A Swedish historian once wrote that the curse of modern mankind is that we’ve forgotten how to be content. More, more, more, seems to be the mantra of the day, and it isn’t exactly about material riches only, it is about experiences and adventures, about grabbing the fruit of life and sucking it dry in an effort to ensure we don’t miss out on anything.
These days, it isn’t quite enough to say “I want to be a mother”. Eyebrows will rise, lips will twist into a little smirk. Sometimes out of jealousy – heck, who can afford to be “only” a mother these days? Sometimes out of pity – how sad a life is that, to be content with having kids? Mind you, it works both ways:
“What? You don’t want kids?” says High Achiever nr 1 to High Achiever nr 2.
“Not really,” says our HA nr 2. “I think they would cramp my style, you know?”
“You’ll regret it,” HA warns. “Kids are the meaning of life.”
“Um,” says HA nr 2, thinking that so far HA nr 1 hasn’t exactly given the impression she lives for her kids, rather it’s more along the lines of HA nr 1 being alive despite the kids.
“Well,” HA nr 1 tosses her hair (I just love hair tossers. I practise and practise, but can’t quite get it right). “I suppose not everyone’s up to the challenge, huh?” And with that excellent put-down she swans off, not about to admit that there are days when she wants to sit in a corner and scream, so tired does her present life make her.
I wanted to be a mother. I wanted a career. I needed somewhere for my kids to be while I was at work. Which was how I ended up juggling a more than full-time job with four kids and the overall management of a daycare-centre. I also wanted to write, to read history, to bake, to cook, to see my friends, to exercise, to plant a huge garden, to redecorate the house, to… One day, it all became too much.
At the time, I was working as a financial director at a mid-size company. To me, debits and credits are a child’s play, numbers speak to me, so to say. Until the day when I looked at the Balance Sheet and had no idea what I was looking at. That, people, was the start of a couple of very scary months – a period in time during which I was quite convinced I would never regain my mental equilibrium.
“You can’t burn your candle both ends,” my therapist said, peering at me over her glasses. Well excuse me: sometimes one HAS to burn the candle both ends, as there’s no way to make the gigantic puzzle called “modern life” work without doing so.
Mrs Therapist smiled and said, “Time is the one thing all of us have enough of.” Clearly Mrs Therapist lived an entirely different existence from mine.
In actual fact, Mrs Therapist was right – to a point. Time is the single resource that all of us have in equal quantities. Unfortunately, some of us have to spend 50% of that time working so as to pay the bills. Others can expend the same time twiddling their thumbs and considering whether to get a pedicure. Add to this the constant bombardment through media of things we should do, places we should visit, gadgets we should buy, clothes we should wear, hobbies we should cultivate, and there’s very little time left for the simple pleasures – such as lying on your back in the summer grass and staring at the sky.
Over the last few decades, life as we know it has picked up exponentially in speed. But we haven’t. We’re not that far removed from our cave-dwelling ancestors, and while intellectually most of us cope with smart phones and all that, emotionally we’re light-years behind, still trying to comprehend what happened to afternoons spent in desultory conversation over a cup of tea, mornings in which not a single beep from your phone disturbed the peace. So sometimes, we just can’t cope. We retire into a corner and try to pull the jagged edges of our frayed soul together again.
Man -and woman – is resilient. We emerge from our self-imposed isolation and throw ourselves back into the hectic pulse of everyday life. One could hope there’d be a lesson learnt, an ambition to take life slower. There often is, but it’s difficult to live slower when everyone else is living faster, and besides, there’s so much stuff to do! Fun stuff, like learning how to scuba dive, or how to dance a tango with a rose stuck in your mouth. Important stuff, like how to activate multiple languages in your iPhone, or how one handles the bank account over internet. Books to read, TV shows to watch, news to absorb, new technology to adopt, kids to raise, food to cook, house to run… No wonder that candle is burning at both ends!
These days, my kids are grown. They do their own shopping, laundry, cooking. I concentrate on my work and my writing – or maybe it’s my writing and my work. The day does not have enough hours for all I want to do, and seriously, who wants to settle for “content”? But there are times when something deep inside of me groans in protest, whispering “too much, too much.”
I choose to ignore these little warnings. Life is too short, I think, waving away that irritating little voice that tries to tell me that sometimes one must make a choice – or break in two. I want it all, dear readers. I want the rush and pace of my professional life, I want the utter creative bliss of writing. I want the sun and the moon – and sometimes the stars.
I’m not an entire idiot: I know that I will have to choose – someday. But not today. Not tomorrow. Some other day – maybe.