We have an au pair. Yes, we have officially become that family. The one I only ever heard about in books and movies. The one I’ve heard people talk scathingly about and judge for ‘outsourcing’ their responsibilities. The one my husband has been suggesting we evolve into for years and I have stubbornly, dragged my feet (and my adrenals), kicking and screaming as I insisted, No, No, No, I could do it all, I would do it all, and in fact, I should do it all. I cannot do it all. My body has made it very clear that I should not be doing it all. And most importantly I’ve discovered, I do not actually want to do it all, not alone anyway. I’m not a very nice person when I’m doing it all.
I wonder about this idea, this weird expectation I have of myself to do it all, where it came from, how I cultivated it, and just how alarmingly common it is. Did I learn it from watching, well, initially I wanted to type women, but I’ve seen it in many of the men in my life as well: This valiant attempt to do it all, alone, as if this overwhelming responsibility was somehow a badge of honour we have to strive to earn, and that will somehow prove to the world how strong we are. As if somehow, stopping to rest was a weakness, a personal failure. Busyness equals success; needing help, a shameful character flaw.
I’ve listened to my grandmother talk about the challenges in her life; complain about the awful things that have happened to her but she refuses to ask for help, refuses to accept any help. She took her own life.
I watched my mother get up and clean the house hours after a surgery for endometriosis.
‘Aren’t you meant to be resting?’ I asked curious, her abdomen like a slowly deflating bouncy castle from all the air they had pumped inside in order to complete the procedure.
‘How are you?’ I ask my Mother-In-Law.
‘Busy, busy, busy, always busy, always something to do.’ There is pride there as she touches her dark brown hair in a way that makes me think she is 16 years old and still self-conscious. But there is something else too, a sharpness in her eye I can’t quite understand. Resentment, anger, confusion, I don’t know, or maybe that’s my own reflection looking back at me. I don’t understand it. I do it, don’t get me wrong. I’m the first to blast my husband with a tirade of complaints and panicked instructions when company comes over, heaven forbid, they discover we do something so daring as actually live in our house, rather than move around it as though it were a museum. I want my house to look like a magazine cover. I want to be the best mother, I’d like to just say that I could be, but that’s not entirely true, I would like to be the best mother in the world, without of course diminishing any other women, or their choices, as if those two possibilities could actually co-exist, and as if one of those was even remotely a possibility, but my sweet, little insecure self desperately wants to be good at this. She wants to be good at everything. She wants to play the piano, like a concert pianist – it drives her nuts that she can’t even play jingle bells yet, and she has been working on it for nearly 3 months now. She wants to be wildly successful – at what, she doesn’t really care, just as long as she’s wildly successful. She wants to ride horses and rock climb, and dance in a way that turns
I want my house to look like a magazine cover. But I want my family to feel comfortable to do what they want to do in our home. I want to be the best mother that ever existed, without diminishing any other women or their choices, as if those two possibilities could actually co-exist. And my sweet, little insecure self desperately wants to be good at everything. She wants to play the piano, like a concert pianist – it drives her nuts that she can’t even play jingle bells yet, and she has been working on it for nearly 3 months now. She wants to be wildly successful – at what, she doesn’t really care, just as long as she’s wildly successful. She wants to ride horses and rock climb, and dance in a way that turns people’s heads. She wants to be noticed. She wants people to be amazed by her fabulousness, by how much she can do, by how much she has achieved, because then… well then, she will be… enough. Nobody else has to achieve such high standards, that’s ridiculous, un-livable, and unlovable – thanks autocorrect, but point taken. But me, no, I’m not enough, not the way I am. I’m too tall, I’m too short. I’m not pretty enough. I’m too fat. And sometimes too skinny. I’m not smart enough. Not accomplished enough. I’m not finished. I’m a work in progress and I want to be able to tick that off my list. To say, okay, I’m done, now what. But I’m never done. Just like my laundry.
So in an effort to embrace this ‘work-in-progress’ that I am and this ‘work-in-progress’ life that I have, that will really only be done when I’m dead – and even then I’ll still want to argue that it wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t good enough, I’m learning to embrace the fact that I cannot do it alone, I should not do it alone, and that I do not want to do it alone. In fact, I’m going to not only ask for help (really, can I do that? How do I do that? Eek), I’m going to invite people into my very messy, not nearly as ‘well-finished’ as I’d like life, and ask them to embrace the madness, my madness, and dive in. My sweet, little insecure self is panicking, but the rest of me is relieved.
So, big deep breath, (she says as if this were her first AA meeting) we have an au pair, and a part-time nanny. And I’m going to give the part of me that is already getting defensive and wanting to justify and explain all of our reasons for why we made this decision a great big hug and say simply that I love them and they make my life happy. They make all of our lives happy. There is finally enough space, for all of our needs to be heard, not always met, but at least heard. Life unfurls differently every day, there are more ideas, more possibilities, and while this makes my inner control freak want to scream, I am learning to hand her a pillow to scream into and enjoy the unexpected. The most delicious thing about it all, though, is that I no longer feel alone, I’m part of a team. And yes the team may shift and change which is sometimes very painful, (but that’s a story for another day), as a team we hold the change together, move together, like a wave dancing with the shore.