Thanks to the women’s rights movement, we mothers really can “have it all.”
Here’s the thing: I don’t really want it all.
Since I started work, I have felt more and more like a hamster panting wildly as I run laps to nowhere on a wheel that never stops. The day begins at 6:45: time to dress the kids, dress myself, eat breakfast, run out the door, drop Eliana off at daycare at my school while Husband drops off Lila, go to my classroom, check email for two minutes before the kid I tutor before school shows up in my classroom. Tutoring student leaves, and then class starts. I teach four classes straight from 9 in the morning until 12:20 with no breaks, at which point my boobs are ready to explode. If I’m feeling generous to myself, I end class at 12:18 so I have two extra minutes to hightail it to the handicapped bathroom I discovered in a remote corner of the school to plug in and pump out. Once the ta-tas are unloaded, I then have three minutes to pop in on Eliana and make sure she’s alive, which she is. She smiles at me with a huge grin, and though I desperately want to stay, cuddle her, use those three minutes to make her feel confident, smart, secure and happy, nurture her somehow, the reality is I’ve only got twelve more minutes left in my lunch period, so I run down to the cafeteria to wolf down my lunch, run back to my classroom at 1:01 so that I have another two minutes to check my email. Then it’s time to teach from 1:03-2:30 straight, and at 2:31, I heave a huge sigh of relief: I’ve survived another school day. Except now, it’s time for my real job: Being Mommy.
Job requirements include: providing stimulating educational/emotional play so that your kids will some day turn out to be smarter/kinder/more thoughtful/more loving than you, equally engaging both children simultaneously though their interests never coincide, making nutritious dinner that will encourage physical growth, bathing children so no one calls Child Services on you, encouraging and bolstering children’s egos without spoiling them or making them into arrogant asses, maintaining your sanity when both children howl in an atonal symphony of whining, healing imaginary boo-boos, negotiating with three-year-old about exactly how many piece of chicken constitutes dinner, nursing a baby while reading “Miss Moo-Moo and the Art Farm” (which, naturally, involves a rather unwieldy puppet, thus necessitating a third and fourth arm), shushing a baby to sleep while the other kid insists on turning the light in the baby’s room on and off on and off on and off on and off, creating a strobe-like, seizure-friendly Nursery Disco.
With the baby in the crib (still crying—shit, time to run in and stick a binky in her mouth for the four-hundredth time and hope for the best; why has no one yet invented something that I will call “Binky Glue,” ideally made of Omega-3s so your kid can get smarter while being pacified!?), you finally get the bigger one in her pajamas, finish having the tea party you promised could happen after the bath only, and wrangle her into the bathroom to brush her teeth to avoid “troll teeth”. “No, Mommy, not that toothbrush!” The day is drawing to a close—you glance at the clock: half an hour more, and liberation is in sight. But just as things are starting to wind down, you hear it: beep-beep-beep-beep. The door code: Daddy’s Home.
Based on the look in your daughter’s eyes, Daddy’s return signifies one thing and one thing only: The Messiah Has Arrived!
With Daddy’s return from work, the universe plays a cruel trick: his very appearance has the same effect as intravenously shooting up your toddler with Red Bull.
Here’s the good news: Mommy, if your husband is great (read: grateful/guilt-ridden that you have fulfilled all of the job responsibilities listed above in addition to your own job—you know, the one that pays), you are absolved of parental responsibility now, which is good because you’re tired, but kind of annoying because all the work is done already. Daddy’s home, and you’re “off duty.” With love, Husband encourages, “Seriously, go downstairs, relax for a bit!”
And while you want to do this—while you actually want nothing more than to sit on the couch, put your feet up, and just close your eyes and hear for a second what silence in your brain sounds like (or what you imagine it might sound like), you know that’s not really an option in the world you live in. Because you know in your heart there is no time to relax. It is time to clean up Kid Dinner. It’s time to make the living room look just a little less like a bomb of toys and princess gear detonated in it. It’s time to sort through the mail. It’s time to set the table for Adult Dinner. It’s time to put away the laundry. It’s time to sterilize the bottles. It’s time to make the bottles for daycare tomorrow. It’s time to sort through the three-year-old’s backpack. Dear Lord: how old are those Cheerios? Briefly, you wonder if carbon-14 dating could track those puppies back at least four months.
And by the time you accomplish 1/8 of what you planned on doing in that twenty minutes that Daddy is upstairs putting one of your kids to bed, you’re frustrated that you didn’t finish the other seven-eighths of your agenda. And hell, why is Daddy taking so long? You head upstairs, and there he is: asleep in the three-year-old’s bed.
So here we are, ladies. Finally, we women can have it all! We can leave the cult of domesticity…to live in the working world…AND the cult of domesticity. You know what? If this is what having it all is, well, I think I’m gonna have to be the one who says it. No thank you, Gloria Steinem. And Betty Friedan? You can just suck it.
There may be women out there who relish this “having it all”ness that I can’t get my head around. (These may be the same women who work because they feel like it, not because they need the money. They may also have personal chefs, daily housekeepers, and 24-hour childcare. Now THAT is “having it all”.) I suspect that these awesome Alpha women would be horrified to learn that yes, just last week, Lila found some sort of fossilized snack on the floor of my car that neither of us could identify, and before I could say, “I’ll take that, please,” I was looking at her chewing in the rear view mirror as she said, “Mommy, this is crunchy.”
The problem with having a job and having a family, something always has to give. Having it all is an impossibility: at some point, the patience wears out, the stamina falters, the ego is crushed a grape squished on the floor. So yeah, we’ve got it all…but holding the weight of it all can be sometimes near unbearable.
And even when superheroes like Daddy rush in to save the day and lift the building before it falls, let’s face it: Daddy can’t do it the way I can, now can he? Through no fault of his own, he is an entirely different person, and in spite of our eight years of marriage and thirteen years loving one another, he is not a mind reader. He will put away the laundry—but not in the neurotic way I would do it. He will dress the kids—but not in outfits that look normal (how does he always manage to dress them so they look like they crawled out of a 1930s orphanage?). He will put the girls to sleep—but it will take longer than if I did it myself. And I’m not saying that his way is wrong, but, well, it’s not my way, and control freak that I am—and I suspect many of us who “have it all” are those freaks—if I’m “having it all”? I want to have it all…MY way.
“I Don’t Know How She Does It,” right?
Right. Because she doesn’t.
So lately I’ve been crashing into bed at night making mental lists in the moments before I fall asleep about all that needs to be accomplished. Hilariously, on top of the turbo-speed of regular life, I’ve taken it upon myself to run a 5k this weekend, though a) I’m not a runner/quit cross-country in high school because it was too tiring and b) I’m only three months post-partum with a belly that shakes like it’s got it’s own Richter scale every time my sneaker hits treadmill.
But I will run the race. And though I have no idea what the finish line looks like, I’ll keep going. Because Gloria? Even though I’m still kind of pissed about the “having it all” thing, you were right about this one: “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.”
You said it, sister. You said it.