Is There Room For a Past?

Thanks to an extra dose of coffee and motivation, I decided to tackle my bedroom closet the other day. Not being a remarkably organized person, I have a habit of throwing assorted bits and pieces of my life into those big plastic Target containers which I then label Miscellaneous. The tubs are later shoved towards the back of my closet for a future generation of grandchildren to sort through upon my death.

Sadly, these bins had become so plentiful that I was unable to squeeze even my tiny vacuum into its regular spot in the closet. Time to purge. I called Goodwill and arranged a pick-up of clothes, toys, and other charitable-worthy items. Old paperwork, bills, and magazines faced the recycle bin.

When I opened the very last container, I was surprised to find a stack of my old day planners. I smiled and couldn’t resist flipping through a few heavily-scheduled weeks of my professional life. There were trips to London and New York and Bermuda. There were meetings with CFO Magazine and Crain’s Chicago. Conference calls. Staff meetings. Budget sessions. It was like I had done a Narnia-style trip through my closet and had arrived back in the strange and exotic world of Before I Had Kids.

For kicks, I pulled out my current calendar. Baseball games. Piano practices. Report card pick-ups. Not a single event required me to wear a suit or heels. Or even take a shower, really.

I continue to be humbled and amazed by the women who maintain two of these kinds of calendars. Fly to London, arrive home, go to a kid’s baseball game. Spend eight hours working on a department budget, come home, and make sure the kids practice their piano and do their homework. I fear that for me, no cup of coffee in the world would have given me that kind of gumption. I tried for a while to keep all those balls in the air: career, marriage, children. Yet I kept dropping things. I forgot meetings. I cried when I took my kids to the store and discovered I’d been shoving their feet into shoes that were two sizes too small. I made my husband feel like Ted Bundy for failing to notice we had run out of baby formula.

I sometimes feel that women diminish the choices of each other. We start comparing struggles, stressors, and scars while assigning value to things that are highly subjective and personal. What works for one mom might not work for the next. What brings fulfillment and joy to one woman could break another. Finances, partner support, and job flexibility throw a whole different set of variables into the equation. The endless debate of who has it harder, the working mom versus the stay at home mom, is akin to arguing over a favorite color. The answer depends on the woman and the situation.

A work friend of mine gave me grief several years ago about not keeping my skill set up for a return to work. I told her I had developed new expertise in the areas of boogar-removal and butt-wiping. Oddly enough, she was not impressed.

In the movie Mona Lisa Smile, Julie Roberts tells an entire class of 1950s Wellesley women to aspire to great heights and achievement. The girls look beyond the traditional roles of women, and give thought to the message of their teacher. Yet my favorite scene is when one of the young women, excited about being newly engaged with dreams of a family, turns to her mentor as she relentlessly pushes her to continue on to law school. The student finally responds:

To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.

I closed up my old day-planners and debated whether I should toss them or put them back in the tub of miscellaneous. Was there any point in keeping this record of years gone by? Did I need to let my past disappear into the recycle bin so I could secure a little extra room in my crammed closet?

I surveyed the small pile.

The day planners went back in the closet.

And I gave away all my size eight skirts instead.

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