Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bacon, bringing home and frying thereof

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.

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.


Scribbit said...

Okay do you remember that commercial 20 years ago for some perfume where this lady sings that song "I can bring home the bacon . . . fry it up in a pan . . ." and every time my mom would see that it would send her through the roof in frustration. Really really bugged her and once I became an adult I could see why--who can live up to those ideals?

Robin said...

That commercial is exactly what I was thinking of - if you click on that bacon link it will bring you to a clip of that very same one.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

We're three for three with that commercial. Wow.

And you're right. I've come to the same conclusions, and been told by scores of friends, "Wait until you see how much writing you get done once both kids are in school all day long this fall."

I think that women's lives, more than men's, are cyclical in ALL ways. I'll have gone from the me of 1999/early 2000 who went from being an agented (and hopefully soon to be published) writer to being an unagented person who barely wrote to becoming a writer again to ... I'm not sure what lies ahead. But if you look at the cycle, it seems I'm on the upswing.

I'll take it.

Leora said...

Yeah, I can relate. I remember being taught in the seventies that I could have any career I wanted. Except when my first son was born, in the 1990s, I felt, how can I leave this little guy?

Nowadays, I learn so much from my kids. I'm actually glad I didn't end up with a fantastic career and instead a mellow, work-at-home version--my kids are the best!

Phyllis Sommer said...

it is hard...i'm always fighting against myself more than anything. you seem pretty super to me! great post.

Anonymous said...

Yup, I remember that ad.
They lied to you, too?
I could so relate to this, except I never went the heavy career route, something I do sorta regret now.

Robert said...

I'm glad you figured out it was a lie. I even fell for it, from the man's point of view. I remember having female friends years ago that said what they wanted to do when they grew up was to be a wife and mother. I thought, "That's it? Just that?" But really, what higher calling is there? I have friends now that wanted to go back to work after their kids were born because going to work is easier than raising their kids full time. Julianne and I are so blessed to have her stay home with Lily.

Thanks for sharing this. And btw, you are now in my sidebar on my blog!

A Wild Thing said...

I grew up in the 60's turmoil of Vietnam, what a time to be experiencing love, hippies, flower children, so many identities to chose from. But the 3 stages of a woman, the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone have always been the maps to my survival and at age 58 (soon to be 59), this is the time of ME, the Crone. You think you had fun before, just wait till this kicks in for you. The sky's the limit, the creativity explodes...hang on, you will soar!!!


Maddy said...

Always the illusion of choice.
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

It's always a hard choice no matter at what point in married life we are. Children change our lives.

This was so well written Robin. A sure winner to me, as always.

Unknown said...

That commercial is obnoxious and completely unrealistic.

I've learned that I can do everything... but when I try to do everything I don't do anything very well. I'm a mess.

Thanks for writing this.

Janet said...

that last got it exactly right!

anymommy said...

So well said. I've thought about this way more than I should too, having been down the same higher-education, you can do it all path only to find, late, that I loved being home with my kids most of all. You can't always do it all. More importantly, not every woman wants to try.

I hope you win!

Genny said...

Loved reading this, Robin. And I loved your comment about being Super Me. So important and so true. Thanks for the reminder.

Space Mom said...

They did lie-
We can do everything, in little bits, here and there, but not in the way they told us

Trish said...

This is just so good, I have nothing to say other than a big "YES!" My mom was really negative on the whole husband and family thing and still doesn't understand why I don't work a full time job outside the home.

Anonymous said...

And I definitely think you are a Super You! Great post!

Gilit Frank said...

Great post - you inspired me to write a piece about not being inspired!

G'night for now


Anonymous said...

Great post. Glad I read it. We all have something like this that knocks us upside the head. I'm glad you conquered yours.

Gilit Frank said...

Congratulations on your honorable mention!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, indeed. I'm so glad I decided to click through the honorable mentions list. I didn't love all the posts that got mentioned, but I did love this one. Well done.

Unknown said...

Congrats on your honorable mention.

I think that you are a wonder woman because you figured it out on your to prioritize correctly without anyone telling you, that is.

I thought our posts were somewhat similar...except I never made it as far as you on the career track :) and I still have loved every minute (well, maybe not every minute, but enough of them :)

Mozi Esme said...

I think there are a lot of us who can relate - who went down the career track and then realized that being a Mommy was really more important. It is hard to adjust sometimes, but I know it is what I need to do.

And it's great that you found a happy medium of work and mommyhood. I'm still working on finding that balance!

nellbe said...

Great post! I really enjoyed reading it. Congrats on your honorable mention on Scribbit.

Elisa said...

I couldn't agree more! They did lie! This was brilliant!