Things are slowly starting to pick up after the Christmas break. In Australia, nobody has commented on my French accent, and it’s pure bliss. In London, I keep being reminded that I am ‘different’. What I particularly hate is when my interlocutor pretends he (Let’s face it: it’s usually a he) doesn’t understand what I am saying. It hasn’t happened in Sydney, which makes me wonder what is wrong with British men (selective hearing maybe?). Obviously, according to them, we French women are supposed to ‘have it all’. We must look like a trophy wife, but we must also be strong-minded and financially independent. What a load of codswallop!
Come to think of it, this ‘having-it-all’ concept is really getting on my nerves right now. It must have something to do with middle-age. In no particular order, I am supposed to be beautiful, stylish, thin, independent, intelligent and healthy of course. Not to mention a good mother/wife/friend/cook/coach/taxi/business woman, etc. Here is a newsflash for everybody: I only have 24 hours a day. My life is already pretty full-on. And I am far from perfect.
As we were working long hours on a new project the other day, one of the (British) assistants cracked a joke:
‘But Muriel, you are French! With the hours you are working you wouldn’t be able to have a torrid love affair.’
Here we go again, I thought. How very un-French…
‘Darling, I couldn’t even have a lukewarm one…’ I replied.
The joke hadn’t cheered me up. And my response was just the sad truth. So much for being French.
I know, I know, it’s pathetic. I am pathetic. In fact, I can barely keep the family together, especially with no less than two moody teenagers to manage as best as I can, and a high-flying husband (literally- he flies all the time). Don’t get me wrong, I am very fortunate: I don’t have to make the grim choices faced by some of us, I can pretty much live and work wherever I want, and get some help if need be. Yes, I have it all. But doing all of it at the same time was never the idea. No wonder we women are exhausted.
What am I talking about? Well, still today, there is still a strong pressure on women to have a career and children. If you don’t, you will be told that (take your pick) that you are not a real woman OR that you are a lazy lump. You can’t win. Obviously, you need to do everything without support, with a smile on your face and while looking fabulous. And don’t you dare be too educated or too intelligent: it’s scary, and no partner will fall in love with you. Even if you are French. As a woman, there will always be something wrong with you anyway: too fat, too arrogant, too outspoken… As for what you have to endure, you will be told to suck it up. That’s just what everybody expects from you. Enough!
I remember coming back to work while still breastfeeding my younger daughter. A meeting overran, and I could feel some milk popping out of my breast. I was clearly living the dream. Not to mention that I wasn’t able to sit properly for a couple of months because of an episiotomy (How glamorous is this? Ah, memories…). Try also traveling for work while you have a sick child at home and nobody to care for him/her. What do you do? How do you progress your career? Can you progress it? I sometimes wonder where I would be if I hadn’t become a mom. I will never know. Anyway, I was too busy dealing with projectile vomiting, nappy-changing and helping to prepare exams to think too hard about it. Life is about making choices. I made mine.
I have spent days on end baking cakes, attending PTA meetings and obsessing about schools and unis. And I have continued to work as best as I could. Truth be told, it feels like I can’t do anything completely right. And it sucks. That’s what having it all is about.
But hey, I have kept my sense of humour (I hope!) and built enough resilience to run marathons. Surely that counts for something…
So here is my take on ‘having it all’: I am having none of it.