They said women could not have it all.
Yes, I know we’ve been going on and on about it. But there is more to say, and who can stop a woman. She is a force, she is the force. I think that is the point I am trying to make anyway.
Women who cannot have it all are often those who do not have support systems in place. Often mothers, aunts, neighbours, friends, cousins.. we form a mesh that holds us all up together. A raft if you will that keeps us afloat. Yes, it is inclusive, men are very much a part of this. All are welcome, as long as we can rely on each other.
And that is what the complaint often is – the ones who cannot have it all are those who cannot rely on their immediate family members. “How is it that the man can step over laundry not realising that it needs to be put in the machine?” “How can he come home and not start dinner/feed the dog/take out the trash/whatever without being told more than once to do it?” And others in this vein. Not all men, I reiterate.
What is it that makes men blind to the little tasks that need doing around the house? What is it that makes women fret and worry about all the little things left undone so much so that it builds up stress at work and home? What is it about these little things that seem so important to me and not to him? (Can he not do them just because it is important to me? – But that is another story) What if, what if … dare I think it…. he is right. What if these little bits are not important really and we will survive without them. What if the doilies are not laced? Or the turkey served without the trimmings? The cake not iced? The gifts not wrapped? Will we.. still remain?
A very dear friend asked me once (and tell me if I can quote you, because I know you read most of what I write) – “What would these men do if we were not here?” She reminded me of my answer – “They’d eat takeaways, send clothes to the laundry and lead simpler lives” (Actually, no, I forget my exact words – so remind me, and I’ll edit this). Simpler lives – hmm.. sounds good. Shall I give it a try?
I did, I admit. You know those cute posters about women who don’t do the dusting and have happy families? I head tales about grand aunts who never scolded their kids, and how chaotic the house was and how happy and well mannered their kids turned out.. Maybe, that’s how it is done.
For a year, I deprioritised the cleaning. The house was clean, but not tidy. Clothes lay in bunches on top of the washing machine, clean, dry and warm. Help yourself, there is bound to be a clean pyjama in there somewhere.. The dusting – later. I baked, made jams, sang songs with my baby and picnicked every sunny day. I don’t think it was much appreciated – only my best friends visited me after that..but hey, who cares about the rest anyway. If they can’t see my smiles through the dust motes they don’t really matter.
Of course the pressure to be balanced was too much, so back to work I went, childcare, school pick ups, begging other moms to look after my little one while I attended a conference or traveled to a meeting I could not avoid. Rare, but a balanced mommy is a part time mommy. (And let me tell you – all the stuff they say about balance being good – they are right. It’s bl*#$ brilliant! If you are okay giving up some part of what you could have been)
A decade later, I remembered this – and heard the same rant all over again..and it boiled down to this – how is it that mommies can spot the jobs that need to be done, and do them while the daddies cannot. Also, I was working in education, and often with schools – the homework, projects, exam sheets were often messaged to the mommy’s account, the dads just turned up for the PTM. Dads I met at work – education related professionals told me that in their personal life, their wife looked after the kid’s homework and performance. Schools that were keen to reach out and engage parents better wanted to organise – wait for it – mommy seminars. I repeat, not all daddies were AWOL. When I traveled for work, the daddies checked in on their families at least six times a day (yes, I was counting sneakily) while I barely managed to do so once a day. (How did they do it all?!)
So I started asking the mommies why they did all the sutradhaar work for the children, and why their husbands did not join in.. A daily survey at the school gates. They were judges, lawyers, architects, artists, writers amongst those at the gates. Most of them moms. And all of them said – “Oh, he is too busy, he won’t remember/do all these things”. I don’t know if they were right, but they clearly had trust issues. The fear was that the man would not ‘get it right’. Which I heard as – ‘he is not going to do it my way, the right way’.
As I listened to them, I went back to the question I had a decade ago – what if it did not matter if it was not done the right way? What if the details don’t matter. (oh, let me use a cliche here – what if the devil really was in the details and that meant – stay away from details!) What if it was ok to be callous about ‘how’ things were done as long as they got done. Ethically of course, but fuss free. So, I decided to try it out. Decided to live like a man for a year – in a way.
I watched my husband, and others. If he was not to be disturbed in my study, nor was I. If the cook (and by now I had a cook-housekeeper, which made this experiment possible) was not being given directions on how or what needs to be made – that was fine. If the vegetables, meat and fish purchased was not chosen by me – it was okay. If the garam masala was not ground fresh, or the pesto not just right – it wasn’t my responsibility. I wanted to be fed, like the men were. I wanted clothes to appear in my cupboard. All I wanted to do was work. And dip in to the household if I chose to do so. It scared me. But if I did not try it then, I never would.
The year ended a few months ago, and I cannot give this new lifestyle up. It is liberating. I can work fourteen hours a day, and if things go wrong, it is okay to let some one else handle it. If I don’t know where the sugar is in the house – it is fine. Either I will find it or phone in an order for more to be delivered within the hour. It’s not that I don’t want to know where the sugar is, it’s just that it does not matter that I don’t know where it is.. and the same goes for ironed clothes, gift wrapped presents and so on. I still care that the food at the table is good and nutritious, but it is not my personal failure if it is not perfect. There is a system, that is supposed to function. Everybody has a role, a job – and we back each other up. At least we try. It’s not perfect, but it is not just my problem. Does the system collapse? Oh yes, every once in a while it does. But again, see – that is the system that needs to be fixed, not me. It is not me telling myself – woman you are a failure as a wife, mother and housekeeper (fine, I still have those moments, its not a real sex change – just learning from the other side). It is just a blip, like in any other project, and we the team have to pull together through it.
Suddenly, so much more seems possible. It is a lighter, brighter world on this side of the fence. Men just might have it all figured out, you know. Try it their way sometime.
Maybe, that’s the way to have it all, do it their way.
Other essays on Having it All…
and a Poem about Sita, the Queen of the Ramayana having it all https://aanteladda.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/sita-ka-van-vesh/