Sometimes - in moments of weakness, perhaps, or simply a human need to reach out to other troubled souls - women make confessions to me. Whispered things, usually, that speak of the deep self-doubt that arises from the ceaseless measuring of oneself against capricious and impossible standards of femininity.
Whatever their form, the contents of these confessions can be distilled into a single question: How do other women do it all? And following naturally from that, Why can't I?
But what is all of "it" that they're talking about? Long story short, "it" is nothing less than everything: raising successful kids; having a successful career; maintaining a home; maintaining relationships; personal, spiritual and professional growth; giving back to the community; eating five to ten servings of fruits and veggies every day; defying age, gravity and the effects of child-bearing/rearing and chronic stress on one's face and body; yadda fucking yadda.
One woman confessed to me that she never actually folds laundry, she just piles it on the guest room bed. Whenever someone in the house needs an article of clothing, they rummage through the pile. I say "confessed" in the sense that this facet of her life was revealed sotto vocce, nervously and a little apologetically, and was swiftly followed by an almost pleading, "How do you manage it all?"
Uh, I don't. Who the hell gave anyone the impression that I have anything under control, let alone everything? Hasn't she ever read my blog? Hasn't she ever seen the size of my ass? The bags under my eyes? The junk piled up in my basement? Clearly I am not doing it all. Actually, I had just been wondering how she managed it all. How did we all get so confused?
* * *
I have a confession to make.
I'm on a bit of a staycation right now. A little while ago I thought, I'm burned out and emotionally exhausted. I need to take care of myself, I need a break, and I need it to be alone. I'm so desperate for time away from other humans that I booked a few vacation days, booked a sitter, and planned to enjoy a few precious hours alone in my own home.
Enter cognitive dissonance: I feel silly for wasting money on child care when I'm not at work. I feel guilty for being "unproductive". I feel like I have to justify my break, loud and clear so no one could think me lazy or crazy or ridiculous.
So I started planning: I'll wash the walls. I'll touch up the paint throughout the house where it's a little thin or chipped or blobbed onto the ceiling. I'll print off, organize and file three years' worth of photos. I'll catch up on paperwork and correspondence. I'll clean the fridge and stove and car, inside and out, and clean and organize the basement while I'm at it. I'll volunteer at the school and take a load of junk to the dump and make casseroles to take to my neighbours and friends. I'll work out every day.
You know by now that I'm prone to exaggerating, but literally and truly, that was my to-do list for the four child-free (for approximately 7.5 hours per day) days I had planned this week. For the four child-free days I've had this past decade, and probably the only ones I can expect for the next decade too.
If that's not the very definition of INSANITY I don't know what is.
So I took a long, hard look at my (obviously flawed) thought process, and the problem boiled down to this: I believed that if I could just plough through that list of Things-Not-Done that is constantly hanging over my head, if I could tick off those "outstanding" boxes off my list, I would actually be "managing it all". I would finally be caught up, if only for a short while until more Things took the place of the Things I had crossed off, or the same Things crept back up on me, as such Things are wont to do.
I realized that I don't need a to-do list, I need counseling! So I balled up that sack of useless guilt and assumed obligation and pitched its sorry ass out the window, and I made some new goals:
That's right, four bottles. One glass. Get over it.
For seven-point-five hours per day this week, I am on vacation in the real and true sense. Any activity I plan to engage in, I first hold up to my emotional compass: if it elicits the slightest twinge of guilt or obligation, I refuse to do it. I have embarked on a dedicated journey of unstructured, unproductive time, unbeholden to anyone. For the record, I'm feeling wonderful - more relaxed and well-rested and peaceful than I've felt in ages. Cheapest counseling ever.
One day my sweet little babies will be grown up and moved out and I'll have all the alone time I can handle, and in fact probably more than I'll be able to stand. I'll clean the basement then. For now, who gives a shit?
I'll drink to that.