I don't mean that facetiously. I would just have to make sense of what I mean, and I'm not able to do that yet because I haven't had a cup of coffee yet. I gave up coffee. Until about 10am.
I think I've tried to say something like this a few times, about how the notion of "balance" for working mothers (and maybe for everyone) is a culturally-constructed mirage. But here's Martha Beck on it, writing in her funny and eloquent way (and with inappropriate cocaine jokes, which make me feel better about my own inappropriateness. And skip down to the bottom for another useful article if you don't want to read this one):
Three Ways to Lose Your Balance
The Joy of Being UnbalancedAnd also here is the editor's introduction to last month's issue of More Magazine, which says something similar. The stories reminded me a lot of my own, especially when the girls were younger:
The other day I had lunch with an old friend who could be the poster child for the overstretched, do-it-all female. Not only is she the editor of a successful magazine but she is also its publisher. So she does two full-time jobs: creating great content for her readers and then, in her spare time, performing the equally challenging high-wire act of courting the advertisers. Oh, and she lives on the Pacific Rim, has to do business in New York and Europe several times a year and reports to a boss in Milan—she flies there regularly to meet with him. Still not seeing any problem? Well, let me add the last salient fact: She's also the mother of two kids. So it shouldn't have surprised me that when I mentioned that both my kids were now out of the house, away at school, she looked at me like a marathon dieter who'd just seen a three-layer chocolate cake: “That means you can devote all your time to work!” she said with a wistful sigh, laced with heavy doses of jet lag. “Oh, I can't even imagine!”
Only two years ago, I couldn't have imagined it either. With my kids then still at home, I too was run ragged by attempting to do it all. Take the time, for instance, when we had just moved from the city to the suburbs. Our son, JJ, had entered the local kindergarten, and somehow our name had not made it onto that small-town bible: the official school calling list. My husband had already cleared out for the 5:30 am train to his job in the city while I got JJ ready for school and our newborn daughter, Lake, out of her crib, dressed and fed. I was in full supermom mode—slipping into my best work clothes and blow-drying my hair while simultaneously microwaving JJ's bowl of instant oatmeal (jail me for high crimes against nutrition; the kid wouldn't eat anything else!) and coaxing the baby to take her bottle. Somewhere in the background I'm sure the TV was blaring the news of an impending snowstorm, but I was in move-forward mode. It could even have been one of those days when I'd gotten up at 5 am to make cookies for a school bake sale—you know, the kind you find out about from a flyer you pull out of the kid's backpack the night before. Those notes from school were always very clear: Everyone needs to participate, and they need to start from scratch … The flyers would actually specify “No Entenmann's!” (Yes, I could have disobeyed, but goody-goody moms like me never do.)
Our full-time babysitter arrived; I kissed Lake good-bye and bundled JJ into his puffer jacket. Driving him the half mile to school was one of those small maternal pleasures I refused to delegate. I pulled up to the curb and watched JJ tumble out, lean all his weight into the heavy school door and disappear inside. I grabbed the train. Ten minutes into the trip, my cell phone rang. “Is this Mrs. Seymour?” an unfamiliar voice asked.
“This is the assistant principal from Murray Avenue School,” the voice said as panic rose in my chest: Something had happened to JJ! He was kidnapped walking down the hall! He was crushed in the stampede for the classroom after the bell …
“I found him wandering around the school, which is closed for a snow day. Didn't you get the call?”
“What call? We're new in town,” I said as my subconscious released little balloons of guilty recognition into my consciousness. I was sort of surprised at how easy drop-off had been—no waiting in line with 20 chuffing cars, no PTA moms hauling kindergartners out of the backseats. Pop. Pop. Pop.
“The class mother is supposed to have called you. But don't worry, I can wait here with JJ till you get him.”
Well, umm … Given the busy workday that lay ahead, I called my sitter and asked her to go, which made me feel even more like a candidate for Uber-Bad Mom. And my list of failures to balance work and parenthood goes on from there. Which is why I always squirm when I meet women who ask, “So how did you do it all?”
The answer, of course, is that I didn't. And the reality is that balance only happens over a lifetime—there will be years when you must choose family over work and years when you must do the opposite. And some, frankly, when you will run around with your hair on fire until you figure out what works for you. So it was actually comforting when I recently had dinner with a group of late-bloomer moms who reject the idea of doing it all as “unrealistic” and “self-defeating.” These women accept the necessity of making choices. One terrifically successful pediatric dentist works only three days a week and spends the rest of her time with her kids. Some of the women are staying home full time, at least for now, while others are working full time and more. I was impressed: We have come a long way. Somehow, however, I forgot to mention to them that when I was editing Redbook, I was the genius who came up with the tagline “Balancing family, work, love, time for you.” But hey, it was the ’90s!