Can We Please Stop Having it All?

havingitallI do not have it all. Texas congressional Representative Wendy Davis, despite the recent New York Times Magazine headline, “Can Wendy Davis Have it All?” is not about to have it all any time soon. Anne-Marie Slaughter said, in The Atlantic, that no woman, really, can have it all.

Even Sheryl Sandberg, self-appointed role model for moms who also have big jobs outside the home, does not have it all.

How do I know? Because no one ever has it all. The phrase “having it all,” which I gather used to represent some form of women’s empowerment, has been reduced to snarkery. To admit to having it all -- or wanting it all -- seems weirdly greedy.  “Having it all” has come to invite judgment.

When The New York Times asked if Wendy Davis could have it all, they weren’t asking if she could have kids and a rocking career. She clearly does. They were asking if she could effectively campaign on her background as a single mom who once lived in a trailer park, even though her former partner handled the day-to-day childcare and paid Davis’ way through Harvard Law School.

The Times was asking, in essence, if Davis could have two seemingly mutually exclusive things, with the insinuation that it was okay for her to be a trailer park mom or  a Harvard-trained lawyer, but not both. (As well-written as The New York Times story is, if you don’t think it reeks of misogynist claptrap, I beg you to read it again).

And while I can say with confidence that there has never been a single moment in my life when I said to myself, “Hey, I have it all,” oddly, others don’t see it that way. This became all-too-clear to me about a year ago, while I was on a business trip to Atlanta. I have a good friend who lives in Atlanta whom I hadn’t seen for a long time, and we agreed to meet at my hotel one night after dinner.

Sitting there in the lounge, I was beyond exhausted. I nearly cancelled, but this was a good friend, and it had been more than a year.

We settled in with our drinks and began ticking through the big topics: my job, her job, my husband, her personal life, my kids. Everyone was doing fine, I told her.

“Well,” she said, “You really do have it all.”

I was gobsmacked. As far as I could tell, even though I felt as if my hair were constantly on fire, I spent the days trying not to fall asleep.

It was ten at night and I still had a story to write. I couldn’t get too far behind on work, because once I got home I would have only a few days before my husband left on his own business trip. If history were any guide, he would leave me with two toddlers, an empty fridge and piles of dirty laundry. And it's not like this was a particularly tough week. This is just how things were.

Yet somehow, my friend thought I’d achieved some sort of feminist ideal. To me, it seemed more likely that I’d merely managed a level of fertility attainable by most unemployed teenagers and coupled it with a record level of sleep deprivation. (“Remember,” new moms tell each other, “sleep deprivation is a form of torture.”) If that was “all,” "all" sort of sucked.

Don’t get me wrong. I had my two children relatively late in life, and I know darn well how lucky I am. When I say my husband’s business trip would leave me with two toddlers, no food and lots of laundry, well, that often describes the scene when I get on a plane, too. I have work that is challenging and enjoyable. My colleagues are smart, and they’re genuinely decent people. Don’t think I don’t count my blessings.

But “all” implies that I have more my fair share. More than I deserve, and that I’ve taken something that, really, is the birthright of men.

Most important, “all” implies sanity. It ignores the two-year-olds with stomach flu, the incomparable cost of daycare, the missed promotions and the sudden and crushing reliance on caffeine. It suggests that everything just flows together in a pleasant blur of early-morning runs, home-cooked meals, hugs, paychecks, family vacations, and dinner parties.

My life doesn’t look like that. It looks pretty darn good, but it’s also frightfully messy. In other words, it’s real. If it ever acquires the glossiness of a spread from Martha Stewart Living, I’ll let you know right away. And I’ll be running -- fast -- in the other direction. -- Kimberly Weisul

February 26, 2014


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