Friday, March 13, 2009

I Am Woman, Hear Me Weep

To the men who read the blog: I am going to go on a feminist rant. Look away.

I once heard a wise woman say, "A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done."

This wise woman is none other than my mother-in-law, who raised seven kids and worked at times multiple jobs outside the home, so she knows of what she speaks.

As a child of the 80s, I was told that I could be a Superwoman. I could have it all--a career, children, a husband, a nice home. I was also led to believe I could do it all, and do it well--bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and serve it as part of a gourmet meal, rear multiple children, win kudos at work, and keep a house so spotless my family could eat the aforementioned bacon off of the kitchen floor if they wanted to.

But here I am, mid-30s, raising an only child, working a job that gives me a Christmas break and a spring break and something like 8 weeks off in the summer, and I still feel like I am barely keeping my head above water. What gives?

Most of the time I do fine. I have come up with a formula of doing certain household and childcare tasks on certain days and it mostly it works.

And yet.

Every so often my ordinary routine gets wrenched and I find myself overwhelmed by the needs of work and family. It doesn't take much to throw me off; if someone or some cat under my care gets sick, or if a deadline is coming up at work, or if Ainsley has a special event at school, it all goes to hell. The other moms who read this know what I mean--sometimes just an hour a week that you have to spend doing something you don't ordinarily have to do can cause you to get behind. It baffles me that I can take the cat to the vet on a Monday after school and have laundry piled up by Wednesday. It's like the adage about a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane half a world away. One small thing can happen in any given week and I will find myself the following Sunday at 10pm, exhausted and surrounded by baskets of laundry, dusty furniture, and the scent of delivered pizza and wonder, "What the hell just happened?"

Maybe I am just easily overwhelmed. I like to know how my week is going to look and am easily thrown by the unexpected. But I suspect I am not alone.

This week has been one of those weeks. My mom is out-of-town and I have been going to her house every day to feed and water and play with the cat. Alarmed by bloody paw prints on the linoleum, I learned dear Scout has re-opened a wound in her paw, which I just took her to the vet for 2 weeks ago. So that was another trip to the vet. Then Ainsley got sick with a fever and face rash and had to miss two days of school. Then there have been multiple phone calls and emails about help needed with her school's big fundraiser this weekend and about the school choir needing to perform at mass Saturday. And I am approaching the deadline for spending all my budget here at school. I guess you could say I am spreading myself thin.

That phrase is cliche, but it really tells the story of being a working mom. I am spreading myself too thin. We all do it; we have to. The good thing about spreading yourself thin is everything gets covered. The bad thing is, nothing gets covered in any depth.

I am one of the lucky ones; Jason does help. He took a day off to be with Ainsley this week so that I only had to miss one day of work. He helps with laundry. But Jason isn't who the Spring Spectacular committee calls when they need parents to bring in appetizers. He's not the one who intercepts the notes home about today's out-of-uniform-day at Ainsley's school and how it costs $2 to participate and how the choir needs to practice an extra time to perform at a surprise performance on Saturday. He works until past the time that doctor's and dentist's and vet's offices close and past the time that Ainsley needs to be at choir practice and drama rehearsals and swim lessons. He gets home too late to cook dinner, and I usually enjoy cooking, so how and what we eat is up to me. Cleanliness and order in the house are important to me, and I firmly believe (sorry, guys) that there is a difference between man-clean and woman-clean. So when I'm not being a chauffeur, or a school volunteer, or a homework helper, or an amateur nurse, or a cook, I'm a maid.

In other words: despite having feminist leanings, despite having a husband who tries his best to help out, I am still working two jobs. I am a librarian by day, and a full-time mom and housewife in afternoon and night.

And right now, for some reason...I am hating it more than usual.

What keeps me up at night sometimes is thinking about how overwhelmed I often feel and I just have one kid. I really don't know how those of you with more than one handle it. And the Octomom? Forget about it.
We can't do it all. The whole Superwoman thing from the 80s is a myth. Something ends up being let go. And that something is usually us.

It occurred to me as I was scheduling Scout's vet appointment that my shoulder is really bothering me. It has been, off and on, since I had my bad fall in December. I think I have either re-injured it or there was more wrong with it than the doctor realized from the beginning. I have moments where I think, "I really need to go back and have it checked out." I also have a cracked tooth that I need to schedule a dentist appointment for. Just when I think I have the time to take care of these things, the kid spikes a fever, or the cat's paw starts bleeding.

I'm not trying to be a martyr. In the heat of the moment, I recognize that a sick kid or a bloody cat is more important than my aching shoulder or cracked tooth (it has been cracked for at least two years, and I suppose it could be cracked for two more.) In the moment I don't grudge it at all. But I don't think it makes me a bad person if I wish that sometimes I could be selfish.

And that's why I am writing. Not to whine (well, maybe to whine) but to reach out to the other wonderful women who read this blog.

I firmly believe that bottling things up just makes it worse. After a good rant on the blog, I always feel so much better (though I would probably feel even better if I used that time to, say, get my tooth or shoulder fixed.) So I offer to you ladies, particularly you working moms, the comment section to rant. Talk about the household chore you hate the most. Or the things you neglect with yourself to do for your family. Or just how badly your bad weeks suck. Or how you cope with the stress. Illustrate the theme above, stated so well by my mother-in-law:

A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done.


DRoss said...

I always go back to a comment my mom made when we would talk about what it meant to be a girl and to leave that country to move to the land of full-grown women. She told me that her mother (my Mammaw, God rest her) was always kind of sad to hear when a baby girl was born because "she'll just have to suffer." The story puzzled me then, but now I see the wisdom and the pathos of it.

I have paragraphs more, but it got to personal and too long-winded to post. I'll email you, Cranky.

Love you! Hang in there.

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