Working mothers, hipsters, and what we see when we look at other moms
My blog buddy Liz Gumbinner won an award for being a fabulous working mother. And while I don't know any of the intimate details of her at-home life, beyond those on her blog, I can attest that she gets so much done I quake in her shadow, amazed, and her children always wear the most adorable clothes! But, as she says, she doesn't do it all. There are sacrifices she makes -- some so dear she writes long blog posts about them -- and she wanted to acknowledge that. That none of us "have it all." She wrote of the other honorees, "...mostly there a lot of [acceptance speeches] stories in which everyone has a perfectly supportive husband, doting children who never miss us, stellar colleagues, and no need for “me time.”"
Part of the comment I left on her post: "I do not believe there is such a thing as a person with the ideal life and the rewarding career, who is also a mother, who is giving up nothing. I too go through long periods where I have no personal time, and don’t really miss it (in fact, when I’m away from my children for more than a few hours, as happens about three times a year — and I dearly dearly love these times! — I am torn between embracing the experience and missing my boys desperately), and have not had a manicure nor a professional haircut in so long I don’t know how it works any more. but: I do see every day the things I do not have, and sometimes those are terribly missed (oh how I miss business lunches out! with pinstriped suits and big napkins that take up all your lap! they’re so lovely) and sometimes they are just observed. We all make sacrifices; none of us have it all."
I feel like this brings up a vein that rose to the surface in this post (about, of all things, TriMet's new fare change proposal). I was addressing the challenges I thought it would create for low-income working families. Elle wrote, "Refreshing & real to hear families talking about true financial day to day matters.... I have lived in Portland since 1997 we had our first child in 2006 and although we make good incomes we struggle... although sometimes it seems like we are surrounded by families of "trustafarians." Families piling into their new Range Rovers or Volvo SUVs shopping in the independent children stores that sell $30 t shirts for 5 yr olds and this is in the SE. On the rare occasion we do go out for dinner for example for our anniversary we (my hub & I) went to Laurelhurst market there are numerous families with young children, eating out like it is a common occurrence for them... I often ask myself "how are they doing it?""
There was some agreement with Elle (and I have to say, I agree too!). We've lived on an income over the past few years that, usually, barely had us above the cut-off for reduced-price lunches at school. We've certainly made some choices that resulted in our income bracket -- I chose to give up most of my professional career a while back in order to give back to my needy boys. (And it seems to be helping, despite it all.) But no matter how I got into this place, I still look around at my friends, online and offline, here in Portland and in New York and Los Angeles and Paris, and think to myself too often, "how do they do it all?" They can afford to eat out two or three nights a week in restaurants I consider a once-every-few-months luxury. They never seem to have a shortage of cute kid clothes when I get everything from thrift stores and relatives. They can afford to get dental work (seriously: I never have money for dental work, I don't know how anyone affords this! related: I think I spend all my spare cash on photography supplies. No self-portraits of teeth included).
Most importantly, their houses are clean! Ack! I think my main source of low-self-worth is my messy, messy, messy house. I start cleaning one part and another part seems to dirty itself while I'm working. I ignore it for a day thanks to a project I'm completing and I have to work for a week to get it back to where it was before my day of cold turkey (and very probably, the project created its own mess. See Valentines). I read about someone else's brilliant "15 minutes a day!" plan of paper organization... and I get to the end of the day and am exhausted and never did my 15 minutes. I don't even have one minute some days, due to, of course, time management choices I made myself, and made badly.
Of course the answer is that no one has it all, no one does it all, no one lives these financially secure perfect lives, no one is completely clean, without some secrets or sacrifices. Maybe the family who has the new Range Rover and just remodeled their kitchen so beautifully you want to cry and invited you out to dinner at Pok Pok last night (you couldn't afford it so you made excuses) is getting help from their parents, or maybe they've second-mortgaged their house to the nth degree. Maybe they're making crazy money working for a private equity firm. (Heck, it's certainly possible.) Whatever it is, it's not perfect, and the more I see of other perfect lives the more I peek in to the cracks and see the imperfections. Sometimes these are 100% endearing, and sometimes they're terrifying, and sometimes they're just ordinary, run-of-the-mill, every day, imperfections. They're not the stuff we confess on blogs or put in photographs on Facebook or Instagram. Heck, half of my cleaning is done in order to take a photograph that doesn't contain clutter in the background.
So, take heart, mothers: we're all not perfect, none of us have it all. Some of us just do a better job of appearing as such than others. When it comes down to it, my favorite people to hang around are the ones with whom I can discuss imperfections at length and ad nauseum. The ones who look guilty when they tell me something endearing and "perfect" their husband did. The ones whose sacrifices are worn on their sleeves. I'll take the imperfection that speaks its name over the perfection that hides it, any day.
I'm still cleaning before I take photos. OK: fear of judgment runs deep.