About a year ago, Esperanza posted a response to an article in The Atlantic entitled "How To Land Your Kid In Therapy." It was, in short, a piece about telling our children (and our parents telling us) that they (we) can have it all, and the fallout when they realize that they (we) can't. At the time, the post really resonated with me, not because I ever told my son that he could have it all, but as a professional who had just recently become a stay-at-home-mom (temporarily, I thought), I found myself wondering whether it really was possible for women to "have it all," and what that really meant, anyway. Esperanza concluded that we are encouraged to want too much, and that we need to learn how to be satisfied with what we have; I wasn't entirely satistfied with that answer, but I've been mulling it over ever since.
This week, The Atlantic's cover article, entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," went more or less viral. In it, Anne-Marie Slaughter talks about her decision to step down from a position at the State Department in order to prioritize her family life, and what she thinks would need to change in order to make "having it all" a real possibility. Though it focused, I feel, mostly on how the dilemma played out for the working mother, responses by other Atlantic writers offered additional perspectives on the conversation, suggesting everything from "the problem isn't women, it's about the pressures of elite jobs" (I disagree) to "women who whine about it make us all look bad" (I also disagree).
I do agree, though, that there is no such thing as "having it all." Because in addition to a problem of labor relations (because workplaces really are not very family-friendly as a rule, to anyone, women or men), which is potentially correctable, it's a fundamental problem of definition: not our definition, but the definition that someone created for us.
What is "having it all"? Is it reaching the top of your field, sitting in the corner office, controlling the finances and having all of the decision making power? Is it having the perfect family with 2.5 children who attend all of the right preschools, later getting into Ivy League schools? Is it having both of these things effortlessly? According to whom? Is full time parenthood even compatible with a family-friendly workplace? Maybe it is, but I don't think that it's possible to spend 24 hours a day at work AND 24 hours a day at home. That's just not good math.
The other day, I was at my annual ob/gyn visit, and was saying something morose to my midwife about not being able to lose the last few pounds of baby weight. She looked me square in the eye and said, "well, maybe that's just where you're supposed to be right now." I must have looked surprised, because she continued: "You're healthy. You exercise. You eat well, and you allow yourself indulgences. I'm not unhappy. You shouldn't be, either." It's not a matter of being happy with what we have, or "settling," but adjusting our scale so we measure ourselves, and not someone else.
Bessie Stanley, in 1904, published a short statement that is often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in a slim volume of collected words of wisdom from readers of Boston's National Magazine. You've probably heard it somewhere before. It goes like this: "He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; and whose memory a benediction."
I'm not saying that we ought not to strive or to achieve things. If you read this blog enough, you'll know that I'm about as feminist as they come without the bra-burning (I draw the line at panty hose), and that I think that the glass ceiling is still very real, and needs breaking. Slaughter makes some important points about workplace attitudes and policies that need adjusting, not just for mothers, but for the sanity of all working parents and non-parents. I'm just suggesting that the achievement is not the same for everyone. Maybe some people (fathers included) can be great at having a high-pressure job, and they can come home and eat family dinners and be present for their children. They should be given the opportunity to do so. It so happens that I think I'm a better parent when I'm working outside of the home, though I know now that I need to be home for dinner, and at night; that I don't want to be the president of anything. It's true, I probably wouldn't sing as many songs or talk to my kids as much as another parent, but they will probably not turn out to be cretins. (Well, they might be cretins, but it won't be all my fault.) Maybe that will be my "all." Still: that is not everyone's measure of success. And that we ought to stop pretending there is a single measure, and looking down our noses at everything else. Because if we can, if we are encouraged and given every tool to achieve what we feel is important (and I'm talking about all of us here, the blue-collar workforce as well as the white-collar professionals), and not what someone else feels is important, then we will have it all.
These are for Keiko, long overdue. I promised her an oatmeal cookie recipe, and I'm finally posting, in the middle of CSA season, no less, when I ought to be posting about chard. (Don't worry, that's coming.) Keiko is a great example of someone who has come up with her own measure of success, and continues to change that measure as her goals change. I really think that the "Fertile Life" she describes may be as close as we can come to "having it all." Which is something, in principle, I think we can all aspire to.
Have you read the article, and what did you think? Do you think it's possible to "have it all," and what would that mean for you? How do you measure success?
1 1/2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 c. flour
1/4 c. dark raisins
1/4 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 c. packed brown sugar (I used light)
1/4 c. sugar (or sub evaporated cane juice for both sugars)
1/2 t. cinnamon
4 T. dark raisins for topping
4 T. golden raisins for topping
Preheat oven to 350.
In a medium bowl, stir together oats, flower, raisins, cranberries, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Combine dark and golden raisins for topping, and set aside.
Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, cinnamon, and vanilla; beat until combined. Gradually add oat mixture and mix well. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls, about 2 inches apart, onto two baking sheets. Place 1 mounded teaspoon of raisins on top of dough. Bake until cookies are golden brown but still soft, 12-16 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on sheets; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.