Maybe it was the beading sweat on my forehead and the look of sheer panic on my face.
Maybe it was me muttering–to myself, I thought, but apparently not–“HOW did you do this??”
Or maybe it was the group of fellow deli counter patrons who were doing horribly at containing their laughter that sent her over to me. (And no, for the record, I don’t blame them. I’d laugh too.)
But thank God for the kind woman who calmly sauntered over to me at the Publix deli counter as I waited on my pound of cheddar who deftly freed my delighted–but desperately stuck–2-year-old from the “car cart,” as we call it, her chubby little legs so perfectly wedged in between the seat and the wheel that it was almost comical.
It was what Awesome Kind Helpful Lady said next, though, that really got my attention.
“Bet you’d rather be doing hurricane coverage now!” She was right. In many ways, ten hours straight on the air, unscripted, talking about Hurricane Matthew and tossing out to our wind-battered reporters in the field was way, waaaaaay easier than suffering humiliation at the hands of your own offspring in a busy store.
But in other ways, it was not.
The backstory is, I had quit my job as a TV anchor just days before. I worked for 15 years total in TV, 13 in news, and had just about every wreak-hell-on-your-Circadian-Rhythm-shift you could imagine. “News lady,” my friends would joke, knowing there was very little serious about my persona outside those four studio walls. “Do your TV voice!!!” they would prod, after a few drinks, as I would happily oblige.
The truth is, I loved my job. I still love lots of the parts of it, even though it’s not mine anymore. But I made the decision after years of ambivalence. I am not kidding when I say there was a period of about a year where I would say to my mom and husband, in separate conversation, THE EXACT SAME THING, multiple times a day: “I can’t do it anymore. Should I quit???”
Some days I would relish the predictability of my planned-down-to-the-minute days; other days, I would resent my busyness and exhaustion–and the distance it created with my loved ones–so thoroughly, that I would cry on my drive back to the station.
I’m not in some unique position. So many moms have to decide: Will I stay at home with my children and risk the slow drain of my sanity, or will I keep working, and stretch myself so thin that I will actually forget who I am and what I need as an individual to thrive? In the end–and I say this with no trace of guilt–the decision came down to what was best for me.
We’re not allowed to say that as moms, that our needs matter. So often we shut up, and put up. We do it–whatever it is–because God knows, so often, no one else will.
But what happens when we keep going so much in the name of other people that we lose ourselves? The short answer is, the world we work so meticulously at crafting around our family can fall apart.
I won’t beat the “Take care of yourself first!” drum, because you’ve heard it a bajillion times before. But I will say this, and with more certainty than I’ve said many other things in life: “Having it all” doesn’t exist. Repeat after me now: “Having it all doesn’t exist.”
Let’s do ourselves and our fellow moms a major favor by actually living by the truth of that statement. Fairytales are a precious waste of our time, and Lord knows, we don’t have enough of the latter as it is. I just felt the need to tell other people what it took me some time to learn. I hope you hear it.
Oh, and for the record, my first week working from home also included a declined credit card at the end of said grocery trip, a renegade snake that found its way into our house, a double ear infection, two trips to the pediatrician, and those three piles of laundry that I washed days ago that still haven’t decided to magically sprout arms and fold itself (DAMN IT), languishing in the back room.
So, go forth and kick ass in whatever job you have this week, fellow moms. And take the help from the nice lady at the grocery store who helps keep your kid alive today. I guarantee you, she’s been in your shoes, too.