I watched Mona Lisa Smile last night. I’d seen it once before, but didn’t remember much of it. One scene in particular stuck out to me. This one right here (the first two minutes):
Now, I don’t normally talk about things that may be deemed controversial on here (or maybe I do and just don’t know it!), and I know that this movie is set in the early-mid 50s when the roles of women were very different and would soon be changing, but I just felt like Julia Robert’s line “You can do both” was too simple — it made it sound too easy. I tried talking about it with Marc before bed last night, but all I really got from him (he was trying to read a book at the time) was that she may not be saying it’s easy, just that it’s possible to do both.
A couple things to say, I guess. First of all, it depends on what your definition of “both” is. To some people “both” is having a job/career and having your children in daycare until they are school-aged (and possibly even then in those work hours before and after school as well). “Both” may be working part-time and being home when your children are home. “Both” may be doing a Norwex or Tupperware (Man, I love Tupperware!) kind of business in the evenings when your husband’s around to watch the kids.
When I think of what “both” is: having a career and raising kids, I just don’t see how you can really do both fully. And that’s simply a matter of the logistics of time. Both take time. Both take daytime hours time. And you cannot be a lawyer at a law firm (like the girl in the movie was hoping to do) and be taking care of your kids at the same time. At least not full-time. Not that I think women are or should be destined to being at home or being the standard part-time receptionists for the rest of their lives. I’m simply saying that having both a career and family full-time cannot be done. Your obligations will have to be divided because your time will have to be divided. I’m not making a moral judgment on how women choose to divide their time, but when Julia so off-handedly said “You can do both”, it didn’t seem to grasp the scope of what that means and the sacrifices (and, let’s be honest, exhaustion) that can mean.
Later Marc said to me, “But you’re doing both”, to which I replied, “But that’s precisely the point! My circumstances are so unique!” I feel so lucky that my life has somehow turned out the way it has. I got my degree right out of high school. I started my Masters but when I realized I would need to do a multiple-year PhD for that Masters to have any value, and since we always said we wanted to have kids when we were young, Marc and I both quit our Masters and promptly began procreating. I always said, “I’ll whip out the kids and then decide what I want to be.” But then I didn’t really think about it. And, certainly, my priorities changed too.
I mean, I would be a really good lawyer. My dad’s a lawyer. I’ve a got a practice sitting there if I want it. It could be mine in three years, if I wanted it. But I just can’t. If I hadn’t had kids and Marc had chosen something that would keep us in Prince Albert for our lives, maybe I would’ve done that. But I just didn’t want to. I also knew I didn’t want to be stressed for the rest of my life and be bringing several briefcases home every night and talk to my family while glancing down at a file (no offense dad — you are a great multi-tasker), but I just didn’t want the stress.
And I didn’t have my mind made up for a long time, until one night it struck me that I might have just the right personality, strengths, and passions to be a counsellor. Now, as of this semester, I’m only five classes into this Masters degree, but so far I think it’s a good fit. And with Marc being in school and me taking part-time classes, the kids are always with one of us. And I should be done the degree the year Olivia’s in kindergarten, after which I can hopefully counsel part-time, or at least flexibly and mostly in school hours. We’ll see how it all pans out, but that’s the plan. And I feel very fortunate to be able to pursue this career and be around for my kids. But I don’t know of many women who have stories like mine.
It just seems to me that the choices are still more complicated for women. There are an increasing number of stay-at-home dads, but it’s still mostly moms at home. And I wonder if there doesn’t need to be some women’s lib (like there was in the 50s about women having careers) about the importance of mothering. So that women who choose to be at home with their kids don’t perpetually feel like what they’re doing is meaningless. I mean, I know Oprah says once an episode that “Motherhood is the hardest and greatest job in the world” but nobody listens to her anymore. And I know all too well how easily picking up the same dirty socks off the floor can begin to feel meaningless.
People need time. Little people need time. Mothers need time to think about who they are and what they’re doing and how they have great value. And time becomes this strange thing when you have kids. It can simultaneously fly by and drag on endlessly. Sometimes I think I would’ve been a better mom if I’d worked outside the home a bit. Like I would’ve appreciated the little nose-miners more if I’d had the chance to catch my breath a bit. But then you’d miss stuff too.
So much to juggle and so much to balance. Today, for example: morning trip to the kids’ school in Niverville doing a “mock” bus ride in our van, followed by a short playdate, then a headache, finding out I have to go do some registration stuff at the school, do the student card picture, pay my tuition, and eat a free (hooray!) lunch in the cafeteria, bathe the kids, taking the girls for haircuts followed by Meet the Teacher night, free (hooray!) supper at their school, ice cream social at Prov after we got back from Niverville, put the kids to bed, and get settled for Madeline and Marc’s and my first day of classes tomorrow! Deep breath. (But luckily no headache at the moment.) Just a lot to juggle. Even on days when we aren’t all over the place, I still normally have at least 2 to 4 people talking to me at one time, or who suddenly need me for something just because I walk by their bedroom door. You know how it is…
I’m lucky to have a few really great mentors in my life. I can think of three specific ladies from our old church who are all kind of my secret heros in one way or another. But they’re all very different. And the advice they give me and their opinions are all different, too. And that’s what it’s going to be like for any family, any mother. Different people. Different situations. Different answers.
I guess what I’m saying — since I’ve made a short story long — is that becoming a mother is never really simple, however you end up playing out that role. It’s not just a “You can do both” done, easy-peasy kind of thing. None of it is going to be easy, in the end. And sacrifice just kind of becomes a way of life. But a good kind of sacrifice. The best kind, actually. It’s just not easy.