Serial Having it All

Several years ago, I was in the midst of a frantic time. I was working, going to school, still nursing a baby, up all night, getting up and driving to work at 6:30, getting home at 7:00 (or later), living on fast food and coffee, and generally… well. Frantic. And out of shape. Very out of shape.

One day in the middle of this, they had a life coach on the lunch time phone-in show. I called in, looking more for reassurance than guidance, truth-be-told. “I’ve been dealing with all of this, I’m only sleeping 3-1/2 hours a night, I know I need to eat better and get some exercise, but I’m just exhausted.” We talked for a long time (much longer than usual for these phone-ins) and I eventually said, “I think maybe we can have it all, just not all at once.” He concurred, wished me luck and moved on to the next caller.

And did the next caller start with a question? No. She said, “Well, that lady just needs to get up half an hour earlier so that she can go for a walk every morning.”

I looked at my radio, incredulous. Did you even HEAR the part about 3-1/2 hours of sleep a night? Nursing a baby? Writing papers until 2 in the morning before getting up at 6 to drive 100 km to work? My major health risk isn’t my weight or my diet; it’s dying in a fiery wreck when I fall asleep behind the wheel on the 401. (Frankly, I don’t think I should have been permitted to drive at all under those conditions… except that then I would have lost my house on account of not paying the mortgage. I apologize to everybody who shared the road with me for endangering your lives.)

Having it All – A Trap!

I tried to have it all. I spent many years assuming that everybody else was just better at it than me. That their houses were always tidy, that they never had to threaten their children with haircuts to get them to submit to the brush, that somehow, magically, they had more hours in the day so that they were able to cook the healthy meals that they were serving to their children who ate them gratefully and blissfully an hour before they got home from work. (Did I mention that during several of these years my husband was a graduate student, so I was also the primary earner in our household?)

So, um. It didn’t work. And then I spent a fair length of time (like, years, maybe) thinking that maybe it didn’t work just ’cause I was bad at it. Even after that conversation on the radio.

I have a hypothesis. That is, I think I have an explanation that I can’t prove. That’s like a hypothesis, right? This problem of failing to “have it all” seems to be  associated with the middle class, particularly “professional” women. And the explanation I have come to is this: We’re not the class we think we are. We were raised both to be participating members of the leisure class, and simultaneously to provide all our own support. You know those people of past generations that we compare ourselves to? The ones who accomplished so much? For the most part, they had… (stage whisper) WIVES. And/or servants. Chatelaines. Butlers. Somebody else took care of the necessary parts of life so that they could carry on doing the “work” of the leisure class. Thinking, reading, writing, researching were the point of their days… they weren’t also coming home, making dinner, doing the laundry, putting the kids to bed and then trying to fit in 4 more hours of work before they started it all over the next day… We’re trying to be multiple people all at the same time, and each of those roles is a full life in and of itself…

I found this in draft from last year. I still don’t know how to finish it. Maybe because I still haven’t reconciled the reality of my life with the narrative of the “successful woman.” That is, I still don’t “have it all”, and thus don’t feel entitled to speak about it. Does this resonate with anybody?

4 responses to “Serial Having it All”

  1. you might not have it all but you have more than some and I think your doing pretty good with your balancing act.

    • Thanks. Sometimes it feels like the balancing act is more like plate spinning, though. With that sense that if I fail to make it back to this one, they all will come tumbling down. And then my act will be revealed as the fraud it is! Or maybe that’s just what it’s like to be an adult…

  2. My problem with the term “work-life balance” is that it assumes that work is just one thing (whereas I typically have at least three gigs going) and that the everything else that we call “life” is just one thing — ha, ha, ha.

    • I used to call it, “work-work-life-life-life balance” to better reflect how many things I was juggling.