I’ve decided to kick my inner Superwoman to the curb. I’m evicting her. Giving her the pink slip. Adios. See ya later. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I’ve been thinking about severing ties with her for a while, but like any long term, codependent relationship, saying goodbye is hard to do. We’ve had a few trial separations, but I always let her back into my life – offering to bake two dozen cupcakes for the class Valentine’s Day party last year, even though my mammogram was the same day; gluing together twenty two pilgrim hats and rushing them to the school, even though my son was home sick. You get the picture.
I had my first inkling that Superwoman was no good for me when my oldest son, Drew, was just three months. I promised myself that I would go back to work as a creative services freelancer when he hit that three month mark, but I didn’t earn enough to pay for childcare – that left working at home as the only option. But, my inner Superwoman wouldn’t let me work while Drew was awake. No, she said that when he was awake, I had to be entertaining and engaging him every moment. Oh, and I couldn’t work while he was napping, because I had to do laundry or clean the bathroom during those precious hours. So, I stayed up all night proofreading massive corporate manuscripts, before Fed Ex picked them up in the morning, taking a break only to breastfeed. I felt guilty when I was only able to keep up that pace for a few assignments – I was falling over with exhaustion, but that didn’t make it any easier to stop working.
I should have told her to scram back then, over a decade ago. I probably would have been a lot happier in the ensuing years. I might not have stayed up all night sewing a George Washington costume by hand, after spending all day scouring craft stores for felt and something (anything!) that could double as a white puffy wig. I ended up winding curly white doll hair around the inside of a triangle hat I had crafted out of stiff black felt, tying it with a ribbon at the back. I slit the front of a black sweatshirt, sewing down “lapels” and made a vest out of a red t-shirt. Sure, my kid looked amazing and the teachers gushed, but would he have been any worse off had I ordered a costume from the Internet? Of course not, but that wouldn’t have impressed anyone. Now that costume is lying at the bottom of his closet – never worn again.
How did Superwoman get such a grip on me? When did she move in and decide to stay? I was always a perfectionist, never happy until a project was perfect. This unfortunately also led me to be a world-class procrastinator. Because being perfect is so overwhelming, I would do anything to avoid class projects and later on writing assignments for magazines. I always boasted that I did better on a deadline – the adrenaline got my fingers flowing over the keyboard. But, honestly was I really better off in my twenties staying up until 5:00 am the morning of my deadlines, faxing in all the pages of my column as the sun kissed the sky? No, of course not. But, I was the only one who suffered. When I came down with a sinus infection and bronchitis after one such deadline, I simply took to my bed and emerged when I was feeling better. Can’t do that with three children, two dogs, two frogs and a fish to care for, not to mention a husband.
No, the stress that Superwoman imparts on my life has got to go. I am constantly exhausted from trying to do it all and it makes me a far worse parent than if I buy the baked goods once in a while, if I say no to the PTA request, if I actually take a few moments to exercise or even (gasp!) read a book. There are always going to be moms more put together than I am, with neater houses and perfectly behaved children. Instead of worrying that I’m underdressed in my tank top, jeans and sneakers at the school book fair, I am going to embrace my penchant for comfy clothes and feel sorry for the woman teetering around in stiletto boots, no matter how good she looks. I am not going to have a panic attack every time I drop my kids off for a play date at a museum like home, wondering what the mom will think when it’s my turn to host. We live in a small house and it’s – how shall I say this – lived in. And, I am going to just smile serenely as my children pounce on each other, rolling around on the floor – as long as there is no blood. I have to – there is no sense in trying for perfection in motherhood. You can’t achieve it and if you think you have, you probably have some pharmaceutical help.
Back to that cupcake fiasco – I knew I had my mammogram appointment the same day, yet Superwoman compelled me to offer to bake and decorate two dozen cupcakes for my son, J’s, Valentine’s Day party. I figured it was no problem, because I could simply bake them the night before. Only the moment I pulled the eggs out of the fridge, the mixing bowl out from the cabinet and the oil out of the cupboard, the electricity went out. Gone, nothing – no lights, no heat, definitely no oven. I had no choice but to pack up my kids, the dog (at that point we had only one), some toiletries, pjs and all the frozen food I could carry and haul everything and everyone to my parents’ house across town. Of course my husband, Jeff, was away on business. At 11:00 pm as I climbed into the pull out couch bed at my parents’, I realized that I never baked the cupcakes.
In an amazing fit of misguided optimism, I felt certain that I could have my mammogram, bake the cupcakes, decorate them and get them to the school in time for the celebration. When I was still sitting in the radiologist’s waiting room an hour and a half before the party, I called Jeff in a panic. He had returned from his trip in the wee hours of the morning and was napping, but still offered to bake for me. All I had to do was get home within the hour to frost the cupcakes and sprinkle them with tiny sugar hearts. Forty five minutes later, still waiting to be called, I felt so guilty thinking about those damn cupcakes, that I left the office without even getting my mammogram. I rescheduled it for the next day, ruining my Saturday morning. I could have had Jeff frost and decorate the cupcakes, but then I would feel like a failure. So, I rushed like a lunatic to frost, decorate and transport the cupcakes to school in record time, only to be late anyway. Joshua’s teacher looked at me and said, a bit nastily, “Why didn’t you just buy the cupcakes?” Why, indeed?
I could have easily kicked Superwoman to the curb that day – I had plenty of reason, but she was like that bad boy boyfriend that you break up with, because you know he’s just no good for you, but then you let him back in, because sometimes he is really good for you. OK, I have to admit – I ended up marrying that bad boy boyfriend, after breaking up with him every few months for the first year we were together. And, he did end up being good for me in the long run. Sometimes, Superwoman can be good for you too. Like the way that my inner Superwoman lets me believe that I can really make a difference as Community Services chairperson at not one, but two schools. Or the way that she spurs me on to collect hundreds of dollars for Haitian children, because, well what other choice do I have? I have to help, plain and simple. Those are the times that Superwoman is a great motivator. But, too many times most of us are just spinning our wheels, trying to do everything, but succeeding at very little, or so it seems.
If I had a dollar for every one of my mom friends who has admitted to me that she often feels like a failure, I would be a rich woman. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve felt like a failure, I would be a multi millionaire. Why do we doubt ourselves so? Do dads lie awake at night ruminating over all of the mistakes (real or imagined) they made during the day? Do they wonder if they’ve shortchanged their children, their spouses, their co-workers? I suspect they don’t. I suspect that most men are like my husband – anything that happens during the day is forgotten as soon as the sun sets, or at least as soon as the kids are in bed. He’s a great dad; he just doesn’t wallow in self doubt, as I am prone to do. The kids were fed, dressed and warm during the day? No bones were broken? Great, then we’ve done our job well. When I lay down at night, I relive the screaming matches, the hurt feelings, the book I didn’t get to read or the board game I didn’t get to play. What a waste of time. Superwoman roars up in the waning hours of the day – reminding me of everything I didn’t accomplish and chasing away sleep. That is why she’s getting evicted.
Repeat after me, ladies – “If my kids are fed, dressed, loved and happy, then I am doing my job, even if they say that they hate me.” I know, it’s easier said than done. But, believe me – even if you didn’t prepare a gourmet meal with all of the food groups (they’re probably happier with mac and cheese anyway) or you didn’t read even one developmentally appropriate book or even if you screamed your head off for some small transgression, your kids will survive and they will still love you. Just relax and know that kissing them goodnight and tucking them in (and in the case of my five year old, curling up in his bed with him until he drifts off to sleep) makes you Superwoman in their eyes. Now, if I could only take my own advice…
I wrote this essay a few years ago and it was one of the most popular posts on my blog, Boys, Dogs and Chaos. A shortened version of it appeared in Long Island Parents Magazine. With school back in full swing, it seemed like a good time to share it again.