I’ve had It All, once or twice. It nearly killed me.
27, I’d had a beautiful baby, hosted and programmed a late night new-music radio show, wrote a high-profile newspaper column on a radical thing – motherhood in your twenties, was fresh out of an appearance as a travel show host and was having a series of good hair days. Life was so great I was too embarrassed to wear my Superman t-shirt because I thought it would look like I was showing off.
Then it started to unravel. Leaving a deserted office building and driving back alone post midnight began to freak me out. The inability to do the show live plus a change in programming strategy at the station (play ‘Elton John’s ‘Sacrifice’, to be precise) took the joy out of that. The novelty of dredging out my personal misadventures for public amusement began to wear thin and I began to lose faith in my own writing. The baby was getting older and needed more from me. Chafing, bitter and miserable, I settled for ‘some’, rather than ‘all’.
Somewhere down the line, I realized, the secret was, if it took a village to raise a child, it took an army to Have It All. You had to manage cooks, drivers, nannies, daycare, cleaners in addition to school and work.
I had another bash at it. I hired a nanny, managed two credible part-time jobs, tennis lessons, yoga, two kids, a schedule full of activities. I zipped around, flashing eyes and floating hair, festooned with laptop, skate bags, racquets, baskets full of baguettes and celery, juggling balls of fire in the air for all to see.
People began asking if I was tired. A neighbour checked with my mother, very discreetly, if it was chemotherapy that made me lose all the weight. I was incredulous. Could they not see I was having it all?
Like big neon earrings, leg warmers and quarter pound caviar tins, having-it-all is such an eighties’ concept. A time when big gas guzzling cars weren’t seen as a giant fuck-you to the environment or you believed in the Big Red Button that would end the Cold War in a hot flash or that the fall of the Berlin Wall would make it all ok. An innocent, naïve time.
I remember the cover of a book in my mother’s shelf – a woman, big blonde hair, blurbs indicating she had a man, a plan, a golden tan and … “She’s having it ALL” it said. But even though irony was still a glint in America’s eye, I remember thinking, ‘are they making fun of her?’
Everyone, but especially women with children, must remind themselves, first, that no one has defined what Having It All is. Even if life was less like a box of chocolates and more like a buffet, you know that some bits are better than others. And in the unlikely event every item on the buffet table was supernegativecalorificmoleculargastromonicespealidocious… you’d still need to be wearing elasticated pants.
There is also the more difficult question. When on earth did it become your democratic right to expect to even come within sniffing distance of Having It All? Who do you know who is having it all? I can only think of Angelina Jolie. Even Brad Pitt has dandruff and the ghost of Jennifer Aniston to deal with.
This New York Magazine piece http://nymag.com/news/features/retro-wife-2013-3/ uses the words ‘feminist’, ‘having it all’ and ‘stay home’ in the lead blurb. As a stay at home mum (with a blog! Watch you don’t stub your foot on the concrete cliché), I try to keep on top of the all the stay-at-home-mum propaganda. Briefly, it’s an interview written by a working mother with a woman who decided to stay home with her kids and it references Slaughter and Mayer. It quite definitely does not conclude that anyone, (apart from Beyonce) not even the rather patronizingly labeled ‘Retro Wife’, is having it all.
I am certainly not having it all. I watch my contemporaries, once all at the same starting block. We were celebrated for being brilliant, funny and ahead of the curve. Then I had children and got left behind in the fog of flexi-time employment aka Making the Most out of Naptime.
A few years ago it seemed like I’d made the wrong choice. But, all close to 40 now, none of us are millionaires, some of us are struggling with IVF treatments, some of us are divorced, most of us are just biting the bullet on the doldrum years and trying to find flattering reading glasses.
The truth is we’ve made ourselves bloody unhappy in this pursuit of Having It All. The ghosts of our working mothers or our stay at home mothers, whisper on our shoulders, ‘you can do more’. The talking heads glorify the slinky post-partums and the multi-para CEOs. Even my (female) gynaec used to be nicer to me when I walked in for my pregnancy check-ups with a laptop than with a book.
The fact is, many women of my generation are just exhausted with constantly having to justify our decisions. We find ourselves apologetic for having had children and taking pleasure in them, we’re told not to talk too much about our kids at work for fear of sounding unprofessional, we’re encouraged to find Our Own Identities. And if we didn’t have kids, then we better make sure we’re businessy-blue-arsed-flies-having-funFUNfun.
Thing is, some of us like being the person waiting for the school bus when the sweaty, exhausted little people come home. Some of us like pottering around the house in the quiet of the morning. Some of us are happy with our chug-a-lug careers that pay the bills and make Sundays different from the rest of the week. We’re beginning to realize that Having It All usually ends up with biting off more than you can chew.
We’re not having it all, but it’s more than enough.
The laundry and dinner prep is done. I’ve done a little research for a tiny project I’m working on.
I’m going to make myself a cup of tea now, sit in my pyjamas and be grateful.