My cousin, Laura, once said “You know Claire Huxtable was not cooking and cleaning, but the kids were always fed and the house was always spotless. That’s impossible. It’s false advertising.” Years later, I finally understand her frustration. Okay, here’s the situation…
Claire Huxtable was the epitome of Black Girl Magic. She was an intelligent, accomplished partner at a prestigious law firm; she was tall, thin and beautiful with perfectly coifed hair and make-up on point; plus she was a loving wife and adoring mother of five. She was the ideal woman for thousands of young girls in the 80s and 90s. I didn’t question the attainability of that ideal until many years later.
I was in St. Louis in my cousin’s kitchen admiring how she seemed to be able to do it all. She had three beautiful children, a successful career, a gorgeous, new home, volunteered in her community and still managed to have an active social life while looking flawless. “You are a modern Claire Huxtable,” I joked.
That’s when she proceeded to enlighten me about the real real. She told me how her health had suffered as she packed on 15 pounds. She relayed the story of how she was an hour late to work, because she lost her keys underneath a mountain of school papers she hadn’t gotten around to signing. She went into some personal info that I won’t repeat, but the gist of it was that Claire Huxtable is an impossible standard that no one can fulfill. But I wasn’t convinced.
“I think it’s possible. You just have to be extremely organized,” I offered. I know, Friend. I know. Today’s Tonya wants to reach back to 2005 and smack the taste buds out of that little know-it-all. But I can’t, because she was pregnant. Anyhow, my cousin gave me a look, rolled her eyes, and swallowed the words she wanted to say. I’m not positive, but I think they went something like “How would you know? You don’t have a job!”
Ah, yes. A job. A few weeks ago, I declared definitively that I am a writer. Writing is my passion, and I am now on a journey to make it my paid profession. The first step– just write. Being the genius that I am, I decided to make my new writing resolution at the beginning of September…before a house party…before two birthdays…before the first official gathering at our home since the remodel. Yeah, really freaking smart.
That first week kicked my ass. I kept trying to do all of the things I used to do– cook, clean, exercise, etc.– in addition to incorporating seven hours dedicated to sitting at my desk actively writing. It started off great the first day. I woke up at my usual time (5:00), got all of the housework done, cooked dinner early, set up the new website and even spent gym time with Honey. I felt like Superwoman.
By 11:00, everybody was snuggled in their warm beds. Everybody except me, of course. While those jokers were all snoozing and drooling, I had not even had time to wash away my gym sweat. I was sorting mail, putting away clothes and taking care of the other homeowner responsibilities (bills don’t pay themselves). It was already 1:00 before I dragged my zombified body into the shower. I must have switched to autopilot, because that’s the last thing I remember.
The next morning I woke up to Honey giving me a kiss goodbye. What? It’s 7:00? I slept for nearly 6 hours, but I was still dead tired. Day 2 was drastically different from the day before. There was no time to clean. I sat down in my office immediately to write my first blog post. I expected my fingers to start gliding across the keyboard like a magical unicorn had apparated over my head and sneezed rainbow-colored snot stars onto my hands, then off they’d go. Writing was the easy part, right?
Yeah, right. I was nearly comatose and my body ached (from exhaustion and the workout). Since I could not sift through the muddled thoughts in my head, everything I wrote was crap. I trashed it and started over half a dozen times. The hours disappeared like free communicator badges at a Star Trek convention (such a nerd). I hadn’t even brushed my teeth when the alarm sounded for me to pick up my daughter. I took her to basketball practice expecting to tap out a few good paragraphs on my tablet. I was going to prove that I am a writer, damn it! Instead, I fell asleep slack-jawed with my head wedged between the headrest and window.
That night was similar to the previous night. Honey’s birth week was coming, and I insisted on doing all of the household chores while he took a break from adulting. Fun! I crawled into bed after 2:00 and slept hard. I slept so hard that I didn’t hear my family leave or feel their kisses on my cheek the next morning. By the time I threw the covers off, the sun was peeking through my blinds. Wait. The sun isn’t this high until…yup. It was almost 10:00.
I knew my mind was not equipped to generate novel ideas yet, so I stalled. It’s like waking up an old car. You can still drive it, but you have to perform some maintenance first. I decided to transfer some of my old posts to the new blog site. I was a bit groggy during the editing, but at least I was writing again. By taking away the pressure of creating the world’s greatest blog, I was able to have a little fun with my old posts.
The rest of the week devolved into complete chaos. Our kitchen floor was sticky from who knows what. There was a little fuzz growing around the toilet in the guest bathroom. I was late picking up my daughter. Twice. Dinner…let’s just say we ate. It wasn’t the best food, but we ate. I ran out of deodorant and had B.O. like I was smuggling onions underneath one armpit and garlic underneath the other. Dirty clothes piled up, my desk was cluttered and I kept seeing doubles when I stood, but I didn’t care. I was happy, because I was writing again.
When Friday rolled around, I walked out to my car wearing a pair of paint-stained sweatpants, a team mom hoodie and flip-flops…without underwear. It would have been fine if I had just jumped in the car, grabbed the girl and returned home, but nah. That’s not how I roll. After I picked up Lil Sweetie, I walked into the grocery store, full commando and high-beaming like a boss. I’m sure my hair looked like a charcoal cotton ball was stretched across my forehead, but I did not care. I had stomped my feet, folded my arms and screamed the universe down. I am a writer, damn it!
That weekend, I rested and readied myself for week 2, in between the first basketball games of the season (I told you it was poor timing). I finally gave up the notion that I could keep living my same old life AND allow space for my writing. It just wasn’t gonna happen. Something had to go. Better yet, I had to have a hard look at my goals and prioritize the actions that I needed to take to achieve those goals. That list looks something like this:
- Write. In order to turn my passion into my career, I have to write like it’s already my job. Even if it’s not good, just write. It will get better.
- Family time. When they are available, be with them.
- Self care. Brush your teeth and take a shower daily. Everything else is optional. (Don’t judge me)
- Cook. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just edible…healthy is a bonus.
- Exercise. At least 3 times a week visit the gym. Taking walks (when it’s not raining) or doing jumping jacks every hour is a nice supplement.
- Laundry. We need clean clothes, so be like Nike.
- House keeping. No one but me gives a great beaver’s dam that our house is pristine. As long as it gets cleaned once a week, it will be okay. No bugs, no problems.
In retrospect, I should probably put self care in second place.
Laura, girl, you were right. I cannot even pretend to know how you managed working outside the house before you began telecommuting. There is no way Claire Huxtable was able to be Claire Huxtable without a team of personal assistants, a chef and housekeeper. There are literally not enough hours in the day. It’s frustrating to grow up thinking that you have to be a supernaturally perfect person in order to be successful. It’s even more frustrating when other women continue to uphold these standards for themselves and their peers.
I commend you and all working mothers (especially single moms) for staying on the grind. As a retired SAHM switching to the role of a working (from home) mom, I apologize. Reality hit me with a flying judo kick to the face before I finally understood what you meant. Now, I get it. I promise to do my part to abolish the fallacy of the ideal woman.
If you need me, I’ll be in this corner savoring my slice of humble pie.