Superwoman and the Impossible Dream
I sit in the middle of a half-painted room.
Green painter’s tape encases the semi-white trim of my stairwell. A gallon of Swiss Coffee paint sits opened two feet from me, a two-inch paint brush on the newspaper-covered floor next to me.
I am tired.
Two years ago, David and I remodeled our kitchen. We took out a wall, replaced the cabinets, and painted it – white.
White has a dramatic effect on a small house. The walls look cleaner, less enclosing, somehow. And when I saw the kitchen results, when I realized how much white opened up the room I spend the most time in, I thought, maybe I should keep going with this color.
So I did. I stretched the Sandstone Cove into the hallway and down the stairs.
But I got tired.
So, when two of my dearest friends curled up on our living room sectional last week, one of them, a brilliant decorator, a gifted hostess who teaches me about grace, forgiveness, and warmth, who makes everyone feel at home, said,
Was this room painted this color when you moved in?
I looked over to the reddish-tan dining room with three oddly placed white patches.
Yes, I admitted. Never got so far as to fixing this room.
There were lots of reasons we’d waited. David and I have learned the hard way that toddlers and main area renovations bring our family to the brink of breakdown. In May 2010, after we learned why kitchen renos have forced some couples to divorce, we made a pact not to attempt the rest of the main floor until Elliana was four. Perhaps by then she’d stop running the chair into the wall. Perhaps by then she’d keep her hands away from wet paint. Perhaps by then we’d have money to do all the other things we wanted to do besides paint – floor, furniture, and curtains.
We were wrong – about all of those things.
She still gouges holes in the wall.
She still loves to touch wet paint.
And we don’t have that money yet.
Well, that’ s not quite true. We’d chosen to spend money on other things – education, vacations, IKEA storage for homeschool supplies.
…Books, iTunes, hockey tickets, and a piano.
Some people might think our choices irresponsible, impulsive, and poor planning.
We might have said similar things half a decade ago.
But cancer changes everything. What was once guaranteed is now everything but certain. All those things we worried about, planned for, stressed about providing for, now might not ever happen.
Life has limits. Our years don’t go on forever. Our health doesn’t go on forever. Money doesn’t go on forever.
And we can only push ourselves so hard.
A few weeks ago I read a lengthy but brilliant, heart-wrenching but heart-warming article entitled, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. Moving, wistful, and fully aware of our limits, the article’s author, a former Washington DC bigwig, admits that perhaps everything we ever dreamed of is still just a dream, and the feminist push of the last few decades might really have been just a farce.
You can do it all! might just be another great big lie we’ve told ourselves.
Because, let’s be honest. We can not do it all.
David often tells me he wishes we had thirty hours in a day instead of twenty-four. Think of what I could do in that time, he muses. Think of how much fun we could have – how many places we could go, how much money we could make,
how many rooms we could paint.
After my friends left last week, I looked at my patched-up wall and thought about what they said. You might not be able to do the floors now. But you could paint. Painting doesn’t take much time.
I paused. The last twelve months have taught me that I get more tired than other people, that when I take on extra things, I often fail to recognize the emotional and physical toll it will take on my body, on my spirit,
on my family.
And I hate starting something I can’t finish immediately.
But what if that was the point?
The patched-up wall has been patched up almost four years now. Horrifying to some of you, I know. But I was okay with it. I was okay looking at it and knowing that someday, when we were ready to take it all on, we would.
And I could wait.
Or I could do some of it now.
I could take an hour and paint one coat of the trim. I could take two and do a coat of the walls. I could tackle it five feet at a time. I’d just have to wash the paint brushes really well,
and be okay with a work in progress.
And aren’t we all just works in progress?
See, the disease women have today – and perhaps men as well, but since I have no Y chromosome, I will speak only for my double-X friends who are addicted to over-activity like myself- is that we believe the revolutions of the last two hundred years demand that our ability to choose what to do with our time, our careers, our families, our children, our homes, our money, requires that we choose to do it ALL. If we don’t, we believe we’re somehow letting down our families, our fellow women, and all those who fought for equality before us.
We forget that those before us fought for choice,
not an enslavement to every responsibility on the planet.
For example, I can work out of the home, if I choose, if I deem that choice best for my family. I can choose to stay home, if I deem that the best decision for my family. I can work part-time to limit the time I’m away from my children. I can send them to day care, relatives, or hire a nanny. I can do any or all of these things well, and still be a good wife, and still raise responsible, secure, mature children.
I can also pursue hobbies. I can read books, I can write this blog, I can bike, hike and do Pilates. I can go shopping, meet friends for coffee, and volunteer in my church or community.
I can (learn) to cook, make great food, and lose weight.
But not all of those things. Not at once.
A brilliant friend of ours once blogged on the importance of TV watching to a marriage. Before you dismiss the idea, you should check out this post. Andrew’s point is that there are a few resources in the world that have limits.
Time is one of them.
Our minutes, hours, days can only be spent doing one thing at a time.
That’s hard for us multi-taskers to accept. We like to think we do ten things at once. And sometimes we do. But most of the time, we do each of those ten things with only 1/10th of our attention, and it takes ten times as long to finish each one.
Time has limits.
But we don’t tend to like limits.
Today we say, I can do that, and that, and that… and maybe that. I can have the perfect house, the perfect children, the perfect career, and the perfect body.
Oh boy, ladies. What a giant piece of… lie.
So, in the spirit of telling the truth…
We can’t do it all.
We can’t have it all.
But maybe that’s what makes life so beautiful. We can’t have it all. We can’t do it all, so what we do choose to have and do changes us and our world. Scarce resources force us to define
who we are,
what we care about,
and where we wish to go.
I stare at my half-painted wall.
It looks kind of beautiful.
I tear the green painter’s tape off of the section of trim I’ve finished.
It looks even more beautiful. Half-done.
I won’t let it stay this way, but I’m okay with waiting. I’m okay with being half-done.
(Suddenly I no longer feel tired.)
Perhaps that’s the spirit of the new superwoman. That’s the possible dream – not waiting until we’re done to be happy; not waiting until we’re finished to rest.
The new superwoman expects one thing of herself – to be comfortable with the process.
To be comfortable with choice.
And let’s be honest: it is really our discomfort with choice that makes us want to do it all.
Doing it all means we don’t have to make a choice.
Embrace your choices.
Embrace your limits. (They are gifts!)
Let inactivity become discipline. Let frivolity become wisdom.
And love your half-done lives.
Imagine what they’ll look like when you’re really finished.
Well said, perception of what we think those around us are thinking drive our choices far more than we would like to admit.
Too true… I really need to think about that every day, every hour… to have the courage to do what I’m supposed to do, regardless of what others expect of me. Who is the authority on my to-do list? I had a great discussion with a friend last night in which we analyzed our peer-driven culture and asked, why should peers be the authority on our to-do list?!
I think when we realize we can’t do it all, we are freed to do more things that matter. This is beautiful – here’s to freedom!
Amen, sister… here’s to freedom! I heartily agree – embracing our limits doesn’t mean we become lazy, heartless, or give up… it means we can concentrate on what we’re SUPPOSED to do, as in what each of us is uniquely called to do… and if we could only give permission for each other to be called to different things… wow, that would be a much freer world!
Wow Lana. Your posts always touch me and speak new wisdom into my days but this one hits me right at the heart. Thank you for speaking this truth into my day today. We are heading on a mini vacation this weekend and I plan to bring these words with me to think on and seek the Lord’s wisdom in. To be comfortable with the half done. To be confident in the choices. I am a “do it all” lady and yet that drive in me is harmful at times. Thank so much for your honestly.
PS. Please tell David hi for Jeremy and I too.
“The new superwoman expects one thing of herself – to be comfortable with the process.”
Thanks for this, friend. It’s true, but hard, and it resonates loudly with my life that’s so much in transition at the moment. Interestingly enough, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how I’d like to hire painters once we buy our new home so that it can all get done in a few days and then IT WILL BE DONE and we can live in it. Ha. We’ll see what happens …
Rebecca: By all means, hire those painters! Especially if it blesses you to concentrate on things that matter!!! If I could have done that, I would have too!!! This is my compromise 😉 Look forward to seeing you all in person soon.
Christy: I’m so glad this meant something for you. You’re so right, sometimes our drive can be harmful… bless you in your decision to be comfortable with the half done and confident in your choices. My experience has shown that choosing to be comfortable with the process blesses my family too! Hope your mini-vacation is restful, restorative, and full of joy. Hugs to you and your family, from all of us.
That was beautifully written and so true! All of us need to hear that message. Very heartfelt!
Thanks! Maybe if I tell myself this enough it will really sink in. I hope so, anyhow. In a way, blogging is a form of accountability for me. I’ve put it out there, so now I can’t go running off and taking on the world again, because all of you will say, ‘seriously, what are you doing?!’ That’s good for me. Blessings on your weekend! Look forward to seeing you soon!
Thank you for speaking these words. Superwomen have the ability to make those of us who don’t attempt superwomanhood feel very small. I appreciate these words for different reasons than your other readers, perhaps, but still find great truth in them and appreciate your willingness to openly speak truth into a culture that hurts us as women, our husbands, and our children. Keep breathing life into wounded places.
I’m so glad this meant something POSITIVE to you – as it should. I respect your open heart, your honesty, and your willingness to embrace limits. Thank you for modeling that for me. May I have the maturity to give this perfectionist thing up, and embrace LIFE the way I see you do. May you feel very tall today, my friend.
Thanks for this post–I love how clearly you showed us this message both with your interpretation of the subtleties of “having it all,” amidst the story of trying to paint the room. My favourite parts: when you put down the paintbrush half-way through, and felt okay with half-done, and not tired. With kids at home there are so many things that are WORTH doing only half-way so that the IMPORTANT stuff–the eternal, life-changing, life-giving things–get done. The other favourite part: being reminded to read that front page article from the Atlantic. I got it on my e-reader but hadn’t started it yet. Perhaps I’ll start it and leave reading it half-done:)
I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Kalina! The article IS fascinating. And I read it in about five different periods of time, so I think you exercising your choice and being okay with ‘half done’ by taking your time to read it is an excellent use of this point.