Sunday, July 13, 2008
As a child of the seventies, I was brought up on one of the greatest myths of the twentieth century - the Super Woman. I was taught from the earliest age that I could grow up to be anything I wanted, that all doors were open. That it would be no problem to bring home that bacon, fry it up in that pan, and all the while make sure my husband knew well that he was the man.
There was only one problem.
They lied through their teeth.
"They" told a generation of young girls - told us - that we could grow up and have it all. You could be a high-powered career woman. You could work hard and aspire to the good life. You could be a wife and a mother. You just couldn't do all of them at the same time. Something had to be sacrificed, compromises had to be made, pieces of your soul had to be sold off.
I did everything I was supposed to do. I finished high school. Went away to college. Earned a degree. Met a boy. (Not in that order.) Got a good job. Wanted a better job. Went back to school. Earned a masters. Got a better job. Sacrificed a great deal of free time on the alter of career development. Worked nights. Worked weekends. Travelled on business. Often. Long trips to difficult places. Furthered my career. Developed a specialty. Became known for that specialty. I was what some might call a success. A minor success I admit, I was still young, but with great promise.
And then, somewhere around my thirtieth birthday, after nearly ten years of marriage, I realized that I was ready for children. More than ready.
And I panicked.
How could I possibly fit children into this high pressure lifestyle, into these 60-hour work weeks? How could I turn my back on the career I'd worked so hard to achieve?
How could I not?
My whole life I had been taught that I could grow up and have it all, but no one had ever told me how I could have it all. How on earth was I supposed to fit it all in? How could I manage?
It wasn't possible. It wasn't FAIR. How could I, we all, have been sold this bill of goods? By what right did they lie to us all these years?
To say I took it hard would be an understatement. A very big one. Months of months of existential angst.
Perhaps I was predestined to take this hard. After all, I grew up in a professionally successful, well educated family. Both of my parents had graduate degrees from an Ivy League school, my mother earning hers once she had two school-aged children of her own. It was always taken for granted that I would go to a good college, taken for granted that I would do well there and taken for granted that I would then go on to get a good job in the field of my choice. It was also taken for granted that somewhere along the way I would meet Mr. Right, get married, and have children. I internalized all these expectations and made them my own. There was a brief but quite successful rebellious period in high school, but it was still assumed that I would pull myself out of that and return to my "real" life before managing to veer seriously off course. Ever the dutiful daughter (well, other than those high school years), I did.
I agonized for years over the right time to actually fulfill this destiny and have children. Finally, after much soul searching and long discussions with my unbelievably patient husband, I decided that really the only thing to do was close my eyes and leap, trusting that something was down there to cushion my fall.
I got lucky, it was. In fact, I struck working mom gold - I was able to reach a deal with my company to move down to part-time after my son was born. I stopped travelling, stopped working nights and weekends, and began spending a significant portion of my life away from work. I found myself so enthralled with my child and motherhood that each hour we were separated was too much, and by the time my daughter arrived a few years later I was more than ready to walk away from the career track. Unforeseen circumstances kept me at home for nearly a year, and at the end of that year was able to get myself hired for a new position - a part-time, work-at-home, low key, low stress position, and one that I hold to this day.
I never would have thought that I would be content with a small job working on a very small piece of the puzzle - no glamor, no glory, nevermind that I would find even those minor demands on my time an intrusion but yet here I am today. I never did figure out how to be Super Woman; instead I found out something infinitely more important - how to be the best me that I can be - a mother, a wife, an employee, and any of the thousand other hats I wear on a day to day basis. Not the perfect wife and mother, far from it, but the best one that I am able to be. Others will define their best differently, but at the end of the day that's exactly what those choices they gave us way back when were all about. It is not the freedom to follow every path, but rather the freedom to choose and follow our own.
I just wish they'd been a little bit clearer on the whole prioritizing thing. Could've saved me years of anguish, but nevermind, I figured it out for myself in the end.
I can't be Super Woman, but I can do my very best at being Super Me, and that's pretty darn good.
This essay has been submitted to Scribbit's July Write-Away contest, on the subject of Wonder Woman.