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.