Accessing it All
Last week an article in the Atlantic set off a fire storm or response from the tender underside of my peeps, the Me Generation. Anne-Marie Slaughter picked at the scab that all of us of a certain age know has yet to heal – the inability to distort the space-time continuum to allow for women to be Perfect Mothers and Ass-Kicking Professionals (not to mention great lovers, cooks and facile in Renaissance literature). Her piece: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/ brought up guilts, errors and absurdities I assumed Anna Quindlen had figured out in the 1990’s…
Slaughter’s “revelation” that despite all enlightenment and maturity human’s typically want more than they can actually have was, to me an echo of the obvious. Obvious only because my wife and I lived the absurdity of expecting to keep every ball in the air, no matter how many balls got added to juggle.
In the wake of a few centuries of Mad Men sexism, every woman I went to school with eschewed make-up, dry-clean clothing and hairdressers and just assumed humans were identical save for some body parts (that were intensively experimented with, I might add). Their grandmothers had grown up without the right to vote, their mothers had often gone to women’s schools, and it had only been a few years since Yale, Princeton and the Senate had women in their hallowed halls.
Equality was asserted, but female superiority in terms of available options was not acknowledged. Creating life, bearing children is not gender neutral. So many of my fellow Me Generation homies of both genders simply declared “I am not having children”. Playing field back to level. “The Population Bomb” book made that the moral choice, the exploding landscape of Viet Nam, assassinations and heinous sitcoms made bringing new life into our context seem like pre-natal child abuse.
Sallying forth into the 1980’s the vast majority of we “Me”’s realized something: Having Kids is The Prime Directive. Driven career couples accommodated this most basic of human drive’s in classically left lobe rationalizations.
Often a single child was the answer, at least initially. The new human was planned for in extremis and allowed the “parent” role to be checked off, the world overpopulation indictment avoided (we parents croak, net population minus 1, net), the biological clock defeated and the time involved was “manageable”. Or so we thought.
The “au paire suite” for substitutionary maternal time by an outsider was brought into the home and became as normal as a garage became once cars started to roam the earth.
And the clock seemed to have a dramatic crack in its death grip upon our lives with a 24 hour daily limit with the invention of “Quality Time”, where minutes of focused eye-contact rich dedicated parent-child bonding could magically be worth hours of the inferior, low quality time our parents had spent with us.
Take-out food and fast food restaurants exploded into an everyday way to pre-empt the “low-quality’ cooking-cleaning up time that would detract from after work, before bedtime “Quality Time” time. Similarly we “Me”’s invented the idea of hi-performance toys: Educational, Aesthetically Palatable to us, and perhaps even Fun for the kid. Or not.
Despite all these accommodations and attempts to game the conflict of serving multiple masters, women (and a lot of men) began to see that more time is better than less time when the time you have to bathe in the joy and giggling of your children begins to be circumscribed at the back end.
My wife had a great job, where a wonderful boss offered a generous maternity leave and part-time period of employment after our first son was born. As the months became a year, and our son began to walk, talk and be a person more than a pet, the looming full-time back end of the maternity bargain loomed. Despite our antique bodies precluding instant gratification of pregnancy with our first child, the second attempt proved to be instantaneously successful.
So the day after she discovered she was pregnant with our second son, the wonderful boss came into my wife’s office not knowing the good news and asked when she was beginning her full time career again, my wife blurted out with an intense honesty only hardwired realities make possible “Never.”
The next couple of decades have been full to bursting of child-centered, career compensating decisions – both of us simply gave up possibilities for the single most important reality in both our lives – the overwhelming gut grabbing child imperative.
“Having it all” is not possible for anyone, whether they have children or not. Humans find new levels of “All” when they obtain the “All” they get – whether its “Having all the toys” or “Smelling the roses.” If “Having it all” that was possible there would be no science, art or cuisine.
But thanks to science (living passed 40), cultural progress (women and men doing what they want, versus following traditional roles by rote) and personal ingenuity we “Me”’s may be the first generation to realize our reach was too far for what we really, (really) wanted to grasp.
Most of us have pulled back from the silliness of attempting perfection in all things – “having it all”, retreating to what each of us values. For some, like my wife and I, that is our children, for others, gardens, for others careers, for others painting – when the days become numbered, perspective focuses, and “all” is not everything, it is access to all you want to attempt.
“Having it all” sounds like an 8 year old’s Christmas morning agenda. Being able to focus without guilt is what my “Green” friends call “sustainable. Now that those wee blobs of boys are huge men, the “all” is once again refocusing – only now that focus is with less foolishness. Hopefully.