I Have It All

They say a woman’s life had three stages: Maiden, Earth Mother and Crone. But there is a fourth stage. It’s called “having it all”. It cannot be achieved by Maidens. The very term implies immaturity and want of mettle testing. No, “having it all” is somewhere after maturation and before death which leaves a gal with an awful lot of time to achieve this lofty, and in my opinion, utterly valueless state of being.

A blogger asked her audience the other day to define what “having it all” meant to them without going to the mattresses and this was my response:

I had the “career” and the kid and hated it. And this was before my husband died. Hated it a lot more afterward because it stopped being my choice and became a matter of survival.

Do I have it all now? I don’t have the writing career I want – yet – but I am much happier without the “career” though I do miss the business casual a tiny bit every so often. But my new “uniform” is more me and I am more me than I have ever been in my life.

When I was in university, it was forbidden to want the husband, kids unless you were willing to put on the business casual and arm wrestle with the world as well. That was the “having it all” definition my peers and I were handed by the 2nd Gen Fems, our big Boomer sisters. And I always felt we got royally shafted because there was never a choice for us. We couldn’t do it as our mothers did (and not all our mothers suffered from the problem that had no name). We had to be working moms and super sex kitten wives.

And I am hardly the kind of person who defines myself via my husband and child. I usually tell people I am a writer before I mention the wife and mother part. I am a lot of really great things and I happen to be married to a terrific guy and have really awesome daughters.

Can you have it all? I guess that depends on what your “all” is.

Technically speaking, I have it all now. The husband, the child, the career of my heart and a lifestyle that suits me to a tee. But it’s that pesky “eye of the beholder” thing because as a woman who gave up a secure day job and an independent income to remarry, relocate and become a financially dependent home fire tender and child wench – I have let go of the last rung and am viewed as “kept” to the point that anything I might see myself as having achieved before doesn’t count.

The built-in vac wasn’t working today, so I mentioned it to Rob when he called to let me know he was on his way home from town. He’d removed the outlet upstairs when he was painting and that was the problem.

Later when I mentioned I felt sometimes that I was losing my ability to trouble shoot, he asked,

“What would you have done in Des Moines?”

“Called a repairman if it wasn’t an obvious problem.”

“See, you know what to do.”

“Yes, but I feel like a Panda who can’t be put back into the wild.”

I have a husband to take care of me now. Somehow that infantilizes me because the whole “having it all” thing has permeated society to the point where women who can choose aren’t supposed to do so. It’s a betrayal of the sisterhood. The fact that I am happy too just makes it an insult to choiceless women’s injuries on top of it.

Jessica, in her original post, doesn’t apologize for being someone’s wife, not having a career outside her home and for really loving her life. It brought back memories of university where I just sat mute while my girlfriends denigrated those peers who wanted nothing more than to get a degree they could use later on – after they’d stayed home with the babies they naively assumed they’d be able to have while the husband, they were sure they would snag, provided for them all*. Even though I knew deep down I was no where near full baked as a person for marriage, I didn’t think it was a bad dream. It matched my role model of the era. No, not my mother, but Mary Alice – the woman whose children I babysat for.

I was thinking about her the other night after I paid our new sitter and was telling her about getting a phone call in the middle of dinner from my sister. DNOS was at a wedding reception and wanted to know how to stick a spoon to her nose. It was a trick Mom had seen at Rob and my wedding dinner and she couldn’t remember how to do it. Kee, our sitter, laughed and although, she is mute with Rob, she chats up a storm when it is just she and I.

I was like that with Mary Alice. Only probably more rapt. Because she was who I wanted to be when I grew up. Beautiful, funny, smart, married to someone whom she loved and who put her and their marriage even before the kids. She was a stay at home, and as far as I know never went back to the workforce though she’d worked a bit between college and the birth of their first child. I saw her last fall at my Dad’s wake. She was the same as I remembered her.

And I don’t recall her being helpless. She managed four children without major incident. I know she kept the books. I am fairly certain she didn’t marry her husband for his handiness because I can’t recall him doing much more than mowing the lawn. Marriage didn’t seem to keep her from her passions or hamper her independence.

Based on Mary Alice, I concluded at fourteen that marriage was not an awful thing if you found the right person.

I went off to school at 18. I worked my way through college. I went from there straight to my first teaching assignment hundreds of miles from my hometown where I didn’t know a soul and every time that I moved – which I did just about every year – I did it all myself. I fielded car issues and minor maintenance. I eventually bought a house on my own. Minus the man and child, I technically had it all and a bag of chips by 33.

The thing about marriage that I have noticed is that it seems to demagnetize women in the eyes of the world at large. Every accomplishment of my own fell off my resume. I’d bought and paid for two cars before meeting Will but when we went to buy a vehicle together, I was ignored. When we bought our first house together – using the money from the sale of mine as a down payment – he got to sign the papers first. When I asked why I was told,

“The man’s signature is always on top.”

Some people assume that I married Rob because I couldn’t handle life on my own. Singleness was too much for me. I’ll cop to being tired, but who wouldn’t have been? I had a full-time teaching position where I dealt with kids who ranged from criminal to really emotionally damaged. I had a pre-schooler I had parented solo since her first day. I was in graduate school for all of Will’s illness and half a year after he died. I had a house to keep up. I had me to attend to and was battling stomach issues that seemed to defy my doctor’s ability to diagnose. But I did it all. I spent a weekend chopping wood after trimming branches off trees. I did the landscaping before putting the house up for sale. And, yeah, that was me in the basement hauling boxes to higher ground and trying to fix the sump pump (my quick fix held for while) during the heavy flooding that spring.

So I guess here is the question. When in my adult life haven’t I had it all? If husband and child are add-on’s – and I think they are in a sense – at every stage of my life, barring crone because I don’t think I am quite there yet, I have had it all simply because I was fine. I was “touring the facility and picking up slack”.

And who the hell doesn’t do this? And what does it really have to do with “having it all”?

Perhaps “all” is relative.

 

*In the early 80’s the latter was still a relatively safe assumption.

15 responses to “I Have It All

  1. It’s a really interesting question — what does “having it all” really mean? There’s the conventional/societal definition which is essentially to hold down a full time job of your dreams while deftly balancing your family life. But when the women of my generation were told we could “have it all,” it was assumed that we would be happy and fulfilled while balancing everything. But we quickly realized that the reality of “having it all” didn’t quite match that assumption. It takes alot of work and frankly money to achieve some semblance of sanity, much less happiness.

  2. Your trouble with the built-in vac and the way you handled it really struck me. I found myself more and more often not making decisions, but handing them off. Ever since I realized that I was doing this (not because anyone asked me to relinquish my decision-making abilities! was I just getting lazy? complacent? doubting my abilities?), I’ve been super-diligent about solving problems myself whenever possible (and, yes, sometimes solving a problem does mean calling a repair person.)

    • That’s interesting. I was just me for so long that I didn’t delegate much in my first marriage and that is not the case now. Maturity and the ability to trust are great things.

  3. I never did the mommy thing, worked my whole married life, and had a husband who was useless with tools and finances. I would have loved some help. I still have to mostly do it myself, but at least now I have The Boyo to do some of the mechanical stuff that’s beyond me.

    The car salesman only pulled that “hubby” crap on me once. My income was separate, and I was relying on my income to buy the car. My husband had nothing to say about it. And he wasn’t going to drive it either. I have gone into a dealership, and spent considerable time looking at cars, kicking tires, climbing in, etc., and had three salesMEN who were shooting the bull completely ignore me. Fortunately I wasn’t ready to buy, but I probably wouldn’t buy from that dealership, anyway. I actually had a car salesman want to drive when I went on a test drive. Had to point out to him that it was a test DRIVE, not a test RIDE. That was twenty years ago, I would have thought they would have evolved by now.

  4. Having it all is an attitude, I think. Being content with what you’ve got in life or being willing to change it. Staying in a rut, and/or whining about it is when we don’t have it all. Those of us who are refugees from YWBB see many examples of both sorts…

    • I think I should have posted my Thursday post before this one. I am not interested in other women’s choices. I am concerned with how my recent choices have redefined me in society despite the fact that I am a sum of all my experiences – not just the ones I have made in the last few years.

      One of the clerks at the grocery spotted me writing at Starbucks before doing the shopping. I got lost in what I was doing and probably wrote for an hour or so. She asked what I was working on and I told her a novel.

      “You’re a novelist? Wait until I tell my daughter that one of the women who shops here is a novelist!”

      I explained I am not published but for the web to which she replied,

      “Well that’s a start, right? A novelist. That’s so cool. I don’t read much but I will read your book when it comes out. Just let me know when.”

      People I see a lot know I am a writer and it seems to take away the SAHM stigma. But when I write for the web, the “mommy” thing is front and center. Why? Because I write for mom blogs, but what other opportunities are there? I am a SAHM. I write but it counts for nothing in an arena that I think should be free of stereotype. If I had a job, would my writing be viewed differently?

      I doubt I would think about this much if I weren’t out of the dayjob thingy. It’s still a relatively new thing for me. My adjustment continues and pieces like Jessica’s and Sandra Tsing Loh’s (Thursday) make me think.

      • Yeah, I hear you being perhaps reactive about image and identity, and I expect that is about your change in roles and careers. Since you are someone who has had to be fiercely self-sufficient and independent, I wonder whether you will ever easily identify yourself as a SAHM and writer until the day that you are an author and are deriving an income from your craft.

        I hear you about the increasing learned helplessness, too. I used to disdain a little the women who had to call their husbands to rescue them from a variety of low-key problems. As a single person and single mom, I managed to do it for myself. Now, I certainly call Rob to help me with stuff that I would’ve handled on my own previously. I wonder whether the increased dependence has brought some advantage- maybe I’m softer and less judgmental, or maybe I just do less, because I can.

        • I was too independent for too long to not question this change in my circumstances and evaluate myself accordingly. I think once I am published and see myself re-established in a new profession, this will be a moot point.

  5. Personally, I think women that work part time or stay home with their kids seem much better at managing a billion things than ones that have a full time career outside the home. People judge no matter what. I thought the whole point of the women’s movement was to have choices, but it wasn’t really.
    Very thoughtful post. Thanks.

  6. i’ve ranted for years that “we were lied to” regarding that pesky “having it all” mantra. yes, you can have it all. but not as much as you want, not when you want it, and NOT WITHOUT GIVING UP SOMETHING ELSE. they left that part out…

    what strikes me most in your post is the sense that you feel the need to defend yourself. just as i feel the need (less so these days) to defend myself and my choices. women – in particular – don’t do a very good job of supporting each other in this regard.

    when i chose to stay home without pay for 9 months with my daughter, my sister-in-law (power attorney who’d had a baby 3 months after me) asked “Gosh! What do you do? You can be gone that long and they don’t care?” My lovely neighbor – stay home miracle-working mother of five – said “Gosh! It’s a shame you have to go back…”.

    every person, every family needs to find the balance that works. and we all need to stop worrying so much what others think, about being judged for our decisions and to support people as they attempt to find their own balance…

    • And that’s just it. Why are we as women defending our life’s choices? We waste so much time battling each other that men are able to hang onto power that should have been divided up long ago.

      • it always struck me that men generally don’t feel compelled to defend their choice to work – but seem more inclined to defend a decision to be a ‘stay home dad’… any role outside ‘traditional’ must trigger that response.

  7. Hi Annie,

    As I read through your blog posts I can sense your passion in writing and hope your doing well with your novel. Hope you get to publish it someday. Keep on writing and enjoy it.

    Thanks,
    Gregory
    myxbooks.wordpress.com

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