Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The week I tried to have it all (and why it sucked)

Today is International Women's Day, so I thought this was the perfect time to discuss being a woman. I know it isn't something I'm forbidden to speak about the other 364 days a year, but I recently tried an experiment, and its findings seem relevant on a day like today.

If you ask a woman what the three most important things in her life are, she'd probably have a hard time answering you. We all have so much going on, it's sometimes hard to put a number on anything in our lives, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say a pretty popular answer would be family, friends and financial security. That's just a total stab in the dark (and probably what I'd say if asked). But these are three very big things, and they can be hard things to juggle. Some women have an ability to do just that, and make it look easy too, but I don't think I've ever been that woman. If my career is going well, my housework is suffering, as are my friendships. If my family life is taking up my focus, my work ethic goes out the window, along with my cleaning schedule. (Let's face it, I'll take any excuse not to clean up after myself.) I've never been able to find that perfect balance, and I will quite often choose to sit on the couch and drink coffee rather than actually do any of the things on my mile long to do list. I'm an expert procrastinator, just ask me. (But not right now ok, I'm too busy staring at my eye worms.)

But recently I wanted to find out whether or not it is indeed possible to have all the things. I wanted to know whether there was a way to be the perfect woman we always see in the media. She's impeccably groomed, she has time for coffee with the girlfriends, she has wholesome home cooked meals on the table every single night, and I'm sure she's a tiger in the sack too, but they never really show that part during prime time television for some reason... So I decided to become that woman for a while, to step into her shoes and find out exactly how the hell it is she does all the things the television says she does. I was hoping that I'd find some secret formula to all of this, which I could then rush off and share to all of my female friends who at the end of the day always look the same as me; exhausted, overwhelmed and not a little bit crazed. So for one week I decided to become the "perfect" woman, I was going to be everything for everyone. I was to be the perfect mother, the perfect daughter, the perfect sister, the perfect housekeeper and the perfect employee. I'm sure you've all already guessed how this turned out.

In order to be the perfect mother, I decided I couldn't reprimand Miss K too strongly. You would never see a TV mum calling her kids bone headed for sticking their finger in the fan, so neither would I. (I did giggle while I was comforting her though, which is also something you'd never see a TV mum doing.) You'd never see her sending her kids off to school with junk food in their lunch boxes or serving convenience meals for dinner, so neither would I. All meals for the week were to be healthy and well thought out. There was to be nothing artificial pass our lips at all during this time. And all this meant was a lot more time spent in the kitchen for me. Of course there were some moments of pride like the night my carbonara fettucini turned out really well, or the day Miss K and I made popcorn for her lunches (no salt or butter though, that's just too unhealthy) but for the most part all I remember is pruny fingers from having my hands in dishwater, and sweat pouring off me while I slaved over the stove in 30 degree heat (86 degrees farenheit for my American friends) which immediately made me regret not trying this experiment in the winter when my kitchen is my favourite place in the house simply because of all the heat I can generate at once. I will say the time spent with Miss K at the end of the day as we ate our dinner without watching television, and cleaned the kitchen together were pretty pleasant when I wasn't stressing that she wasn't eating her vegetables, or was taking too long to dry the dishes (mainly because she was turning the cutlery into people), but listening to her constant chatter was always guaranteed to make me smile.

Being the perfect daughter was more of a challenge for me, because I'm pretty much perfect already. (I can hear my mum laughing at this statement already.) but I figured that given I know one of mum's biggest pet peeves in the world is a dirty kitchen, all the time I spent in there keeping it pristine would have made her pretty happy. Plus she had a whole week off from having to cook food, which is something all mum's dream of. (Trust me, I know.) I felt bad that I couldn't think of anything earth shattering to do to assert my role as the perfect child, so I had to take comfort in the little things like a (mostly) edible meal sitting in the microwave every single night, and a block of cheese in the fridge for her midnight snacks at all time. It clearly worked though, because she literally just called me a dick, so I'm obviously the favourite child right now.

As for perfect sister and perfect employee, they kind of ended up being rolled into one, as I spent the week helping my big sister who is trying to get a business off the ground. I'm hoping that by getting in at the ground floor, I'll be in for easy money once she's a millionaire. So for this part of my role, I spent my week studying up on contract law, and drawing up terms and conditions as well as a refund policy for her new business. I also drew up a business plan for her, and got started on the registration process for taxes and other boring stuff. Believe it or not this was actually the most fun part of my week, which makes more sense when I tell you I do my budget for fun, and I can write up legal documents in my sleep. This was also the area where I felt the most useful. There are definitely times where I miss being in a work environment, so having a chance to play secretary for the week was rewarding.

One of the things I learned throughout this week is that it takes a hell of a lot of organisation just to be remotely proficient in more than one of these areas. I had more lists running through my head and written down in my organiser than I knew what to do with. I would almost be happy never to see another list again. I also learned that when you're doing everything for everyone else, it is very easy to forget yourself quickly. My own needs eventually became low priority, simply because I can forgive myself for forgetting to shower more than once a week. (Another reason why this would have been a better experiment to do in the dead cold of winter.) I also became very protective of time I put aside for myself. Texts and snapchats suddenly became an intrusion during a time I wished to speak to no one, whereas once upon a time I was happy to be reachable right up to and even sometimes after bedtime. When you put so much of yourself into working for other people, those three hours at the end of the day when kids are finally in bed but you are not become a revered time that you spend all other waking hours dreaming of. When someone dared to take up that time by making me look at photos of their latest trip to the pub I started to feel just the tiniest bit stabby. I could have turned off my phone, but a perfect person probably wouldn't shut themselves off from the world like that.

But where did all of this leave me at the end of the week? It leaves me with a sparkly clean kitchen, a freezer full of pre-prepared meals I can pull out and defrost, it leaves me with lots of lovely memories of times I didn't lose my temper at Miss K like I normally would, and it hopefully leaves her feeling a little bit more secure about her place in my world. But most of all it leaves me feeling over tired and under appreciated. It's not like I went into this looking for praise or accolades, or even that people didn't recognise the hard work I put in during this week. My big sister even forced me to take the weekend off from working for her, simply because I was starting to look like a zombie by the time Thursday rolled around. It was more the feeling that what I just spent a week doing is expected as the bare minimum for women these days. We're expected to go find work outside of the house, plus keep doing the work we've always done inside the house, and look like a million dollars the whole time. I simply couldn't keep this up for much longer before I needed a week at the local psych ward. I definitely understand why women turn to alcohol.

 I certainly don't feel perfect right now, if anything I feel less perfect than I did before I started. It served to highlight all of the areas in my life where I don't balance things properly when I'm not watching myself, which is always a cheerful thing to think about. But I definitely came out of this with a newly found respect for women everywhere who do this for more than one week at a time. For the women out there who this is necessary each and every single day. Be it because they simply don't have the support network I am fortunate to have around me, or because they find doing all of this rewarding, instead of exhausting, or even simply because they want to prove that it can be done; I still think you're slightly mad, but I salute you anyway.

Now if you'll excuse me, this perfectly imperfect woman has just earned herself a perfectly long nap.
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