shameless plug] Michigan Avenue Magazine, and—oh yeah—my husband and son and our family expansion. “Too busy” doesn’t even come close to describing the mayhem that comes with being a working mom. I dreamed of free days like the ones I have right now. I dreamed of having the time to run errands; take Preston on playdates; go on walks to Starbucks with him; cook dinner; write at my leisure; maybe even read a book. I dreamed of having this simple thing called time. Time to do all the dozens of things I’ve been accumulating over the years. Time to be as productive in my personal life as I've been in my professional life. 

But now that I have the time? I don’t know what to do with it. While I sit here trying to figure out what it is I want to do with my life, I find myself almost paralyzed by all this new-found free time I have. A busy, demanding career is all I know, so the obvious fear is: Will I feel complete without it? I've been on constant overdrive for so long now I don't know how to not be "too busy." It's actually a bit unnerving.

The smart thing to do would be to make a list of all the things I've wanted or needed to do, and work my way through it while I have the time; the problem is, I’m so not a list person. I’ve never had time for lists. I always thought the people who kept them had too much time on their hands—I guess I'm one of them now!

Do you find it harder to balance your time the more you actually have of it?