May I Take Your Order, Ma’am? Yes, I’ll Have it All

by on March 7th, 2015
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“I learned after I had children that you can’t have it all. You just can’t.”

This verbal bomb dropped in my 29th week of pregnancy. A forkful of wild rice salad was on its way to my eager gullet when my lunch partner/real estate agent spewed forth what would become the basis for my every fear and long held belief about motherhood.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard references to women being forced to sacrifice some element of themselves after kids came along. I’ve read Betty Friedan, Naomi Wolf and the others. I knew that if and when I made the decision to have a child or children, I’d inevitably face the possibility of not having it all…or desperately scrambling, figuring out how I could have it all.

After 12 more weeks of gestation and many more pounds, I would cease to become Chrystal and metamorphose into Mom.

And then, after the swift transformation was complete, I’d learn that I couldn’t have it all either. And I’d accept it, falling quietly and complacently into step with the other juggling, frazzled, sleep-deprived, exhausted new parents. It was such a grandiose adjustment and even though I wasn’t technically working for a paycheck, I felt like I was on the clock … all the time. I nursed my son, so nighttime feedings weren’t a tradeoff with my (now ex) husband. I was home with the baby during the day, running around in bad sweatpants, trying to decide whether to use the baby’s 20 minute naps as a window for showering, cleaning the house, doing laundry or just getting some sleep myself. On occasion, I tried to write a little. I had been a writer for some time and abandoning my craft left me feeling empty and bland. But I never had the time to really dig in and focus. I’d get a sentence or two down and then bash the delete button over and over until I pulverized the plastic.

It was frustrating. But after about a year, I did start writing again. And, it was good stuff. In fact, it became a book. A book that is selling quite well, as it turns out. Anyway, as my son got older and more independent, our days developed more structure. I had time to focus on more than just diaper duty and breastfeeding and slowly, my written voice came back. When it did, so too did a new understanding of what having it “all” meant. “All” was my own definition of “all.” I loved my kid and I loved being a mom. No, I wasn’t at an office at 7 am pounding out stories on a company-owned keyboard. I was on the couch or at my kitchen table, typing one or two words every 10 minutes as I retrieved toy cars from beneath the couch and helped make wooden block car washes. I sang ABCs while loading the dryer and taught my son how to push the appropriate buttons on the dishwasher.

I secured fantastic freelance work and hung out with my kid. For me, it was bliss. I had attained my version of having it all. Mind you, I said it was my version. Lots of moms (and dads) work in offices, hospitals, schools and so on, and they are amazing parents too. Arranging their parenting the way they do is their own version of having it all. And it works. It totally works.

So now, a couple of years after my wild rice lunch freak out, I realize that what my realtor said was both true and untrue. True, because if we, women, benchmark ourselves against some archetypal, mythological super mom, then no, we’ll never have it all. It’s like expecting your skin to look like the pore-free, airbrushed makeup ads you see on tv. It’s just never going to happen, no matter how fervently you shellack. But my well-meaning real estate agent was wrong because, despite my trepidation and stuttering start, I do have it all. And so many other moms do too. We’re doing a great job – as mothers, writers, teachers, engineers, designers … whatever. Take your status quo and shove it up your ass, society. We got this.

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