I often feel trepidation when I see an article, like the much commented upon piece in last week's Atlantic magazine, suggesting that women can't have it all. Don't buy into it, I tell myself. Just work harder, be better organized, eat healthier, do more yoga, you can be a supermom and a rising star in the office too. But as I read through this article (its a long one but worth reading through) I felt stabs of recognition. She points out that being a full time working mum is probably too hard for most people to do. She compares us to people who work full time and also run marathons, but points out the other people don't look at us with the awe they reserve for marathon runners.
I'm not as successful yet as the author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, but I do put in long hours on someone else's schedule. My weekends combine laundry, errands, grocery shopping and household tasks with wholesome fun family activities, as weekdays are tied to the office. Like the author, I have a supportive husband, particularly when it comes to taking over when I have business travel, but like I her I have come to realize that this is necessary but not sufficient. The lion's share of the sundry but critical tasks; finding summer camps, laundry, weekend classes, buying clothes, laundry, getting hair cut, making dentists appointments, laundry, keeping the social calender, buying birthday gifts, and did I say laundry?, all default to me.
The article gratified and validated me, in a way. By reading it I recognized that I am actually pretty awesome. The fact that I have more than just kept my head above water for the past six years, that I've had success at work, that the kids are strong and happy and doing well, and that I have even contributed a little to the community through the PTA and the preschool parent steering group and I have fought my figure back to its pre-baby dimensions, give or take a droop here and there, puts me in a fairly elite group of women. The fact that I am disappointed in myself that I haven't yet had time to train for a marathon or take up triathalon makes me see that perhaps I expect a little too much of myself.
It also made me feel very tired. The kids are 4 and 6. I am still working relentlessly. I plan on doing this for many more years, since I love what I do, but I'm only just starting to realize that as the children get older they actually require more, not less of me.
In preparation for this move to San Diego I have a little hiatus from the nine to five (more like eight to six) of office life. I have no actual office to go to at the moment, and though I have to keep up with email and call into the occasional meeting my main 'job' is to get us situated in our new location. Suddenly having a bit more time on my hands is disorienting. I now recognize that I've been on a treadmill for years. A smooth, steady predictable one, thanks to expertly executed routines, but one going at an unforgiving pace. Any unexpected hitches would surely have sent me flying off the back and grappling for the supports, but there haven't been too many. Now it has slowed down temporarily and I'm breathing a little easier and looking around a little more.
I've taken Geekygirl to a movie, Geekyboy to the petting zoo and myself to the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit at the De Young. I have taken bags of old clothes to goodwill. I have brushed the dog almost every day. I still seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing laundry.
We are starting a new life in San Diego, and I'm going to try and set the treadmill moving a little more slowly. I'm going to take afternoons off to go to the movies with the kids. I'm going to use my vacation days. I'm going to hire a nanny/household helper so that I don't have to do laundry all weekend. I'm only forty one. I have long career stretching ahead, there will be a lot I can achieve in the next fifteen to twenty years, but at the moment I have two amazing little kids, and we will be living in one of the most child friendly and beautiful spots in the world. Season passes for legoland and sea world, here we come! And just perhaps a triathalon training program too.