Using Motherhood as an Excuse


Last week I lost my work key. AGAIN. You might remember that my lanyard, the one I’d had for seven years, the one with my work keys AND my staff ID, disappeared over the Thanksgiving break, much to my complete and utter panic. I was given a single key to my room when I returned to work and now, less than four months later, that is gone too.

In seven years I never lost my work key. Not once. Now, in four months, I’ve lost it TWICE.

The day I accepted the fact that my work key wasn’t just hidden somewhere in my house (or that if it were, I wouldn’t be finding it), I also realized that I hadn’t submitted one class’s grades for report cards. By the time I went online the window was closed, my opportunity had passed. Even though I figured it wouldn’t be a huge deal and that I could resolve it the next day I felt horrible. In almost eight years of teaching I had NEVER been late with my grades. Every trimester, for 22 trimesters, I had turned them all in on time, even when I had eight classes to submit. And then this year I just forget, for no good reason. I just let it slip my mind.

I spent that night feeling really, really, supremely disappointed in myself.

At work the next day I was lamenting both the lost key (I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that I can’t find that key, it was around my neck when I came home on Monday, where the eff could it have gone?!) and the forgotten grades with my fellow co-workers and not once, not twice but multiple times I got the same reply:Β Well, you’re a mother now. Evidently it was as obvious as that.

I know these women mean well. I know their intentions are good. Their point is only that mothers have a lot on their plates, we have a ton of shit to do and when we are scrambling to get it all done things are bound to fall through the cracks. The truth is, I probably did lose the key while I was clambering to get Isa down for her nap before straightening the house for afternoon guests. And the day I forgot the grades I was home from work with Isa because our fragile child care system breaks down when Mi.Vida is out of town. So both times I could easily attribute my fuck ups to being a mother.

The thing is, I don’t want to.

For the past century women have been trying to convince men that we can do it all. We’ve argued over and over again that just because we are mothers doesn’t mean we can’t also be doctors or lawyers or senators or the president of the United States. Millions of women have pushed past expectations and conventions to give us the opportunities we have today. They have proven that being a mother and being anything else don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If I blame my fuck up on being a mother, am I undoing all that countless women have done before me?

I feel like I have two options: (1) berate my scatterbrained self for totally messing up things I’ve never messed up before in my life or (2) chalk my mistakes up to being a mother and therefore simply too overwhelmed to keep up with everything. Neither seems fair and frankly, both are probably true, at least partly. So where does that leave me?

Is it true that, as mothers, we take on too much, that we’re setting ourselves up for failure? Can we successfully juggle our careers and aspirations while assuming the bulk childcare and household responsibilities? And if not, where does that leave us? Doomed to failure? Left with no other possibilities but to meet the lowered expectations of the men around us? The whole thing just seems so fucking unfair.

UPDATE: I just wanted everyone to know that I found my work key today. In my daughter’s laundry hamper (where I already looked, it was inside something obviously). THANK GOD I FOUND IT!

15 responses

  1. Esperanza, I don’t think it’s using motherhood as an excuse so much as an explanation. If you think about it most working men have working women who carry the bulk of the household load at home. My husband does a lot, probably more than most, and I still carry the majority of the load at home and I too work.

    Am I as successful at work as I would be if I had all the extra help? Not a chance. Is that okay with me? Yup. And as someone who was also a stay at home mom for years I can speak from experience when I tell you, stay at home moms make mistakes too.

    The fact of the matter is that most doctors, lawyers, senators and dare I say even first ladies have help… and a lot of it. Nannies, cleaning people, cooks, laundry washers and personal assistants who pick up prescriptions and go to the grocery store. I am all those people rolled into one and I suspect you are too.

    So guess what? Mistakes are bound to happen. Does that makes us doomed to failure? Only if we expect perfection. Keys are going to be lost, grades are going to be entered late. Shit happens. I figure as long as I am doing an above average job at my most important job, being a mom, we will be a-okay. Besides if I didn’t screw up frequently what will my kids have to complain to their therapists about when they grow up?

  2. I’m a step-mother and I can tell you that trying to be a *good* step-mom is hard, especially with working and commuting like I do. It’s totally true that women have a lot of motherly responsibilities and can get overwhelmed. I know that I fall behind on laundry and other house chores all the time. I also know that for the past year and a half or so my memory has left me. I don’t think that has anything to do with mothering. I think it has to do with age and how our brains work as we get older. I used to remember everything, people’s names, dates, phone numbers…now? I’m lucky to remember what day of the week it is. I think our minds process information differently as we age and we start to hold only what we think is really important. Since you are a mother, your daughter is really important and so you remember and focus on everthing for her. The key? Not so important. The grades? Important, but not affecting your daughter so I can see how it slipped your mind. I might just be talking out of my you know what, but I think you might understand what I’m trying to say. I don’t think it’s fair to say that women that are mothers are just prone to screwing up. You should not worry about that at all. You are HUMAN and yes, you have a lot going on but that doesn’t make you a screw up. I think it IS really hard to be a working mom and the things that suffer are not the big things. You have not forgotten your daughter, you make sure she is fed and clean and ready to face the world. So what if you lose a key? The human that you are in charge of is much more important and irreplaceable. Just my opinion.

    • I think the thing is, losing my work key is a big deal. Technically they could ask me to pay to rekey all the rooms that use the keys I lost and then get the keys remade and distributed. When I lost my first key anyone who found them would have known the school they belonged to and been able to get into the main office and the library/computer lab with the keys. That is a REALLY big deal. It was a really bad when I lost them. So to lose it again just makes me feel incredibly incompetent. And unprofessional. I literally have not and will not tell my principal I lost it because I KNOW he will think less of me as a teacher and person. I am no longer as responsible if I can’t keep track of something as simple, and important as my key.

  3. I think you’re asking a more political question here (because I suspect you’ve already forgiven yourself for the mistakes …. or at least I hope so): and that question is this … why don’t fathers who make mistakes get their slip-ups attributed to fatherhood?

    You remember that “hysteria” is named for the French/Latin root meaning “womb” … it’s deeply engrained in our culture that females, an in particular, FERTILE females (mothers) are deficient, abnormal, unable to cope. I don’t think that it’s fair to be treated in this dismissive way, nor is it fair that women have to do so much that something has to give. I don’t think I know any mothers who are perfect at EVERYTHING.

    But I’d also be careful about using the word “failure.” Buddha wrote: β€œThe only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.” Who defines perfection? By whose standards do we live? And why not live by our own?

    • But the thing is, I am holding myself to my standards, which to some might seem high but which I believe in. I truly believe that I should be able to not lose my key, something that safeguards valuables that I don’t own and that I can’t replace with my own time or resources. And I believe that as a professional, I should have my grades in on time, because not doing so means that others will be at the least inconvenienced at the most unable to do their own jobs (printing report cards), especially when that job affects every student at the school. Obviously I do have to learn to forgive myself but I worry that if I’m quick to do that every time my standards will suffer and I won’t be proud of who I am and how I conduct myself. I guess I don’t know how to strike a balance between accepting my mistakes and expecting that on the future I will do better.

    • Also, I think you’re right, there is a more political question here, the one you asked. It’s true that parenthood defines (or is thought to limit) women much more than men. I always saw that as a “women are expected to do more for their families do they can’t offer as much to their jobs” mentality but reading your comment I realize it’s much more than that. It’s not just that we’re expected to be at home more it’s that we’re expected to not have the capabilities to do more than what is needed at home. As women it seems we still have a very long way to go.

  4. I agree with the comments above. I pointed out to my husband that just about everyone we know, working or stay at home mothers have HELP. Apparently needing help is a sign of weakness for women and if we’re not performing 100% at work, home, and everything else, we’re failures. Losing the key was a big deal, and I’m sure you won’t do it again, but you didn’t do it on purpose. It;s worse because it affects an entire school and staff. But I’m pretty darn sure you’re not the only person to do it. I mean, people forget their KIDS in a car. You don’t strike me as the type who doesn’t understand the consequences of your actions. You won’t let your standards slip. Trust me, though, as you get older, you’ll learn to develop compassion for yourself – and that is a strength not a weakness.

    • I think the thing that really bothers me about the key is that I DID let it happen again. I did it once and then I did it AGAIN. It’s one thing to randomly lose it. I can excuse that, eventually. But to do it again?! I am still so angry at myself.

      I also want to make clear that I do not view getting help as a weakness. If I could afford a cleaning woman I would do it in a second. But I can’t. It’s just not an option for us at this time. The minute we can afford it we will do it. I’m not too proud to get help and I don’t think getting help is a sign of weakness. It’s just really hard when you can’t get it, as I’m sure you know.

  5. I have a different take on this than some of the others above…and this is totally based on my experience, but I don’t think either of your options are correct. You do not have to berate yourself, nor do you have to claim “mommy brain” (how f-ing demeaning, right?) I think the answer is quite simply (and I am inferring this from reading your blog regularly) you have a LOT on your plate right now—yes, Isa is a huge part of that, but not all And both men and women, fathers and mothers, or childless people will have trouble keeping up with everything when their days and their minds and hearts are overwhelmed. And its not about having or not having a cleaning lady or “help”, either (I’m sure you have things on your mind other than housework).

    When I went back to work after having my son, I kept leaving my keys at work and having to wait for my husband to get home to let me in. It kept freaking happening. It was because, as I was rushing to finish up for the day, my mind was already at home, going through all the chores that were waiting. I also missed an important deadline. It turned out OK but it was still not OK FOR ME. I have a job that comes with certain responsibilities & I cannot shirk those responsibilities with the excuse of “but my child is my priority.”

    What helped me was doing what pilots, surgeons, and everyone else who can’t AFFORD to f- up do all the time…routines and checklists. I have a weekend checklist for chores, a diaper-bag-list, a leaving-the-house list, and a coming-home routine (that involves putting my work ID & keys in the same spot every day). everything and I mean EVERYTHING I have to do for work gets put on a list that I review before I leave for the day.

    Basically it takes the responsibility AWAY from my frazzled mind. Yes, I still f- up (not sure WHAT happened to my work ID, didn’t have it this morning) but things are much much better. Just my $0.02.

  6. Sorry about the above, I have not been able to comment on wordpress all week! I did something different and it seems to be fine, I guess.
    Anyway, before reading your update, I was going to suggest to check all things that are your daughters. We had 700 binkies and I couldn’t find a one, in a fit of annoyance I asked my non verbal child where all her binkies were and she silently led me to her hamper, where they all lay. My watch? In a purse I’ve never seen her play with. You get the idea, it’s them, not us. πŸ™‚ Glad you found it.

  7. Ah, keys! Did I tell you that I dropped my car key down a storm drain in front of my in-laws and had to call the firemen who came and removed it?

    One of my favorite parts of Harry Potter was a throwaway line about how some mean witches and wizards mess with human’s keys: hiding them or shrinking them.

    Responsibility is important. I try to teach my kids that. But so is forgiveness, as was noted above.

    Maybe it’s best to focus on a solution for those dratted keys: buy yourself a cool wallet or drawstring pouch or something really awesome to put them in. Something you have always wanted or have a personal investment in. I have noticed that I NEVER lose my Chanel bag (4 years and counting) or my expensive sunglasses πŸ˜‰

  8. Great news!! I’ve been lurking for a while now and really enjoy your writings! Just never feel confident enough to write something in response to your posts ja,ja you always seem to elicit very profound discussions! Hope you have a great day πŸ™‚

  9. Just saw your update – *everything* I lose ends up in either my laundry hamper or my son’s. I was just saying that the other day to another mom. If it’s something that can wait a few days until I find it, I just wait until laundry time, and there it is. I know keys can’t wait, really, but i’m glad you found them!

  10. Here via the link in Stirrup Queen’s comments.

    I was a space cadet before my son was born and I’m a space cadet now. Does that let me off the hook? My hubby gave me a click -n- dig key finder for Christmas; there are technological solutions, partial ones at least, to some of the problems that arise.

    But beyond that, I’d say that spaciness and disorganization seem to me part of (typically male) privilege. I work at a university, and believe me, the stereotype of the absent-minded professor is alive and well. Of course, that stereotype assumes the availability of women — wives and support staff — to keep everything running behind the scenes.

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