I get a kick out of meeting new people for the first time — particularly single folks who are roughly my age (there are many such travelers who pass through this town). I listen with entranced fascination (and just a hint of envy) as they tell tales of solo voyages with nothing but a backpack, a pair of Chacos and a dog-eared Tolstoy. Of month-long silent yoga retreats, their choice to start eating meat again after going hungry in some remote South American village, and their heart-wrenching autonomous decision to part ways with a beautiful Argentinian who wouldn’t quit asking for commitment.
And then it’s my turn – they have no idea. “So what about you? What’s your story?”
Inevitably, their drop-jawed disbelief after I set the stage of my life is followed by a string of predictable questions. “How many kids? How old are you? All daughters? Your poor husband.” My favorite is when I top it all off with the age of my eldest. You can just see their wheels turning while they do the mental math.
The one comment that floors me though, from non-parents and new parents alike is this, “I don’t know how you manage to do it all.” Hil-arious. It’s particularly fun if my husband happens to be within earshot and I get to watch him try not to blow beer through his nostrils as he stifles a cynical laugh.
Why is this comment so funny? Because it’s so heavily tinged with irony. Because it’s the biggest joke ever for the idealistic mother of four kids, 16 years into the game. Because earlier in my mothering career I actually did attempt to “do it all” and nearly lost my mind trying. Because frankly, “doing it all” is totally overrated.
Here’s the simple truth of the matter (for me, anyway)…
- I ducked out of the “supermom” game some years ago. As a result, my kids watch more movies, we eat more quesadillas, my house is usually a mess and I don’t always remember to play tooth fairy. I am also a healthier, happier more chilled-out person (which may even have saved my marriage).
- What I do manage to accomplish almost always comes at a compromise. If I’ve had a productive work week, my girls inevitably got less of my attention. If I spend three hours on dinner, I can expect at least one kid to proclaim it “inedible.” If I manage an entire hour of uninterrupted yoga, it’s because I’m either up at 5 am or I’ve parked the kids in front of Cosby Show episodes on Youtube. If I scrap the housework and writing for a day just to soak in the sunshine, I’ll be playing catch up for the next 48 hours. I handle these compromises with varying degrees of grace and poise, largely depending on how well I manage to accomplish #3.
- My job, first and foremost is to take care of me. I’ll admit, I did the martyr thing for a while. You know, the “I have no time for myself, I am too busy with the needs of others” routine. That mentality took me right up to the edge of crazy before I realized the futility of my thinking.
- I am incapable of meeting every emotional need that arises from my family. I do the best I can, allow them to see my weaknesses, and encourage them to look within themselves for the answers. It took me a while to relinquish control, but I’ve come to trust that the world is good and will fill in the gaps of my inadequacies. (Though I still struggle with the infamous “mom guilt.”)
- The bulk of my grief stems from the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. I think this one requires a post of it’s own.
- To “do it all” is to divide myself into so many fragments, that neither I nor the recipients of my attention are given the full benefit of my investment. It’s the old “less is more” adage, which pertains to just about every thing I apply it to.
So, to answer the question of the disbelieving backpackers and parents who’ve not yet had their butts kicked, I don’t do it all, and what I do accomplish is not always pretty. In fact, I can’t say that “pretty” in any way describes the bulk of our experiences, no matter how much estrogen in the household. But I wouldn’t trade pretty for what I do have. I’ll take my hodgepodge, imperfect life any day – ’cause what I have is real.