Having it All

06 May 2019

Conquering the expectations of life


When I was ten, I read Nora Ephron’s essays for Esquire. Her words were my first introduction to feminism, the politics of the seventies, and a lot of other things I wasn’t quite old enough to grasp. The essays were a few years old by then, but to this young reader, Ephron was talking about ancient history. Surely, I thought, by the time I was working, having children, and practicing adulthood, the world would be an egalitarian paradise. 

Men and women would share housework with respect, love, and an ease that would be the norm in that distant future. Maternity (and paternity!) leave would be at least a year long, with full pay. School choices would be simple, because every single school would be wonderful, with opportunities for all. There would be endless money for travel (and the imaginary children would always behave). My imaginary husband and I would run our household like a well-oiled machine, snuggling every night, thankful to be alive in our perfect, modern world.

When we became parents 21 years ago, no one we knew had children, except our parents’ friends and a few other bona fide adults. My husband was starting his career, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted mine to be. (Some advice: Not sure what you want to do with your life? Try “writer.” You might not get rich, but it sounds like a job, and gives you something to talk about at parties.) While my friends spent their twenties traveling, living in amazing cities, and achieving wild career success, I washed diapers, wiped sticky things, and wondered when life would start.

As these things go, life did start. (It already had, of course. I was just too busy hosting a pity party to notice.) The first step to having it all was realizing the grass isn’t always greener. Those glamorous, child-free friends of mine? Their lives weren’t perfect, either. For most of us, happiness (or something close) comes when we know we can’t have it all, at least not in the way we thought.

As an adult woman in 2019, with a mostly excellent husband and three spectacular sons, life isn’t quite how ten-year-old me thought it would be. Choices weren’t always easy, and I’ve had various jobs, working at home or in offices, taking care of babies myself or employing childcare, depending on our needs at the time, and traveling in everything from a Toyota Corolla to the occasional plane. And that utopia where my husband and I shared every duty equally? You may already know what it took me longer to learn than it should have: what works best might not be what you imagined.

After 22 years together, my husband and I are both self-employed — which means taking vacations, but spending time working while we travel. It means saving frequent flyer miles so we can travel for less. Our spectacular sons, in a stroke of luck, are actually well-behaved on trips, so some things are easy. As for housework, we try. We outsource some tasks, argue about others, and mostly do okay. 

I went to a friend’s mother’s funeral recently. My friend is a cheerful, smart woman whose mother taught her well, so I listened during the service, hoping to learn her secrets. We heard from friends and family about how full her life was. “Troubles are just an inconvenience. You just have to tell God about them,” her pastor said. You may not be religious, but he was right about troubles. No life is perfect, but you’re perfectly capable of solving most problems if you take a deep breath and adjust your expectations. 

Is the world perfect? Not even close. Am I wildly happy every day? Close enough. And it only took nearly half a century.

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