How I (kinda, sorta, barely) do it all

Earlier this week Mel posted a piece called This Is How I Do It All. Evidently she has been asked frequently how she does it all and early in her post she assures her readers that the reality is, she does not. I have to admit, I am a bit skeptical. Mel seems to do it all pretty well. Of course she has (what I would consider to be) a dream job that includes within its description reading and writing blogs posts (am I the only one who thinks it would be amazing to have my blogging pursuits contribute to my professional persona!?) Still, Mel does a heck of a lot, she maintains a positive internet presence and writes well-received novels, all while raising precocious twins and maintaining a thriving marriage. In my opinion she does seem to do it all.

Reading her post got me thinking of how I do it all. Or whether I do it all. (Not shockingly, no one has ever asked me how I do it all – which leads me to believe I probably don’t – so I’ve never been prompted to reflect on it before).  Honestly, most of the time I feel like I’m failing miserably at it all. The more I thought about Mel’s post, and the comments I saw there, the more I wanted to write a post about how I ensure that my make-shift life doesn’t fall apart completely. This is my meager attempt.

How do I do it? Well, I do it messily and hastily and with a lot of help. I do it giggling and screeching, sighing and venting. I do it making myriad mistakes and enduring phenomenal fuck ups. I do it, sometimes, at the expense of my relationship and my own personal well-being.

I do it flying by the seat of my pants and making it up as I go along. I do it running to the office to make photocopies during the passing period and having my students read silently until the bell rings. I do it posting grades just minutes before progress reports are due. I do it reading Hunger Games to my class because I love that book and can conjure serious enthusiasm for it. I do it navigating the impossible expectations of colleagues and parents who don’t remember that I only work until 4th period. I do it getting 4/5 of my full time workload done in 2/3 the time. I do it feeling constantly behind and unprepared and overwhelmed.

I do it with dishes piled in the sink and pots soaking on the stove. I do it pushing a fussy toddler in a grocery laden stroller. I do it while my husband cooks dinner. I do it sweeping dust bunnies under the stroller and stuffing laundry deeper into the baskets. I do it tripping over toys and showering alongside flourishing pink fauna. I do it ignoring chaos that makes me cringe, clearing a path through the detritus to my bed.

I do it wiping away tears as I say good-bye to my daughter every morning, entrusting the majority of her formative waking hours to someone other that myself. I do it indebted to my in-laws who watch her so we can afford our meager life. I do it wishing I could stay at home but not being able to afford it. I do it feeling jealous of those who can.

I do it drinking Ovaltine for breakfast and eating energy bars for lunch. I do it spending hours on the road, commuting hundreds of miles a week. I do it with my daughter in the car while it’s double parked and I’m unloading bag after bag after bag. I do it scouring the neighborhood every afternoon for a spot that can accommodate our mid-sized sedan while my daughter expresses her discontent. I do it in the two hours while my daughter naps. I do it at the park, under the lights at night when it’s dark, because our apartment is too small for my daughter to stretch her legs.

I do it by carving out time for yoga at least twice a week. I do it checking my reader in bed before 6am and writing blog posts late into the night. I do it scanning Twitter at stoplights and in traffic and randomly texting friends when I have a minute. I do it scrimping and saving and penny pinching and budgeting. I do it without take-out or eating out or ever going out. I do it changing quarters in $200 increments, dragging the laundry down to the coin-fed machine every night.

I do it on the couch at therapy and in couples counseling. I do it popping anti-depressants and ADD medications. I do it by compromising and prioritizing and relaxing my standards. I do it reading The Joy of Less and Raising Happiness and Love in the Time of Colic. I do it without having much sex and feeling pretty guilty about it.

I do it gratefully and with enthusiasm. I do it even though I’m overwhelmed by the uncertainty. I do it with hope and fear in my heart, equally measured. I do it, every day, the very best I can.

At the end of Mel’s piece she likens her life to a piece of IKEA furniture, “cobbled together with a lot of cursing and missing parts.” I wish my life could be compared to IKEA furniture (then again, I’m pretty bad ass at putting together their stuff.) Afterall, IKEA furniture comes perfectly crafted, ready to be assembled with all the proper pieces and elegant (yet wordless) directions. Chances are, if you follow the steps, each piece will have a part to play and at the end you’re kid will have a crib to sleep in.

My life feels more like a first post-college apartment – with its crappy floor plan and outdated appliances. Each piece of furniture is a remnant of somewhere else, intended to serve a purpose slightly different from the one for which it’s currently being employed. Everything is ragged and worn and dingy. Nothing matches anything else and most of it is covered in threadbare sheets anyway. The final product fulfills a need but only just barely and the inhabitants are left constantly imagining how great it’d be if only…

But maybe that’s because I still live in my post-college apartment with its crappy floor plan and outdated appliances (and oblivious early twenty-something neighbors). Maybe it’s because in our house IKEA furniture is high-end and almost everything we get is off Craigslist. Maybe it’s because this make-shift life is not what I expected it to be and I’m surprised by the constant struggle.

Maybe it’s because I’m not really doing it all, not really. Maybe it’s because I’m just barely scraping by, just like everybody else.

How do you do it all?

25 responses

  1. You know, that was really beautiful. And it sounds a lot like my life! My mother is always on my case about how messy my house is, but she didn’t work full-time when we were kids (or ever), and she hires cleaning people. I refuse to spend all my waking hours on obligations – if not cleaning gives me time to read a book or a blog post, or watch TV with my husband, it’s an easy choice to make. And I’m sure you’ll find (hopefully other commenters will back me up) that this is how many working moms “have it all”. I think this is just what adulthood, and parenthood, are like, whether that makes you feel better or worse about things.

    • My mom kept a pristine house even though she worked full time but she it literally a super woman. She doesn’t openly complain about the state of my house but she gives me looks and makes it clear she is disgusted. Frankly, I’m surprised she doesn’t come out and say it already because my house is a pit, truly. It’s disgusting.

      I think you’re right about adulthood and parenthood. I think it’s our job to find the humor in it and not take it all too seriously. I’m kind of struggling with that at the moment but I think I’ll figure it out eventually.

    • Thank you. It’s a messy life but someone’s gotta live it. 😉 I know a lot of women would give everything they have for this life (I was one of those women not long ago), and I don’t forget that, no matter how much I vent and complain.

  2. For real, I wonder how you do it all. How you manage to put such well thought out posts on not one but two blogs as often as you do, while my blog remains bare and is lucky to have a rare, dull post about twice a month. And I’m a SAHM…sigh.

    You’re right, we’re all just scraping by, doing the highest things on our respective priority lists and calling it a day. We do what we can to take care of ourselves and our family, but we all wish we could do more and do better. {The interesting thing is…I don’t think men have these thoughts. At least my hubby doesn’t except for when it comes to his career…}

    • I write posts because I literally need to, to stay sane. Writing gives me something that I sorely need in my life, which lacks regular time with friends or even my partner. Writing is my release, and after days of driving for hours and teaching and negotiating with colleagues and negotiating with my daughter ( 😉 ) and all the rest of it, I need me some release, and how!

      And I think you’re right, we are all just getting by. Some of us have more help and more resources but then they usually take on more and it’s just a vicious cycle. Moms, by their very nature, seem to over extend themselves. It almost seems necessary in this day and age, when money is so tight and social services are scarce.

  3. I do it all by living in the small moments, remembering that while the grass seems greener elsewhere it’s often not, by trying to do my best to roll with the unexpected (and bitching a little bit about it along the way), and reminding myself that I am stronger and smarter than I sometimes feel.

    Great post, E.

    • I think you’re right that the grass isn’t always as green as it seems from the other side, but I also think it’s harder when you don’t have a choice than when you do. Remembering how miserable you were when you were working, I wonder if you’d feel that way if you didn’t have the choice to stay home when that was what felt right for you and your child. Having said that, I know it wasn’t an easy decision and I know you have to sacrifice to be where you are but ultimately you felt that sacrifice was worth it. Not having that choice and being forced to make sacrifices that do not feel worthwhile is different, or at least it seems like it would be to me. But maybe I don’t understand because I’ve only been on one side of it.

      • Undoubtedly my life would have a completely different texture had I not been able to operationalize my desire to stay home, regardless of the sacrifices this required, which now includes moving my family a thousand miles away from the only home its ever known.

        There are trade-offs, evident ones, that we’ve bantered about before. This isnt an intentionally selected trade-off for you right now, I know. But I also know that you’ve expressed some conflicted feelings about this matter in the past, discussed the needed validation you derive from your professional life, etc. Point is, you want the choice, the option, and I nod my head hard in agreement that you–and all mothers who do “it”–should have that option.

        I didn’t mean for my comment to come across in a be-thankful-for-what-you-have kind of thing, if it did. I meant it, rather, in a way that agreed with the sentiment of your post–we’re all struggling to make this life fit into our expectations, our energy level, our hopes, and our financial means.

        From where I am sitting, it looks like you do a fine job of doing “it”. It might not feel like it some days (most days?), but that’s what I meant about reminding that we’re better/smarter/stronger at it than we might realize.

      • Thanks for your response. I’m sorry mine was so defensive. Lately I’ve had a few SAHMs (who want very much to stay home and love it), giving me the grass always seems greener but it’s not line and it’s been kind of frustrating me. I don’t think it’s fair for someone who gets to choose to stay home with their child to tell me that my feelings of frustrating about not having the same choice aren’t valid. That is obviously not what you were doing but when I saw that line I kind of snapped.

        You’re right that I have expressed before that I value having a professional outlet, and that is true to a point, but honestly, I think of lot of that has been me telling myself it’s important and fluffing it up in my own mind to assuage that part of me that really wants to be home. Maybe if I convince myself that one part of me really needs to work it won’t hurt the other part of me so bad to be away from my daughter.

        Also, the working part time thing – which was supposed to be the best of both worlds – is actually worse and running me way more ragged than working full time. On top of that I don’t even get to see my daughter any more than I did before! To say it’s been a disappointment is an understatement.

        Finally, saying goodbye to my daughter is much harder now than it ever was before. Last year she was pretty oblivious to me leaving but this year she sees and she knows, she yells my name and bangs on the glass of the door. It’s heartbreaking. She’s also so much more interactive and I know I’m missing a hundred wonderful moments with her when I’m at work. It’s much harder for me to be away from her now when she’s talking and singing and playing and randomly coming over to give me hugs. It’s just a different experience than leaving an infant who couldn’t yet roll over.

        So yeah, I’m finding myself more and more miserable at work while I know I have no options to stay at home. I feel like some people believe that if we just made enough sacrifices we could make it work, but we can’t. We aren’t saving anything right now, not even putting money into retirement. It’s incredibly frustrating.

        Obviously I have my own stuff going on and I’m sorry I took out on you. That was a lovely, eloquent response and I’m sorry I threw it back in your face. I’m just having a rough time right now, I’m increasingly unhappy and I don’t see anyway of it getting better. It’s really hard.

  4. Like AL, I marvel at how, with everything going on, you write so often and so well. I spend hours once a week to come up with a post that is mediocre and often disappointing. I think you’ve given us all such a flavor of your life and your routine that we know how hard you work to make everything right with Isa and Mi.Vida. You may feel like you’re barely hanging on, but it seems obvious that you put in so much effort and it will pay off.

    • Thank you for you kind words. I hope very much that it pays off some day. Right now it feels kind of hopeless but I hope that isn’t the case. I know we’ll all working against insane odds and I’ve seen so many people make it to the other side. And I’ve made it, of course, in all the most important ways. But I want it all, I guess. Actually, I just want to be happy. That’s all.

  5. I hope that you can read this post over and see that it is actually an amazing tribute to all that you do! I find that sometimes, just sometimes, I am grateful to be a bit of an underachiever. I have zero expectations that I could/should do it all. What I would love to do is swap a few items for a bunch of things that I would really like to make priorities.

    • I’ve always taken on too much, overextended myself. I’ve learned to shed obligations and to say no but it’s hard for me. I’m just the kind of person that thinks I can do everything. I need to remember that I can’t, at least not if I want to be happy. Maybe you can keep reminding me to chill the eff out!

  6. The first time I read this post was a complete and utter eye-opener. I can’t even believe that you do all this each and every day. To be able to write so beautifully for two different blogs in addition to all this is incredible. You complete the equivalent of running a triathlon each and every day and I marvel at your strength and nod with your frustration that it has to be like this.

    This is why I sympathize with the 99% argument. Life is so incredibly hard for the vast majority of people. It shouldn’t be this hard. It really shouldn’t.

    • I don’t know how you juggle two precocious three year olds. Every time I leave your house I’m exhausted and I’m not even mothering them, I’m just around! I truly don’t know how you do it, especially when you basically solo parent all week. It’s insane. And your house always looks nice. If you could see my house right now you would gasp.

  7. I do it by getting far, far behind on sleep. 🙂

    Which, of course, isn’t “doing it” at all, either.

    This reminds me of another post you wrote a while back, about wanting too much, having realistic expectations of ourselves, even being raised with certain expectations … I think partly we put undue pressure on ourselves, and partly we feel that pressure put upon us from a society that thinks women, especially, can do EVERYTHING. Which is not to say that we can’t, but rather, that maybe it’s just not healthy.

    I’m not even talking about having the choice to stay home here, but the divisions of labor that have left women (without the help of their families as in generations past) shouldering a significant share of the burden for child-rearing and domestic order, which, whether you stay home or not, is just plain hard.

    • Ah sleep. I try to stay above six hours. Seven would be great. Eight would be amazing. I never get eight.

      I think you’re right, that society tells us we can, and should be able to do it all. That is why we feel bad when we fail.

      And you’re right, the division of labor is all messed up. Women have moved into the work force and taken on so many more responsibilities, but we still have to do everything we used to do when we weren’t working. And even if we are at home, what happens in the evenings should be shared, along with the main familial responsibilities. Some families manage that. So far mine does not. I hope some day we will, we’re just not there yet.

  8. I love this, love the honesty and candor. You actually do such an incredible amount, and you write so eloquently and often on top of it all.

    Life is messy and sometimes we’re all just getting by.

    • Sometimes even I do know how I find to write. I realize it has become my release and I do it instead of watch bad TV or even read, which used to be very important to me. Writing is my ultimate me time and I feel lucky that my me times leaves me with a (sometimes eloquent) record of my life.

  9. With the exception of checking Twitter at a stoplight (we have a no cell phones and cars rule in our family), my life actually looks very similar in a lot of aspects to yours. I do it with granola bars instead of a real meal (and the worst days are granola bar for brekkie and cereal for lunch… and sometimes dinner). I have a secretary desk so I can close it and not reveal the mess behind the door. I am the person who is always late.

    I’m really debating whether telling my daughter she can have/do it all. I point out my foibles because I think it’s important for her to see reality rather than hold herself to a standard that never even really existed. Though I don’t want her to aim low. And I don’t want her to drive herself crazy.

    You know who NEVER has a post like this? MEN. Why aren’t men debating the exact same thing?

    • I should also have a no cell phones in cars rule and I’m trying to enforce it upon myself. Right now I spend SO MUCH time in my car though, it drives me crazy how many minutes I’m just sitting at stoplights, sometimes watching them change multiple times before I get a chance to pass. I’ve promised myself that as soon as Isa is forward facing I will absolutely stop it. I don’t EVER want her to see me doing that kind of stuff while driving because I won’t want her doing it either. Isn’t it funny how we do things that we’d never allow our kids to do because we deem them unsafe or unhealthy? What’s the saying… Do as I say, not as I do?

      I will definitely not be telling my daughter that she can have/do it all. I’m going to tell that she has to make choices and prioritize and while she may be able to change her mind, sometimes her choices will be “for keeps” and she’ll have to forever live with the consequences. I wonder if she’ll even be getting that message from society by the time she’s in school. With the economy contracting and student debt surpassing credit card debt I highly doubt we’re going to give kids the message that working hard always equals success. Luck (and connections) have just as much to do with it and we need to be honest about that.

      It’s true that men never have to think of this stuff. They are very lucky in that regard. Men have it made. They really are set up. I guess when you’ve been in the driver’s seat for all of human history you can make things pretty sweet for yourself, and that is what they have done. My partner never things about any of this stuff and I envy him for that. His life is much simpler than mine.

      I think most mothers are living some version of my post. What really matters is what you’re doing with that working time. If you feel fulfilled by those efforts the rest of it doesn’t matter so much. If you don’t the rest of it can really wear you down. Teaching (as I know you know) is such a draining profession and dealing with parents (and their entitled kids) makes it increasingly thankless. While I do love teaching, I know I can’t keep it up forever, it’s just too hard. I hope someday I have more choice in what I do. We shall see.

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