Change Agent

Today my ten year old woke up, felt something crackle in his neck, and is now resting in his room with a hot water bottle having taken some pain relief. I’ve cancelled his day at camp. I’ve cancelled my appointments–a social date with a friend and a meeting with a client–and I’ve sussed out the long list of errands I had planned to decide what is critical and what I can put off for yet another day.

I’ve booked a doctor’s appointment. My hunch says my son is fine, but when I was eight my mom contracted spinal meningitis which was an awful thing to witness, (she’s fine) so I take sudden neck pain seriously if there is no clear cause. I am afforded three major luxuries that allow me to do this: a two parent family, a flexible working schedule, and a doctor’s office that takes appointments rather than have to lineup at the walk-in.

It is 8:45am.

My spouse woke up at his usual 5:15am, walked the dog, made himself breakfast while he scrolled through the news, packed his lunch, and in a sweet habit that touches my love language oh so very much, prepped a pot of tea as I awoke an hour later. He also put a load of laundry on the line and unloaded the dishwasher. This is typical stuff: we are active, morning people and get a lot done in the earliest parts of the day. We have our jobs we bear with healthy adult shouldering – his are laundry, waste management, and vacuuming. Mine is essentially everything else. I grocery shop, manage our money, cook, book anything that needs booking, deal with the vet visits, find sitters, sign the forms… you name it. Our family works like a well-oiled machine until it doesn’t.

When our son woke up complaining of neck pain I was showering. My spouse grabbed an ice pack for our son, and carried on with his day, leaving for work at a busy office where he has a great many responsibilities and leads teams on important work.

Nothing tweaked in his brain that this turn of events requires triage. There was no shifting of the mental load so that he would manage the change needed to deal with the fallout of a child with a less than normal morning past the immediate solution of an ice pack. 

I am the change agent for our family. I deal with and manage unexpected things, and I am the master planner for anything outside of those jobs. I am the keeper of the household schedule. The third room in our house is my office, not the office. I need space to do my part. 

I manage crises incredibly well. I am good at determining consequences, seeing things through to their end, and pivoting when I need to. I am confident in my skills. People love having me in their lives when there is a health scare or an accident. I am sensible, practical, and live off of facts. People hire me to help them manage their own lives and businesses and I have recently trained so that people can also hire me to support them at the end of their lives, too.

These unexpected mornings with neck kinks are the stuff I am made for. I am proud of how well I manage them. I adapt, I fix, I plan, I roll. And I resent my own skills. 

It is now 12:30pm. The doctor has been seen (“take some pain relievers and use ice and heat for comfort and ride it out” – quelle surprise) and my son and I are about to do the critical to-dos that couldn’t wait for another day. 

It is not so much today’s derailed day I resent, inconvenient though it may be. It is the frustration of knowing that I will be called upon again and again to be the change agent of our house. Despite having a two parent family, it will always be me, this unending pressure to be ready at a moment’s notice to take a back seat, to cancel appointments, and withdraw into a more intensive caregiver role. My skills have betrayed me. 

I am not fully engaged in life, when I live a life that is always prepared for a cancellation. I dip my toe into my career, but I fear I cannot dive in for worry of a messy end or of being forced to choose. I dabble in volunteering in my community, but my (self-appointed) role on boards is always to develop processes that support succession. I approach everything with a project-based mentality with end dates. I practise martial arts and wonder what will happen when I get my black belt. 

Truth: “Anyone can do anything for six months” is what one friend told me when they accepted a job that paid well but felt like an intrusion on their personal values. “I can shut my eyes and weather the storm, and know I need the money to get to where I want to be. It will be okay; the end is in sight.”

Can a person do something knowing they will do that something forever? 

Love. I can love forever. 

3 years ago


  1. I once told someone – “When things go sideways, the buck stops here, it stops at my feet.” I felt like the book end on an overloaded shelf for many members of my family; I’ve been trying to get better at distributing the load, while still dancing the flexibility flamenco.

    Today as I was asked, “Does this really need to be cooked before it goes into the kids’ lunches? I mean it’s kind of pre-cooked already…”, I replied, “Sure, but can you take time off for food poisoning though? Because I can’t, so I don’t think you should skip baking that dish…” And… the dish got baked.

    Hope K feels better!

  2. Wooo, yup! In my house i call it “driving the bus”. 2 parent family with 2 kids and 2 FT jobs. There is absolutely, definitely, a division of labour here, but the majority of the softer stuff- the organization, the planning, the “what have we got going on today?” is with me. Scheduling and registration (at 9:00am when reg opens and not a second later or its full) for Summer camps (some of which is done pre-Christmas!?!), swimming lessons, circus classes. Keeper of the ever-changing Hockey and Lacrosse practice and game schedules. I get so tired of driving the bus sometimes.

    Loved this read Jen, gave me the feels. Thanks for sharing.

  3. As Mom it will always fall to you to be the one. It is the nature of the female role. That is not to say that there are not many capable and excellent male contributors but I always found it fell to me. Is that a result of my upbringing I ask myself and your upbringing a hold-over from me? Never mind it all works out and it will be was it will be until it changes. Maybe it will be different in the next generation.

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