My thoughts have been like a billiard ball today. I wore one of my mother’s rings for the first time – even though it had always been one of my favorites, it has taken me nearly a year to put it on. I have been thinking about her nonstop since I visited the place she was born, Opelousas, Louisiana last week with my cousin, during a visit to New Orleans. I was reminded that my grandfather worked there as a sharecropper until they moved to New Orleans when my mother was 11. She finished 8th grade and went to work as a seamstress until she moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21. She met my father not long after she arrived and they married a few days before her 22nd birthday.
Despite the fact that my mom worked at home, we always walked to school, about six blocks away, regardless of the weather. I was reminded today of a time when I was in 7th grade and there was no bus to take me home after an awards ceremony at school. There was no thought of calling my mom, I just decided to walk all the way home, probably a good 5-6 miles. My parents weren’t particularly supportive of my sports activities, so I imposed on them as little as possible. Also, being the youngest of seven meant that I was rarely on their radar screen, at least not until there were only a few of us left at home…I was reminded of this by a passage in an article a student sent to me: “But women still bear the brunt of the work at home, devoting, on average, 28 hours a week to socks and meals and carpools in comparison with men’s 10. Meanwhile, insofar as this generation has adopted the Tiger Mom ethos, they have also—horribly and ironically—saddled themselves with the escalating burden of hyperparenting: monitoring Charlie’s piano practice, for example, or whisking Katie every weekend to her synchronized-skating competitions. Contrast this with the women of the Mad Men era, who were generally content to leave their less-coddled offspring to play in puddles, eat the occasional Twinkie, and even do their own homework.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2013/04/01/why-women-should-stop-trying-to-do-it-all.html
That would certainly describe my parents form of parenting – yet I hold a full time job, am an athlete, run a nonprofit, volunteer on several boards, and make sure my kids get to all of their activities every afternoon – I rarely schedule anything between 4 and 7 since I’m being the “mommy shuttle” and cooking dinner every night. I may not have organic chard, but I certainly have organic mint, chives, and rosemary in my garden. I also have a handsome and amazingly supportive husband.
How much more do I have to “lean in”? When can I say that I “have it all”? I often tell people that I have already achieved more than I ever thought I could as a first generation college goer – I’m a successful academic who will have published books with Cambridge and Oxford university presses by the end of this year. I have two beautiful boys who are bright, talented, and appreciate their mother. Why do I find myself saying at the age of 48 “is this all there is?”
The answer is clearly yes and no. I do have it all, but as a chronic overachiever, I can’t seem to rest on my laurels. But it’s laurel leaves that surround the green jade stone in my mother’s ring. I doubt she would understand this crazy world that I live in, yet I know she is proud of me. In the three years since she passed I have gained a greater appreciation of her life and the sacrifices she made for me to be successful. There was no going back to Opelousas for her – but my journey there was in many ways part of her journey. It reminded me of the distance we have come as a family. Now I have to learn to internalize that lesson, so that I am better able to appreciate my own achievements and fend off the voices that would urge me to always do more…I am enough.