Ya can’t have it all, because all is an illusion

One of the greatest blessings I have had in my life was to know many women we would call senior citizens, some were family members like my beloved Granny and others were friends I made on my own. For some reason even as a child I enjoyed sitting around listening to older women talk, I suspect that was the universe preparing me for the fact that by the time I was really a grown woman, all these wonderful women would no longer be earth side. The universe made sure I got a heavy dose of elder wisdom in my late teens to mid-twenties and thankfully so much of what these women shared with me has stayed with me.

Another blessing granted most days I don’t see it as a blessing is losing my mom early in life; after all I would rather have her here. Yet between the many women who helped raise me and the death of my mother, I know that our time on this rock is short. Sure, we may get 70-90 years but in the grand scheme of things, our time here is just a blip. It was with that knowledge in my early 30’s that I changed my life plan not long after my mom’s death from reaching arbitrary goals on a list that I thought I had to accomplish to focusing on the shit that really matters to me. In the end my mom’s professional choices and life didn’t matter to me once she was gone but the moments and times we shared together are the memories I hold tenderly and share with my own kids. Funny thing is when we talk about my mom, her professional life never comes up.

When I came across The Atlantic piece on “Having it all” that is making the rounds, I almost skipped it, but I am glad that I read it. First off, how many times do we have to hear privileged women complaining that they can’t/don’t have it all? Don’t get me wrong, as a mom who has a job outside of the home in addition to the one in the house, I know it’s a constant juggling act. We do need a culture that is more attuned to modern day living and that doesn’t assume there is an adult at home that can grab the kids from school at 2:30pm. Granted the idea of making school days longer to accommodate our work days is scary to me. How about we flip that around…make the work day line up with the school day? After all how many hours at work are wasted in pointless meetings that frankly could be conducted using modern day technology?

What I really want to say though, why are we still searching to have it all? The truth is no one has it all. Not even men who many of us see as having greater flexibility to put their careers first. Spend some time with an old guy who put his career first when he is getting closer to the end of his life and more times than not you will meet a man with grave regrets. A man who realizes being the company man wasn’t worth what he ultimately gave up, connection to his family, friends and the stuff he thought he would eventually make time for. Hell, talk to anyone whose time is limited on this rock and one common theme you will hear is, I wish I would have made time for what was really important. (Most often, what was important was the family) No one ever wishes they had worked more. Death has visited my life more times than anyone at 39 should ever have to bear and I always hear the same thing.

Work is good, it can feed our souls as well as put much needed money in our pockets but rather than living to work, I would rather work to live. I want a world that values that desire, one that allows all parents to be a part of their kids’ lives as much as they desire without being forced to ever choose work over family. If we can ever get our collective heads out of our asses and recognize that work is only one part of living life, I suspect or at least hope that having it all will have value for all of us, not just some of us as it currently stands.  That we will have a world that knows having it all is not even feasible but instead balance that allows us all to live well.

A Woman’s Work…

Today I bring you a guest post from Detoursfromhome, my baby sister in spirit as I have called her for many years. Enjoy!

About two months ago, I had “the talk” with my gynecologist–the infamous “birds and the bees” talk, wherein she reminded me about the looming dangers of getting pregnant…at this age. You see, I’m turning 35 in a month and, apparently, in the medical community that is a time to sound the alarm. As if I didn’t already know, she proceeded to tell me that I needed to think about having kids soon—asking me all kinds of questions about my personal life with my (now ex) boyfriend, telling me that in “egg years” mine were on the verge of extinction. Even the word menopause entered the conversation. After all of this, she decided to inject some of her own personal life into our talk. She told me that she was the oldest of 10 kids; because of her experience as the older sister-mother, she and her husband decided not to have kids. I sat there bewildered as to why a seemingly intelligent, professional woman who had purposely chosen childlessness for herself would feel the need to project unnecessary baby panic into my life, especially in 2011.

After leaving the office and lifting myself out of the depression into which I was plummeted by this conversation, I began to think about the social pressure to have children particularly among highly educated, successful, professional women. I know this topic has been done to death. Yet, it seemed especially relevant to me considering what I’m seeing among my close friends who are mothers, some stay-at-home, some working. They all love their children. But, a few of my working mother friends have admitted to me that, if they could, they would be stay-at-home moms because of their job’s unwillingness to accommodate their lives as mothers who work. Having barely developed a rhythm between her and her child, the mother rushes back to work after three months; her boss harasses her during her time off; and she pours obscene amounts—if not her entire share of the spousal income—into daycare. I don’t blame them. Under these circumstances, I’d want to stay home as well. My friends’ complaints seemed to have all one thing in common: they would rather invest their energy in the home than fighting a system that does not and has never accommodated them as mothers.

There is so much social pressure to have children, but there is very little pressure to keep women at work, and to reform our workforce so that women can be successful at home and in the office. And it seems like all these talented women—including my married, childless gynecologist—have bought into the idea that women must choose where they can do their best work. And, ultimately, that choice pushes them out of the workforce.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an attack on stay-at-home parenting. To be a stay-at-home mom, like any decision a woman makes about her body, is a personal choice. And, often, it can be the best, most fruitful choice for a woman, her child, her home and/or her spouse. But, rarely do we hear of men staying at home, with few exceptions—one of them being my friend Steve who chose to forgo his career so that his wife Ruth could go on to an Ivy League school to pursue her doctorate in sociology. Ruth is now one of the country’s top sociologists in education and race; meanwhile, Steve lives happily as a part-time campus minister and stay-at-home dad. Nonetheless, this example is rare. When I see droves of highly educated, degreed women—I’m talking about women with Master’s, MBAs, and doctorates—retreating to the home because there is no space for them at work to navigate and balance both options, it gives me pause. It makes me sad. And it makes me realize that, in spite of all our degrees and our so-called “progress”, this is still a man’s world. And it horrifies me. When I hear of places like Canada, France and Mexico (yes! Mexico!)—which are certainly not utopias and are fraught with their own social and political ills—where women get significant time off and, in some instances, child care subsidies, I realize how far we have yet to climb as a nation. I fear that, the more women stay at home, the more we are creating an ethical vacuum in a male-dominated system that, as we can see, is crumbling due to its own unchecked greed and corruption.

I don’t want to prevent women from staying-at-home. I want to make a way for women to stay at work.

My gynecologist may very well have had good intentions by giving me “the talk”; in fact, she was probably doing her job. However she probably doesn’t realize that my having a child—under my current circumstances—would require me to make a choice that would not only impact me but, especially, the system in which I work, where faces and voices like mine are sorely needed. So, when she asks me next year why I’m not rushing to fill my womb with seed, I will remind her that I’m filling another space with another type of seed that, I hope, will endure for posterity—with my voice as a black woman.

Detoursfromhome is an on-again off-again blogger and a self-described recovering evangelical who is currently completing her Ph.D. in Latin American and Caribbean literature. Like Blackgirlinmaine, she hails from the Windy City but, perhaps foolhardily, decided to move to a large college town in the rural Midwest to pursue her graduate studies. When she’s not plowing through her dissertation, she likes running and discussing religion, politics, race and feminism.

Mother’s Day

If you are a regular reader then you know that my mother is deceased. She passed away 5 years ago of cancer, seemed like she was recovering but at the last minute fate decided it was not to be and she left this world. Too soon in my opinion.

This is a repost from 2009, but it still sums up my feelings on Mother’s Day in general.

My Mom was my best friend and to some degree (as much as possible between mother and child) I was her best friend. She entrusted me with her secrets, and knew that no matter what she could count on me, just as I could count on her. Though to this day, I still beat myself up that I was not at her side when she passed. Sadly I could not get a flight to get home that day and was planning on getting home the next morning. However death waits for no man or woman.

However in the years since her death there is one day that really makes me crazy and its Mother’s Day. See on the anniversary of her death, I can keep my misery to myself and fake a happy face. Same with her birthday and even my birthday.

Yet Mother’s Day is one of those days that no matter where you go, you see images of mothers and their kids. Go out to eat and its the same thing. In fact I hate being out shopping anywhere near Mother’s Day as folks assume you are in need of a gift for your mother. Um, nope…my Mom is dead. Just shopping for myself.

Now I know folks who love to cry well its just a made up holiday, funny thing is I haven’t met too many folks who say that if their mother is deceased. In fact among women and men I know whose mothers are deceased Mother’s Day serves as a reminder of what you don’t have. Even if your mother was a raving bitch, imagery of mothers still can send you over the edge,. I know because my own mother had a strange relationship with her mothers.

There was her birth mother who decided when my mom was 9 months that she didn’t want to be a mother anymore, so she left my Mom and her father…this was the 1950’s so it was a tough time for my Mom. My Mom eventually met her birth-mother at 16 and they did end up having a relationship, in fact since my Mom’s death I have come to know birth -grandma as I call her. Then there was my Mom’s step-mother whom she had a rather tumultuous love hate relationship with. In some ways I think it was because my mother did not have the type of mother that she wanted and needed that she was driven to be super-mom with her own kids. She was a stay at home Mama at a time (70’s-80’s) when more women were going to work, instead choosing to be home with us.

She was a good mother though a deeply flawed person….look, I admit a lot but sharing my Mom’s flaws isn’t going  happen.  No, she had her flaws and yet the older I get I am learning from them, though many days I wish she was here to get guidance from.

So Mother’s Day is bittersweet at best and while many would say but you have your own kids, indeed I do but even grown up Mothers some times wish we had our Mommies.

For those who have your mothers in your life, I say honor and cherish her and not just one Sunday out of the year but all the time. I always assumed my Mom and I would become gray-haired old ladies together but now she’s gone. I should add if your Mom is not in your life due to issues then feel free to discard my advice. If your Mom is gone, then enjoy  the memories of her that make you smile. Over the years I can finally look back without bursting into tears and on Sunday there will be white flowers on my table to honor my mother. In the African-American churches that I was familiar with as a child, on Mother’s Day women would wear either a red or white flower. Red indicated that your mom was alive, and white that she had passed on.  So while I am not inclined to wear a flower, instead they will be on my table reminding of how my Mom always used to say get me flowers while I am alive because I don’t need em while I am dead. Like my Mom, I have grown to like flowers, they add a certain energy to the house.

If you are a Mom, happy Mother’s Day to you.