When I was a kid, I won a purple participation ribbon at track and field day. It was fourth grade – the first time that we had to compete in the events instead of just playing around outside – and I was running the 100 metre. I chose the 100 metre not because I am fast… on the contrary: I chose the 100 metre because I am an awful athlete and it was the one that would be over the quickest so that I could get my tiny ice cream with the popsicle stick spoon. The humiliation of placing second last (God bless you, last placer) was quickly fixed by the pinning of a ribbon and the reception of a delicious ice cream treat.
And track was not the only area of my life where I received head-pats for mediocrity. My parents, with all of the well-meaning enthusiasm of the 90s, cheered me on by telling me that sacred millennial mantra: you can be ANYTHING you want if you put your mind to it! I embraced this foolhardy belief system, but with one important alteration. In my head, I adopted the belief that not only could I do ANYTHING, but I could do EVERYTHING. I was a special little snowflake who would excel (or at least not be the worst) at everything I tried. I blithely marched out into the world to take what was mine: all of it. And, for a time, it worked.
I worked what amounted to full-time through university, maintaining my grades while simultaneously volunteering to puff up my resume. I planned a wedding as a first year teacher (if you’ve been one, you know what the hours are like) while maintaining a decent social life (for me, anyway). I coached, directed the play, worked 14 hour days building resources that totally already existed, and somehow still found time for dates with my husband and lots of shopping. Sure, there were trade offs, and I did none of those things to the best of my abilities, because there were too many things to become really excellent at any of them.
So when I became a mom, I figured it would be the same deal: put my mind to it and I’d be able to do it all. I would be able to be a mom, have a career, maintain my marriage, keep my friends and social life, get the best body of my life and, of course, have a killer closet. If you’re not laughing yet, it’s because you’re not a mom.
With my first, I realized that I was an idiot pretty much right away. There was no way I was doing all of that, but in my head I added a yet. I only couldn’t do it all because I was in a transition period, or because I was physically recovering, or because I was pregnant again and exhausted (I had hyperemesis with my second, so it was a good excuse). Whatever the reason, there was a REASON I couldn’t have it all… YET. As soon as those reasons were resolved, I would be able to get it all going and have everything.
But it never happened.
Today, I sat in the middle of my floor wearing oven mitts and my husband’s flipflops, crying. It was the basement, too, which is undeveloped, so I had dust all over my skirt (yes, skirt). I had decided when I had my second that the excuses were over: it was time to really put my mind to it. I woke up every morning and did my hair and basic makeup. I signed up for workout classes. I went dairy-free and started watching what I ate. I cleaned my house, and then cleaned it again. I signed up for EVERYTHING for my daughter – taking her on weekly trips to everywhere. I met up with friends. I started planning and working on a bachelorette and shower for a wedding I’m in. I started hobbies. I began redecorating my house (more on this later).
And then I found myself sitting on the floor.
After getting ready to go out and meet my mom for lunch, I had tried to take the glass out of a frame for a painting I had made with my husband and daughter when I was being everything on the weekend (note: here is me simultaneously trying to be stylish, social AND good around the house). In the midst of it, the glass broke a little. So I went upstairs to get gloves to pick up the glass, but when I tried to move the frame to find the broken piece, the rest of the glass shattered. So now I’m in flip flops and a skirt, with oven mitts (I couldn’t find my work gloves), surrounded by broken glass in my undeveloped basement. I’m not wearing my glasses, so I can’t REALLY tell where the glass is. So I crouch veeerrrry slowly down and hear the crunching that tells me that I am probably millimetres from slicing the shit out of my feet. With my oven mitts, I “feel around” (note: you cannot feel anything through oven mitts) and find the slicey bits. I try to put them in a garbage bag, but whaddaya know, they slice the bag to shreds. Slowly, slowly, I pick up the glass and pile it on an old ottoman that has been relegated to the “not ready to sell it, but not a part of my decor anymore” pile. Upstairs, Leo wakes up and cries, hungry. Downstairs, the frame I had been trying to use breaks when I try to move it out of the area now that the glass has been picked up. I’m exhausted. I cry.
It’s self-pity crying. It’s pathetic.
But it’s IMPORTANT. I continually forget that my near-zealous devotion to the ideal that I can be anything I want is not the same thing as being EVERYTHING I want. I am NOT a DIY-er (note that at the same time as this glass incident, there was also an oversized hole in the wall of a room upstairs where I had tried to use drywall anchors and hit a stud). I am NOT a social butterfly. God I want to be. And most importantly, I cannot be ALL of the things I want to be all at the same time. I can’t be the well-dressed, DIY expert in a perfectly maintained home who flits from pilates class to wine night with my girlfriends who still has a perfect marriage, kids who get enough attention, and grandparents who are involved in the lives of their grandchildren. I definitely can’t do it all while I’m exhausted from not sleeping longer than 45 minutes at a stretch for the past two and a half months. Every choice I make has to come at the expense of something else. Wine night with girlfriends means another night I’m not spending quality time with my husband after the kids are asleep, a workout means a nap time is disrupted, time with my husband means introducing a bottle, becoming a DIY goddess means being bodysnatched my aliens because let’s be honest, that shit’s just not in my DNA.
We only have so many resources to spend. I have always spread them around too thin, seeking the realization of my fourth grade dreams. I never really let go of the idea that I COULD be a singer if I really wanted to (I’m still waiting to be discovered) and so I hold onto the notion that I CAN be all of the things that I want to be all at the same time, and, if I’m honest, that I can do it all with very little cost to myself. The problem with being EVERYTHING as a parent, is that now there is a real price to being only “okay” at aspects of your life that are important. You don’t give yourself enough time to LEARN or improve, you just accept average (or worse) because you dont have the resources left to get better. You don’t have the ability, or even the desire, to get better… you just want to be at the finish line and get your fucking ice cream already…but there’s no ice cream or purple ribbons for parenting. There are very real people who need you to not take the shortcuts where they’re concerned. They need better than (second) last place.
So no more DIY for now. No more stretching myself thin. Time to get back to what matters the most: my family and my well-being.
Let’s see how long it lasts this time.