I opened Facebook on Mother’s Day morning, shortly after my chubby fingered kiddos brought me (and Brody) toast and eggs in bed, and saw this oft-repeated quote:
“A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”
And I sighed. I really don’t like that quote.
It’s like what we talked about on Friday all over again. Hey, unless you’re cutting off your limbs and giving away all your pie and raising free range human children in a yurt, YOU AREN’T A REAL MOTHER.
Sure, it seems like a nice sentiment on the surface, but underneath it reeks of that judgy, who’s the most sacrife-y woman out there kind of martyrdom. And what kind of pie are we talking about here? Because if it’s berry pie, I will gladly say, “I never did care for pie,” and it would be true. But if it’s a banana cream pie, and I’m sitting there with my kids and my husband and some other person, I would cut a sliver off each of those four pieces and make me a Franken-slice. Because I like banana cream pie, and I would want some too. And there is nothing wrong with my solution, which leaves no one in the corner without any pie.
My sister and I were raised without any sort of qualifications on our growth, without any assumptions that gender would figure into our career choices. I wanted to be at various times a palaeontologist, an astronaut, a Blue Angel, the next great American author, and a neurosurgeon. It never occurred to me that I might one day have to negotiate the minefield of family and career, and that my choices about one might influence the other. And yet it has.
I know that some women have managed to figure it out, how to have it all. I envy them that. For me, family and career has been like a downhill slalom, weaving back and forth across the slope, putting my weight on the left leg, then on the right, trying to slow my descent enough so that I don’t fall and break my neck, trying to make it through all the gates; now school plays, now continuing education conferences, making toxic matchboxes, keeping the dogs in good health. I have given up trying to do one thing perfectly in favor of doing lots of things pretty well, and that is how life seems to go for people (men and women alike) who spend a portion of their lives in a caretaker position.
There were a lot of cool things I thought about doing as a veterinarian. I wanted to be a radiologist, or a dermatologist. Instead, I decided to dial back on work to focus on the kids a little more, and once they grew old enough for me to seriously wonder if that was something I still wanted to pursue, knowing what that would mean for the family, the answer was no. Instead, I dusted off that old rarely-used corner of my brain that delighted in writing, and worked on that. I’d say that worked out pretty well.
I have no regrets about the decisions I’ve made, no resentments. But one of the most important things I’ve learned while figuring all of this out is that we are allowed to take care of ourselves every once in a while. It’s not selfish to want to do that. Sometimes it seems like you can’t win; if an exhausted new mom goes out in sweats and greasy hair, she’s mocked as a slob, but if she decides to take time to herself to work out or go get her hair done, then she’s self centered, because of course all real moms know you should never put yourself first, not once or ever. And apparently, you aren’t allowed to ask if one might share a treat, either.
My husband did not really want me to go to Africa (I leave one month from today!) The timing is terrible. I will miss my kids’ last day of school since they inexplicably added three days to the end of the school year just a month ago, we’re in the middle of selling the house, and I just realized I will also be gone for Father’s Day. Yup. Bad, bad, bad mom. I am taking off and missing all of those things because I’ve wanted to do a trip with World Vets for years, and the opportunity presented itself. And once my husband realized just how excited I was to get to do this, he was happy for me too.
I suppose I could have just not gone. That is what a real mom would do, right? Sacrifice. Or would a real mother teach her kids that you should take a leap of faith every now and then and go do something really extraordinary? Ten years from now, will my daughter be emulating a woman who consistently choked down everything important to her, or one who said, ‘I’m going to go climb a mountain and then go hang out with some Maasai and some donkeys, because I worked really hard for years and years and I want to do something meaningful, and you will hang out with Dad and be just dandy.’
I really don’t feel horrible about it. I just spent five hours making a birthday party invitation for my son in Photoshop in between shuttling my daughter back and forth to play practice for the last month. I spend the other 50 or so weeks of the year staring at the empty pie plate of my free time, so this one time I am taking a slice for myself, taking it into the corner, and savoring every mother-loving bite.