Thursday, September 15, 2011

McMansion of Cards

I used to suffer the delusion that I could do it all. At the very least, I could do it “all” for some defined period of time, if the results would be worth the effort. In case you don’t know it already, that’s a philosophy that, one way or another, spells trouble.

When I think about this, a time-lapse memory collage comes to mind, of a house that my now ex-husband and I built, acting as our own contractors. We hoped for a best-case scenario of nine months, but understood that a year or 18 months were more realistic.

That's haughty enough. But you have to add all this to the story, to understand it:

1) I was primary breadwinner at that time, always solely the one to carry the family health insurance, and the mother of three elementary-age children.

2) As a certain sadistic supervisor in my life began to understand the extent to which I needed my employment to complete our building project, my job went from “high-stress” to “possessed by Satan.” A slave to my dream and that damned “can-do” attitude, I often:  went to work at 4 a.m.; came home in time to dress and feed children before school; worked until about 4 or 5 p.m.; and returned to the office at about 9 p.m., after the children were in bed, until midnight or 1 a.m. or later. In hindsight, I am stunned by how little sleep I got. Weekends, I tried to work on the house that we were building.

3) About a year into the project, I got pregnant with my fourth daughter. Yes I know how that happens; I also now know how a body can get all wackadoo with stress, and surprise a person mightily. Wisely, I gave up my support-contractor duties when one day, as I was running the table saw, I looked down to see my 9-months-pregnant belly sweep awfully close to the running blade. Soon after that, I would have a baby on my hip almost constantly for a few years, trying to protect her from the dangers of an unfinished house.

I got tired. My recollection of exact dates is fuzzy now, but my ability to “do it all” ended somewhere around the 3-year mark. We were, by then, a family of six, living in an unfinished house that was open to the Four Winds and all the pestilence and critters they could carry into it. Plagues — great. One more thing to fight.

I also remember, with no small amount of guilt, how I got a man fired at Lowe’s during this time. I had picked up my three daughters from after-school care, after my own day at work, pregnant enough to make strangers wince on my behalf. It was dinnertime, but I still had to get the whole crew to our rental house and start cooking. The children were getting whiny and impatient, but I had to get several gallons of polyurethane right quick, or our entire project would grind to a halt,again. Trouble was, I couldn’t find “matte finish” on the shelf anywhere. I pounded the call-button that was supposed to bring help for what seemed like half an hour.

I’ve been treated like complete shit by male employees at home improvement centers so many times, I can’t really defend getting one fired over another. This particular guy finally showed up, stopped dead in his tracks, and rolled his eyes. He proceeded to baby-talk me about the differences between “gloss,” “semi-gloss” and “matte” finishes, no matter how many times I protested  --  “I understand that. I just need to know where the matte is.”

Finally, disgusted by my interruptions, he said, “Look, lady, your husband really ought to be here doing this.”

My daughters were watching.

“Get me a manager,” I said.

“What kind of manager?”

“A big manager. A general manager.”

* * *

Ultimately, my marriage flopped dead across the finish line, a marathoner in cardiac arrest with just enough sheer force of will to get to a certain point and not one single step further. (Don’t cry — this was one of several excellent developments in the whole nightmarish scenario. Another would be the big, fat equity checks that allowed us to divide our household in two, and set up our children comfortably for the next phases of their lives.) Whether a person would say we failed spectacularly, or succeeded, depends on your viewpoint. Interestingly, the very same goes for whether the fellow in Lowes should have been fired. I recall his face to this day, and realize I knew nothing about his viewpoint; the words “uneducated” or “unworldly” come to my mind when I think of it now. 

I wonder if I can find the same tenderness, for that younger woman who once thought she could do it all.


  1. Yea, burning candles at both ends does have it's consequences.........

  2. Hell hath no fury like a woman being dissed in aisle 3.

    This is the weird thing about blogging. Why is it that we can't be this intimate on Facebook where we can actually control the readership, and yet out here, where there are more whackjobs than stars in the sky, we toss our heart on the counter without blinking an eye.

    The most interesting thing on Earth are other people..and we love finding out that we're not that different and for the most part we share similar experiences, but yet somehow we all find other ways to go up shit creek without paddles.

    We can't have it all because there is no all. The good old days are happening right now that's why (*insert cliched truthism now) they call it the Present.

    You made it and now you know that this IS it and whoever dreamed up that LIFE would have 20/20 hindsight can shove it up their cosmic ass.

  3. There is an old military unit which should have an auxiliary representation, regardless of circumstance, for those who have tried to burn their figurative candle at both ends.

    It's called the "196th Light Infantry Brigade."
    Their insignia is a two-headed match (looks like a candle to me). I suspect that, if you asked, they might allow you to use it.

    Better yet, use it as a template for your own design. You deserve that, and so much more.

  4. I am wondering about the level of sharing, too -- "intimate" is EXACTLY the word I thought of. I'm constitutionally not that way, not to mention that, because of my training in journalism, I'm not comfortable with the first-person just in general. (Even in a comment!) It's other bloggers with beautiful souls who have pulled me along a bit, one in particular who encouraged me to open up comments ... (Testing, testing, one two three!)

  5. A "Like" button just for comments WOULD be handy. Am thinking a two-headed match or candle burning on both ends is definitely going to end up in one of my future collages ... Maybe when I finish the Mexico-themed one in about three years. Arghhhh .... it's like that damned old-new house.

  6. There really IS not enough time in a day.

    Hearing other's thoughts and commiserating with them, I find, is a good thing that takes us outside our so-called objectivity to another place.

    Here, we don't feel rushed. Here, we aren't constrained by some little box in which we're supposed to fit all our thoughts.

    Here, we can have a human conversation without all the ads and without someone telling us to hurry up, like life is a "Tweet."

    It's life's thoughts. And we all have them.

  7. Blogging is a lot like studying in an old need to physically go and look through the cards to find the book and then walk through the aisles to find it and then you have to get it stamped if you want to bring it home.

    That "like" button has made us very lazy.

  8. Who would have imagined that FB could ruin the "benefits" of the like button? Like adding pickle juice to my corn syrup drink.