On Sunday, Amy Chua, author of ¬ìBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,¬î spoke at the Aspen Institute¬ís Ideas Festival at the very tiger-mom-ish hour of 7:45 a.m. We tortoise moms generally prefer to hide under the covers until a much later time or until our spry offspring force us from our shells when their insistence on things like food, water and attention becomes frenzied to the point where we risk attracting predators like foxes, coyotes and Child Protective Services ¬ó whichever comes first.
Still, I managed to force myself up and at ¬ëem so I could see in person what a real, live woman who seems to have it all looks like. As expected, Chua was perfectly coifed at 7:45 a.m. (which means she either travels with a hairstylist or her mane is naturally that annoyingly shiny and bouncy) and mostly likable, which effectively rendered her the anti-me.
Having it all (or not) is this news cycle¬ís breastfeeding-an-adolescent-looking-kid-on-the-cover-of-Time-magazine topic, which has been covered, analyzed, debated and dissected scores of times in the past several days following the publication of Anne-Marie Slaughter¬ís cover story, ¬ìWhy Women Still Can¬ít Have It All,¬î in the July/August issue of The Atlantic.
Apparently I¬ím ahead of the curve, however, as having it all has been a topic of particular obsession to me since becoming a mom nearly four years ago when I was determined that ¬ìit all¬î would be mine. Which is to say I would continue on an up-career trajectory and simultaneously be nothing less than the undisputed annual mother and wife of the year.
¬ìYou can¬ít have it all,¬î my mother warned when I was pregnant with my first daughter. ¬ìNo woman ever really does.¬î
Eh, I thought. I¬íll show her. But of course she was right, and she didn¬ít need Anne-Marie Slaughter to tell her.
Ann Curry sure seemed to have it all: a reputation for being a tremendous mom and the most high-profile gig in TV news (next to Anderson Cooper¬ís giggle). But then she was humiliated out of her job before getting a chance to find her voice (albeit at a not-so-humiliating reported $10 million severance-package price) and then publicly bashed by her boss before her corpse was even lukewarm ¬ó ¬ìWe gave her a year to prove herself, and ultimately, we came to the conclusion that she had played at the highest level she could,¬î NBC News President Steve Capus told The Hollywood Reporter the day after her embarrassingly weepy on-air goodbye ¬ó because, as it turns out, she really didn¬ít have it all.
Savannah Guthrie, Curry¬ís replacement, ¬ìcan effortlessly go from interviewing the secretary of state to jumping Olympic-sized hurdles on the plaza¬î ¬ó literally, bragged Today Show executive producer Jim Bell. Surely Curry is kicking herself now for not running track in high school.
Which is funny, because when Katie Couric was booted from the CBS Evening News, no one there boasted about how her replacement Scott Pelley could bake a lemon meringue pie while also cooking up a mean headline, or power knit a tea cozy at the same time he drills corrupt politicians.
Forcing women to try ¬ìhaving it all¬î while men are never burdened with finding even remotely the same balance is beyond tired. That I have spent a few years trying anyway has made me weary to my core. Something always suffers, as my children, waistline, liver and work quality will surely attest (it seemed hardly an accident that my older daughter dropped my laptop last week at precisely the same moment I was unavailable to play Candy Land due to a looming deadline).
What I think I¬íd like more than ¬ìit¬î and ¬ìall¬î is a moratorium on the discussion of both. Instead, I¬íd appreciate a simple wink and a smile for doing ¬ìsome¬î of ¬ìit¬î successfully some of the time while also managing to leave my house, and in clean clothes, at least twice a month.
The thing is, I really do have it all: I¬ím fortunate that I can work from home at a career that stokes the fires of my imagination. I¬ím fortunate that I get my hilarious daughters by my side from morning until night. And I¬ím fortunate that a lovely woman named Blanca comes and cleans my house every couple of weeks so I can work and be with my children without ever lifting a toilet brush.
But everything suffers as a result ¬ó my work, my kids, my house (Blanca is a great cleaner, but I always feel too awkward to ask her to clean the tubs a little better), my ability to have more than five consecutive minutes alone anywhere other than the can (and the latter is still iffy as my bathroom door doesn¬ít lock and my preschooler thinks everyone must enjoy company in the loo as much as she does).
The late, too-great-to-trivialize-as-just-great Nora Ephron¬ís take on having it all rings true to me, because she thought it was eminently doable, if not necessarily pretty:
¬ìIt will be a little messy, but embrace the mess,¬î she said in a 1996 commencement address at Wellesley. ¬ìIt will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don¬ít be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I¬íve had four careers and three husbands.¬î
After Chua¬ís talk ended I wanted to attend another Aspen Ideas event, this one featuring Katie Couric and Anne-Marie Slaughter discussing having it all (or not), but instead I went home to attend a previously scheduled date with my family to Costco. Which meant I couldn¬ít have it all that day, although as it turns out, a bulk package of frozen Atlantic salmon, a $1.50 hot dog and drink combo, two happy little girls, a husband who volunteered to drive both ways, plus eight consecutive hours of not working were ¬ìit all¬î I really wanted on Sunday anyway.
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