Work & Family (A Special Report): Getting By
For Jacinta and Sam Mathis, Having It All Means
Doing It All, With Barely Enough Time to Rest
By Joan E. Rigdon
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 1993, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.)
ORLANDO, Fla. -- In a subdivision here down the freeway from
Universal Studios, the lights are out in all the look-alike houses except
one: Jacinta Mathis, mother of two, wife and commercial-contracts
lawyer, has risen at 3 a.m. to study case law for two hours.
These hours are the only ones she has to concentrate on her reams of
reading material, or do her share of the dishes and housework. Only six
months into her new job at this city's largest law firm, Mrs. Mathis is out
to make her mark, logging 60 to 70 hours a week. It's a career she and
her husband, Sam, paid for dearly, spending nearly $12,000 in tuition and
enduring nearly three years of a commuter marriage so she could earn her
degree. "I have a career now," she says. "It's more than just a job."
Juggling that with seats on four civic organizations (a sports commission,
the Chamber of Commerce, a public-schools foundation and a judicial
nominating commission), teaching a finance class, leading her
nine-year-old daughter's Brownie troop and chauffeuring her
two-year-old son to day care requires a binder-sized calendar. Her
briefcase is so big that it stretches the regulations for carry-on luggage.
Harried Husband Her husband is harried, too. An architect who
coordinates the design and construction of General Mills restaurants (Red
Lobster, for instance), he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. most weekdays, and
works until 5 p.m. He is president of two boards (for an employee
association and an affordable housing group) and sits on two others (for a
children's ranch and a homeless coalition). He helps his wife teach the
finance course on Tuesday nights, sharpens his speaking skills at a
Toastmaster's club Wednesday mornings, and picks up the children from
day care and school. He keeps it all together with two computerized
The price: Like dual-career couples elsewhere, the Mathises are finding it
takes superhuman effort to balance their careers and family. The average
couple spends only 1.9 hours a day with their children, compared to 10
hours for work and commuting, according to Priority Management
Systems Inc., a management consulting firm based in Bellevue, Wash.
The Mathises are no exception. Most days, they see their children --
Jacinta Camille and Elliott -- for an hour in the morning and one or two
hours in the evening. On Tuesdays, when they teach their evening finance
class, Mrs. Mathis sees her children only in the morning, and that time is
spent rushing out the door. Weekday dinners tend to be Stouffer's frozen,
Domino's delivered or McDonald's behind the wheel. "We probably
don't plan meals as well as we should," Mr. Mathis says.
When Mrs. Mathis is preparing for a trial, or Mr. Mathis is negotiating
with contractors on deadline, they have to think twice about dropping
things because a child doesn't feel well. One Thursday in April, Mr.
Mathis had to choose between taking his daughter home from school to
nurse her upset stomach, or meeting with an architect and subcontractors
to prevent a costly project delay.
Guessing correctly that Jacinta Camille had only a mild stomach ache,
Mr. Mathis compromised by taking her a bottle of Pepto-Bismol on his
lunch break. But it wasn't easy to say "no" to her request. "We are
concerned at times how she responds to that," he says.
To make up for hectic Tuesdays, the Mathises spend most of the rest of
the week at home, which is a bit squeezed: Mrs. Mathis usually gets
home around 6:30 and goes to bed by 9:30, an hour after her daughter
does; Mr. Mathis picks up the children, gets them home by about 6 p.m.,
and stays up until midnight.
That means all four are usually together for just two evening hours, from
6:30 to 8:30. They use the time to have sit-down dinners, chat about their
days and help Jacinta Camille with homework or crises, like the time a
classmate called her a "girl dog" at school. Instead of channel surfing, "we
are with one another," Mrs. Mathis says.
She makes "dates" with her daughter once every week or two, so they
can go out alone and talk, or just have fun getting their hair done. Also,
Mrs. Mathis goes on some of her daughter's field trips, making up for the
lost time by working late into the evening.
If something must be squeezed out of the Mathises' treacherous schedule,
they work hard to make sure it isn't their children. In general, evening
board meetings are out. Choir practice was dropped when it interfered
with Jacinta Camille's heavy homework nights.
Sometimes the Mathises wrench their calendars around to attend their
children's most important events. One weekend in April, Mrs. Mathis
was supposed to fly to Indianapolis for a sports commission business trip,
prepare a pleading for a big client, and lead her Brownie troop on a
camping trip -- her daughter's first ever.
She went on the business trip, flew back Saturday, caught up with the
Brownies that afternoon, camped with them through Monday, and slept
the evening. To finish the pleading, she woke up at midnight, drove to the
office and worked until 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. Then she went home for a
30-minute nap, helped Mr. Mathis get the kids up and returned to work
for a full day.
Mrs. Mathis would rather lose sleep than miss times like that. Being so
busy means "the time you do spend is precious," she says.
Mr. Mathis, whose own father left home when he was two years old,
tries to spend most evenings with his children even if it means going back
to work after a ball game. "I don't have a lot of time with my kids, and if I
had to work late, I'd get home after they were asleep," he says. "I'd quit
General Mills right now if it meant keeping my family together."
A look at one of the Mathises' days shows the kind of Herculean effort
required to "have it all." It's a Tuesday -- the night they teach their finance
class -- but the day begins like all others.
5:30 a.m.: Mr. Mathis, who wakes instantly with his alarm, marches into
the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and make breakfast. On the menu:
hard-boiled eggs, bacon and toast. Mrs. Mathis, up from her morning
nap, wanders in and plops on the living-room couch, heavy lidded as she
eyes the open law books she was studying less than an hour earlier.
While her husband is at the sink, Mrs. Mathis puts her books away, finds
some white overalls that Jacinta Camille needs for an art project at
school, folds a load of laundry and sets out a gift for her daughter:
baseball cards from a sports-commission dinner she attended the evening
Breakfast happens in shifts, since Mrs. Mathis has to iron her suit, Jacinta
Camille's hair needs braiding and Elliottthe wild card in an otherwise
regimented schedule -- cries and tries to jump off his seat at the table as
soon as he is put there. "We never know how he's going to wake up,"
Mr. Mathis says.
Only a few minutes of cuddling will do, and Mrs. Mathis is happy to do it,
using the time to get her own quick rest. That shaves two minutes off her
7 a.m.: Mr. Mathis clears the table, except for his wife's place, which
remains untouched. She's rushing to make a 7:45 breakfast meeting at the
members-only Citrus Club, with a fellow member of the public-schools
foundation. The agenda: scaling back her hours, because she needs more
time for work. She hesitates to say whether her schedule is maximum
capacity or simply comfortable. But she concedes that all the civic
activities are starting to pile up. "I felt like I was doing too much," she
She whisks Elliott into her room and emerges with both of them dressed.
Before running out the door, she has enough time to tell Jacinta Camille
that she can only take some of her baseball cards to school, and to
remember to put on stockings or socks before putting on her shoes. She
has 45 minutes to drop off Elliott at day care and make her meeting. Mr.
Mathis yells after her to leave the boy's car seat at day care.
On her way to downtown Orlando, Mrs. Mathis discovers that her hem
is unraveled. "This cannot happen to me. Not at the Citrus Club," she
recalls thinking. She saves the thread, borrows a needle from Elliott's day
care and sews at the stoplights.
Back at home, Mr. Mathis, wearing an apron over his suit, is trying to
pump up the back tire of Jacinta Camille's bicycle so she can ride to
school with a friend. The pump is broken, so his daughter, wearing a pink
dress, goes back into the house to cancel her first appointment of the day.
After two years of answering the phones when her mother had a private
practice, Camille, less than four feet tall, is all business. "I can't ride to
school because my tire's flat," she explains to her friend's answering
Then she stands in the kitchen, waiting for her father. Distracted, he starts
to walk her back out to the garage to her bicycle, before realizing he has
already tried that. He drives her to school instead.
8:30 a.m.: Mrs. Mathis is preparing for a real-estate trial for one of her
biggest clients. She must meet with witnesses, review trial documents and
examine exhibits of expert witnesses. Lunch is no break, since Tuesdays
are reserved for staff meetings, although the firm provides lunch. She
won't wind down until 6:30.
The back-to-back meetings make it hard for her to break away for her
children. One recent day she did leave work early because Jacinta
Camille complained of a stomach ache. But later that day, Jacinta Camille
asked for permission to play. "That stomach ache was of questionable
origin," Mrs. Mathis says, only partly amused. "But I want her to feel free
to call me, even it is of questionable origin."
More than 10 miles away, Mr. Mathis is gathering lease agreements and
other legal documents for contractors who are building a new restaurant
in Texas. One pressing problem: A restaurant's sewage system must be
redesigned so it ties into a city line. Mr. Mathis spends part of his day
negotiating with building-department officials, his contractor and an
engineer on the project.
4:30 p.m.: Mr. Mathis is waiting for his wife to check in so they can
match schedules. The plan is to pick up and feed the children, teach a
finance class and return home. It sounds simple, but it involves six car
trips, more than 50 miles, and about 5 1/2 hours. In the middle of
planning it, Mr. Mathis must field phone calls and questions from
colleagues on the progress of different construction projects. To keep up
with all the details, he keeps notes in his computer, on a
time-management software program his company paid for.
When Mrs. Mathis calls, she says she forgot to leave Elliott's car seat at
day care. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, we're going to have a child at risk," Mr. Mathis
says. What's more, his wife hasn't reviewed the evening's finance-class
5 p.m.: Mr. Mathis zips out of the office. The day care charges him $1 for
every minute he leaves Elliott beyond 6 p.m. Five minutes are lost when
he realizes he has left his keys in the office. In his 1985 Honda Accord,
he takes a left turn across two lanes of oncoming traffic, noses into a
30-mph traffic jam, and arrives at the day care at 5:38, 22 minutes before
the late charges kick in.
Inside, Elliott is waiting with a purple snake he made in art class, his
baseball cap still firmly perched on his head. His written report says he
has napped for two hours. On the way out, he starts tearing up his art
work for fun. "Let's go get sister," Mr. Mathis says, loading him into the
5:50 p.m.: Four miles away, Mr. Mathis arrives at his daughter's school,
where she stays an "extended day" for $16 a week. When he enters,
she's entranced by the towering figure of Batman on TV. Mr. Mathis
writes a check for the month, and Jacinta Camille grabs her backpack,
which is taking on the proportions of her mother's briefcase. He picks up
the baby sitter (a two-mile drive from the day-care center) at 6:02 and
swings into his own driveway (another two-and-a-half miles).
This is his only chance on Tuesdays to talk to Jacinta Camille about her
day and her homework.
6:09 p.m.: Dinner isn't exactly gourmet. The plan is Domino's, but Mr.
Mathis can't remember the pizzeria's new number, and loses precious
minutes dialing wrong ones. His baby sitter takes over while he reads
Elliott's day-care report and washes up. The baby sitter orders a large
pepperoni, and Mr. Mathis dashes out the door. But before he can jump
into his car, Jacinta Camille runs after him, yelling, "Daddy, you forgot to
leave the money for the pizza!" The baby sitter puts out her hand, saying,
"They don't give pizza out of the goodness of their hearts, you know."
6:20 p.m.: Mr. Mathis has 40 minutes to cross town, pick up his wife
outside her office, and drive to nearby Eatonville, where the finance class
meets at 7 p.m. Mr. Mathis is stressed about setting a bad example by
being late for their own class, but Mrs. Mathis is unflappable in the back
seat, figuring everything will work out in the end. They pull in with a few
minutes to spare. After class lets out at 8:45, the Mathises don't have time
to sit down to dinner. The solution is food at 35 mph, from a drive-thru
9:47 p.m.: By the time they get home, their children are asleep. While Mr.
Mathis takes the baby sitter home, Mrs. Mathis kicks off her red pumps
and settles onto the couch. She takes a moment to admire her handiwork
on her hem. "I used to have more time to sew," she laughs. She has only a
few minutes to unwind before going to bed at 10 p.m., and then only a
few more hours before she wakes up to read case law.
Ms. Rigdon is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal's Pittsburgh
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