“I don’t have time for this,” I say to myself. I say this about half a dozen times a day, and it’s probably the truest statement I’ve ever said. I’m a college student currently on a gap semester working as a barista, nanny, running coach, and I volunteer on the weekends at my local hospital. I do all of these things at the expense of my free time, housework, social life and sometimes, my mental health. I worry that I won’t be able to handle the many stresses of life once I make it to the next step (which is, I hope, medical school), and I often find myself wondering “What does a balanced life look like for a young Black woman at the start of her career?”
The family I nanny for is possibly the best family I’ve ever worked for. I get paid fairly, if not more than what I’m used to, and the kids are kind and well-mannered. We have a lot of fun together while on breaks, summer vacation, days home sick from school, the random weekend here or there. That’s when I’m not making them do chores, of course.
When I step back to think about it, I spend so much time with two 10-year-olds I sometimes go days without speaking to another adult. It may not seem like much, but it’s done something to my anxiety, and I’m beginning to notice. That coupled with an absolute inane fear of speaking to their parents and my general Black girl awkwardness, I start to doubt myself and my ability to be seen as an adult, a brilliant and capable 20-something who follows through on her goals and can be trusted to get shit done. I know while I am allowing time for their parents, mainly their mom, to have a thriving career, I haven’t invested the same energy into myself.
When I think about what I can do with my 24 hours, I envision myself posted up somewhere with my laptop, drafting short stories and poems and annotating thrifted books in their yellowing margins. Or, maybe I’m on-call at a pediatric clinic with monkey patches on my white coat surrounded by little ones with grins that take up their entire sticky faces. I let my curiosity lead me to my next adventure, but when I have to dedicate chunks of my day towards someone else’s dream, there’s hardly enough time for me to breathe.
Historically, Black women have reared the children of wealthy, privileged (mostly white) women, while somehow devoting time to their own families. My great-grandmother, Nanny, was a housekeeper, nanny, and seamstress for wealthy whites until she retired. Even then, she began to watch her grand-nieces and nephews, earning the name for the last three decades. She keeps a clean home, she always has neat clothes, but time for warm and fuzzies with her only great-grandchild? Not a stitch, unless I was dusting or deciphering Dr. Phil for her during her midday breaks. In fact, I developed a love of reading because there was no one to pay attention to me as a child, but if I had a book, I was out of the way and avoiding trouble.
The labor and sacrifice Nanny offered to others left her with little to spare for her own family. And as an adult, I find myself torn between enjoying what I do and being angry at the systems that give my boss freedom even my mother didn’t have while rearing me.
Work-life balance seems like a myth when you’re busying yourself with someone else’s life instead of imposing boundaries in our limited 24 hours. One of my friends said I pour energy into things that don’t energize me, and mainly, I do this out of habit. I want to be useful. I want to be productive, but I don’t even know what to do with the hours of free time I have right now. I function on stress and pressing deadlines, but as my friend said, “Just because that’s the way it is right now, doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be.”
I want to be a mother and in a loving marriage, and I also see in my future lots of time spent inside a hospital. Will I be afforded the same privilege to hire someone to watch my screaming tots, or will I have to sacrifice my dream to make sure that I have time to see my own children? And why, as a Black woman, am I always the one expected to sacrifice?