A few years ago, I watched the Albert Mayles documentary on Iris Apfel, the self-described nonagenarian starlet. Have you seen it? She's quite a woman, a darling of the New York fashion industry who worked as an editor at Vogue Magazine, founded her own textile company, decorated homes of the rich and famous, and recently stars in national ad campaigns for Kate Spade and Alexis Bittar.
But only once does she touch upon one reason for her success. The director asks her about children and she says, "You can't have it all. I knew that."
Oh, did those words sting me.
Because "having it all" was the idea that kept me going through the mind-numbing exhaustion of motherhood.
For twenty-five years, I had faith that I could pick up where I left off when the kids were grown. That once the house emptied, I could get back to the business of being me.
But I am learning that those twenty-five years cost me. In the period of time when I first dreamed of blogging in the early 2000s to 2014 when I finally began, the internet has grown to gargantuan extremes. The competition for your eyes, your attention, your loyalty, is fierce. Everything is moving at the speed of a freight train and I am running alongside, reaching for the open car.
I'm not a youth. My brain gets fatigued. Technology requires time and effort to learn. And despite the quiet house, there is still dissonance or noise coming off of the kids' frequencies. I need to work at tuning it out. Not because I don’t want to listen, but because it isn’t my channel – it’s theirs.
I thought I'd by freer by now.
And time is at my back, breathing down on me like a black wraith.
Last fall, a former work colleague invited me to coffee. I hadn't seen her in ages but she was always the smartest person in the room. And she still is. She confessed to me that after five years raising babies, she feels like she's coming out of a fog. Here is what she said:
I'm being conditioned to meet the needs of everyone around me. Whether it's the kids or work, I'm programmed to be the caretaker. I change diapers, answer clients' questions, get my husband a fresh beer. It's what I do. In some ways it feels good to be needed but I'm afraid I'm losing myself. And how will I find myself again when the day comes and I am no longer needed? Or wanted?
I asked my newsletter subscribers to weigh in with some advice for this young mom. Here is what I heard:
It is hard to see the end of the tunnel. But it will come so fast! Enjoy this time even if you are exhausted! Have some passions and/or interests. Find friends with babies too. As hard as it is, teach those babies to pick up after themselves and absolutely no cell phones at dinner! --Elizabeth
I feel this exact same way currently. I have been home with the kids for 5 years now, and trying to figure out what the next step is for me. And it is challenging! Because I still have the kids and my husband dependent on me for daily life. I feel for this lady, and I can relate. I do not have any good advice sorry to say, but just wanted you to let her know she is not alone. --Amy
Couched inside your young friend's comments is a worry that she is giving herself away for free to her husband and her children. And maybe she is bothered that no one is giving anything back to her. A reciprocity. If that is the case, if indeed love and sacrifice is not being given back to her, she must demand that for herself. --Beth
I know what your young friend is talking about. When we left for Kuwait I was 43 ...10 years ago. I left my career as a P.T. to be a full-time mom in a foreign country. I found myself still identifying myself as a "PT, but not working" or "I'm a PT, but don't formally work, though I treat friends and family for free"...ha, ha. Then a year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to coordinate chemo, radiation, surgeries for over a year between Kuwait and the US. Not an easy task as being a mom and wife were still #1 priorities. Now that we have been back in the US for 6 years I never returned to PT, but teach exercise classes to mostly middle and older aged adults. I love it! Your kids and husband will always want and need you. My point is, don't worry about the past or the future, live in the now. You will continue to reinvent yourself as you go along. Wherever you are now is where you should be. --Susan
Her husband should get his own d*** beer and get her one while he's at it! --Chris
I was a teacher and loved the break I took when I became a mother. During motherhood, I grew and changed so much, it was refreshing to be able to search and choose a new vocation and not have to go back to teaching. I sometimes feel sorry when I hear someone has been at the same job for 27 years. --Mary
I'd love to hear more on this topic. Tell me what you think of the sacrifice of motherhood. Is it stupid to believe we can have it all? At what cost? How do we not lose ourselves in the process of growing and nurturing our babies? Leave a comment below!
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