Do it all, have it all, darn it all
It’s possible that I was recently rude in a meeting at work.
I truly didn’t mean to be. But I was completely overcome by the urge to splay my hands over my face and groan, ‘Noooooo, please no.’ I may have also said something along the lines of, ‘That idea makes me want to die.’
OK, yes, that is bad, bad workplace behavior. But in my defense, the suggestion was that we put an article about ‘work-life balance and doing it all’ in a publication we were planning. And, y’all, that idea just made me want to die.
I am living deep in the reality of doing it all, and I just cannot stomach the urge we have to package up that reality using some goofy infographic featuring a woman in a business suit juggling a bunch of representative icons (the baby, the house, the husband, the briefcase, the running shoes).
Those articles always feature cheerful advice from someone terrifically accomplished who’s doing it all. She’s making time for yoga and having the weekly date night with the husband and gluing together art projects with the kids while becoming the youngest vice president of whatever in the history of someplace. She’s telling you to make time for yourself and have a list and have a plan and drink lots of water and get enough sleep.
Good. Great! And wow, thanks, but now I feel like a failure.
What I really want is a feature called something like: “The truth about doing it all and having it all: Embarrassing shortcuts, mortifying secrets and frustrating foul-ups from the real lives of working parents.”
Like this: Sometimes my kids run out of clean clothes and get dressed out of the hamper. We eat pizza and hamburgers all the time. I hate doing art projects. When I sit on my 6-year-old’s bed to help him study for his spelling tests, I sometimes fall asleep. I have never cleaned the light fixtures in my master bathroom. (They are so dusty it’s kind of fascinating; at this point I’m scared to touch them.) I am not above suggesting to my sons that they just go ahead and hit each other; I don’t think I need to be involved in their fights and if they pound each other, the fights end faster. I sometimes work at midnight because I just didn’t get it all done. I don’t understand my 11-year-old son’s math homework. I sometimes work on the weekends because I just didn’t get it all done. I have been known to call into meetings from the park while telling my kid that, yes, I am watching him on the swing when, no, I am absolutely not watching him on the swing.
Honestly, it doesn’t bother me that this is the reality of a full life. I know enough about the sway of the cosmic pendulum to know that things will, eventually, slow down. The kids get bigger and more self-sufficient. Work has its slower seasons (that’s what I’ve heard, anyway). One day I’ll take that light fixture apart and clean it. Stuff evens out. Right?
But in the meantime, it needs to be OK to acknowledge that when I leave work in the evening to take a run, I am neglecting work and my husband is at home handling the evening routine without me. And when I stay at work to finish a project, I am not getting my workout and my husband is at home handling the evening routine without me. And when I go home to help my husband with the evening routine, I am not getting my workout or finishing my work projects.
And I need to make peace with this cell phone I have full of the frustrated texts that fly back and forth between my friends and me, all of which are a variation on this theme: I miss you, I never get to see you, I’m sorry I had cancel lunch but the baby is sick/work is crazy/let’s reschedule.
Not to mention the myriad ways I neglect my good-hearted husband. This is a person I like enough to have babies and a mortgage with – a person who holds my hand when I am sick and asks me every single day how I am feeling and if there’s anything I need. We have to painstakingly carve out time to even have a conversation.
So I want to ban those cheerful infographics showing the business-suited woman confidently juggling all that stuff. And maybe replace her with a picture of a woman who has her hands splayed over her face, groaning, ‘Noooooo, please no.’