… Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold- W.B Yeats- 1919
I just finished reading “I Don’t Know How She Does It” by Allison Pearson and wow… just wow. It takes place in London and is the story of a working mother with a high-powered job as a financial money manager. Other than some minor differences (you know, like the issues of flying across the Atlantic on a moment’s notice and discussing how to pick a good nanny), the story was written to aggravate every bone of guilt I have.
Kate is balancing the needs of two children. She feels guilt at how much she resents her children from taking her away from doing a job she loves- and she resents her job from taking her away from her children. She goes on vacation and tries to bury herself in the role of perfect mother and wife. She goes to a board meeting and tries to bury herself in the world of work. She notes that women are not allowed to be late because of children’s issues- but men are applauded for parenting. In an excerpt… How do you say you have to leave early because the baby is sick without saying a) baby and b) leave?” “When a man excuses himself from a meeting to attend his son’s game, he is patted on the back and when a woman needs to leave early she is not ‘committed enough’?”
Gender inequities aside, the tension between work and her children is not what you would expect. She writes in an email,”What kind of mother is afraid of her own children?” She ends up not sending the email because, “There’s only so much you can confess, even to your dearest friend. Even to yourself.”
And lest you think that I read the book while lolling about, waiting for the children to come home, I read the book in an airport- traveling to San Antonio for a conference, and to visit my dying grandmother for probably the last time- multi-tasking, even in grief. I read because I was not going to pay for Internet in an airport. I read it when I knew that my children, while being taken care of by James, would be challenged. That Ray would not be doing his homework; that Elizabeth’s 4th grade girl dramas would be misunderstood by a busy Daddy; that James would be too busy being one parent that the other role would be missing even more because of its absence.
These past weeks have challenged me: too many observations, things to grade, chapters to write, conference paper to write, homework to help with, laundry to do, pounds to work off- my life is so far off balance, out of normal, that I can’t even see the pivot point. I vaguely remember writing- I vaguely remember laughing- I vaguely remember… me.
For the reality is that my mothering role is the linchpin that holds my family together- and, as I’ve learned this past month- me. Without the schedule, the routine, the comfort of tucking them in, listening to their day, and fussing at them for homework- including James in those routines, I lose touch with myself.
It isn’t as though I’ve lost my sense of humor, or my desire to dance, or even my love of all things chocolate, but I’ve lost my sense of timing- the sense of reflection- the sense of planning. I’ve lost my writing.
Anxiety has been the driver this past month. The sense of moving from moment to moment and being surprised when I got there. As I overheard someone say the other day “I don’t know where I am. I’m whereever my calendar tells me I am.” While I am not planless, as in the days of diagnosis and treatment, I do find that I am moving from moment to moment just as I moved from therapist’s appointment to therapist’s appointment.
I finished the book while waiting in an another airport to go on a consulting gig- a gig that I needed to do to pay for the new car, the birthday party, the life that we have that is so finely balanced that more than two events in a row throws the whole thing off kilter.
At the end of the book, Kate quits her job and moves to the country. She points how, when people say “I don’t know how she does it,” there is an implied perception that judgement that something is missing, something is slipping. Moving to the country is, unfortunately, is not an option we have, and so I wait for the end of March- the end of this slipping, the end of this calendar-driven chaos. I wait for the center to form again.