People say marriage is all about compromise. I think they’re wrong; it’s motherhood that’s about compromise.
I see myself as a generally easy-going person in terms of decision-making. If a family-member or acquaintance holds a strong opinion about what we should be doing, I’m often happy to follow suit. But I always have a small list of absolutes that I fight like the dickins to maintain. Here’s my latest list:
I don’t want anyone watching my child for long periods of time except myself or family.
I don’t want anyone cleaning my house but me.
I want to maintain a fulfilling career, but one that is highly flexible.
I want to volunteer.
I want to live in a community full of young families as well as grandparent-types, and I want it to be charming and representative of various kinds of people.
I want to live near family (see item 1).
After a several-month period of total personal chaos, I find myself facing this list and realizing that, collectively, it is a complete impossibility. My daughter is now entirely mobile and not in school; her grandparents are, respectively, four hours by car or plane away; I have a full-time job and freelance work, and I maintain a monthly volunteer-gig. And basically, I’m losing my mind. Together, the pieces of my life create a picture that looks nothing like the above list. Still, I have stayed up nights, worked days, driven here and there, all trying to make the pieces of the puzzle fit together. And they won’t go.
I should have gotten the hint when my mother started calling every few days just to see how I was doing, and finishing each phone call with a concerned, “try to get a good night sleep.” But I didn’t pay much attention until a friend of mine came over and, with both arms outstretched, declared, “You have got to get some help. Really. Now.” But I don’t want help.
Now please, don’t anyone get their dander up; I honestly, truly don’t care one iota what kind of help other people engage. I have no idea how your life works, and I figure you’re doing the best you can just like I am. I just have it in my head that I want to do all this myself.
No matter how irrational, I feel like I should be able to do it all. Despite years of griping and protesting, I’ve recently had to cross “I don’t want anyone to maintain our yard but us” off my list because my daughter almost drowned in our sea of backyard leaves. I must now admit to having regular, paid yard care. Haven’t I suffered enough?
I just can hear my father now, explaining how I’ve had this exact problem since I was a little girl. I didn’t have a lot of wants, but once I’d figured out a goal, I could not give it up. “Give her choices of A or B,” my dad loves to recount, “and she’d pick C.”
And so, as a fully grown adult and mother, I am again trying to squeeze choice C out of a clearly A and B situation. I lay awake the few nights I can actually get a decent amount of sleep trying to figure out how to make my short but competing list feasible. Annoyingly, despite the mental gymnastics I perform, the puzzle remains a stubborn mess.
I know I can’t have everything, and I know my so-called problems actually resemble blessings compared to the crushing choices many mothers face. But that doesn’t change the simple fact that I want the pieces of the puzzle to fit together. It’s now midnight, and I’m still awake, trying to make them fit.
Shearer is an Oak Cliff mom with a doctorate in American Literature, but barely a pre-school education in Mommyhood.