Riding in the car alone, I vacillate between silence and music and news on the radio, depending on my mood. Last week I was scanning through the channels when two buzz words stopped my hasty fingers. “Balanced Life” caused my sensors to zero quickly in on the words vibrating through the speakers, as this is a subject that I struggle with more and more.
The radio announcer did not offer a magic solution. In fact, he was advertising for a service that allows a person to view their PCs desktop from another computer. I reached to scan some more, when he stopped me again by suggesting there is no such thing as a balanced life anymore, but that we can live an integrated life. No need to sit late in the office finishing work; go home, be with your family, snuggle with your kids beside you doing their homework while you work from your laptop with access to your office computer. The idea stirred strong negative emotions and left me with a vision of parenting half way; of being home but not present; of faking it.
I shut the radio off and drove with the idea swirling irritably in my head for a while. Must we be always working? Does sitting shoulder to shoulder with our children while our heads are elsewhere count as quality time? Does 'no excuse not to work' technology give us an excuse not to parent?The more I thought about it, the more I realized that our lives have become overly integrated. Nothing is compartmentalized anymore.
“I think God creates the spirit and gives it a body, and then He picks the parents that sort of look similar, makes sure they would be good parents of course, and sends them that spirit as a baby.” Cadence tells me, while drizzling too much syrup over her pancakes the next morning.
“Hmmm, could be.” I tell her as I stuff her lunch money into her backpack. I sign her “pick up note” and slip it into her backpack as well. “I always thought He created the baby spirit, then chose the right parents and made the baby to look similar to those parents.” I tell her, reaching for the bird seed to silence the noisy, feathered ones calling for breakfast. “But what’s really cool is how I got picked to be your mother. I mean, of all of the jobs on the planet, how the heck did I get the best one?” I ask, opening the cage door to fill the seed bowl.
“Well, I could have gotten any mom and He gave me the best one, that’s for sure.” She counters. “He must have known you’d be the best mom for me and I am sure lucky. Of course I did get those brothers though.” She laments, guzzling a glass of milk.
“Well, it is sometimes hard to live with boys but God must have planned to teach me something by being their mother, too.” I tell her.
“Guys are just so different from us. They don’t think the same. What was God thinking?” She asks through pancakes.
“I think He did have a plan.” I tell her and proceeded to explain. “In very early times, there were no grocery stores or places to go to get what was needed to live. God equipped us with what we needed and gave men and women different natural gifts. Men were made a little bigger and stronger to hunt for food. He made them with minds that stayed in a straight line so they could stay focused on that one thing; feeding their family. I think, maybe, he also made their hearts a little harder because they needed to be able to go out to kill that animal for food. Looking at that animal’s face and then killing it wouldn’t be easy with a very soft heart.” The vegetarian in Cadence was about to interrupt, but she pushed back in her chair, seeing that I was on a roll.
“Women in early times had a very different job. He made them soft and gentle so that they could care for babies and gave them minds that could whiz back and forth between caring for the children and making them clothes and growing their vegetables. The woman was known as the Gatherer and the man as the Hunter and their jobs were very clearly different.”
“But now we have stores and cars so men don’t have to hunt and women don’t have to stay home to grow vegetables and sew clothes,” Cadence points out, the wheels of her mind turning behind her eyes.
“Actually,” I continue, hardly aware that this is a conversation anymore, “we’ve really muddied the waters.”
“The waters?” Cadence asks, seeing I have gone off track.
“Well, over time and with the invention of things like stores and cars and technology, we realized that the jobs can be done by both men and women. Women do not have to stay home and sew and are smart enough to do the jobs men do; Smarter even,” I wink at her. “And men, while they still like to make a way to feed their family with their jobs, are capable of doing the home things that women do. We have crossed over into what was the other’s territory and it is no longer clear. While women are still expected to be the gatherers and juggle a million things, they are also expected to harden their hearts sometimes to compete in the work world. And men, who are still expected to hunt for the family with their jobs, are expected to take their straight thinking brains and bounce them around being gatherers.”
I pause for a moment, coming to a very clear place in the muddy water. “That’s it! That’s the problem!” I look directly at her. “You helped me solve what I have been struggling with. The problem is that we are expecting each other to be able to cross over and to do it well. We are expecting each other to be capable of everything. We are expecting there to be no difference in how men and women do the same thing, but there is a huge difference and we need to accept that! It is expecting clear sailing in muddy water that leads to frustration. Thank you, Cadence; you have just helped me sort out a big life problem!”
“Okaaay,” Cadence looks at me like I’ve gone completely mad, “I don’t know what I did, but you’re welcome.” She answers and reminds me that the bus will be coming any minute.
I send her off feeling a sense of accomplishment. I know that I would not be happy to go back in time. I know I would never trade places with my grandmother, and I am sure today won’t be any more balanced than yesterday. Tossing the last of the laundry into the washer and pushing start, I grab my briefcase and coffee to head off for the hunt.
For now, some integration will have to do. It’s OK with me that I do not have any solutions to the problem. Sometimes, the answer comes in just being able to identify the problem; to accept that the water is muddy, and to navigate with compassion.