Overwhelmed? Yes, Brigid Schulte, of Course I Am

My husband came home early from work today to find me in bed, under the covers, and crazy enough to think these two kids would let me shut my eyes for just a few minutes. Daylight savings must have caught up with me, and combine that with bad news from a client this week (read: income = gutted) and anxiety over my husband’s upcoming business trip (I hate it when he travels) I was ready to check out. Just a few minutes, I swear. That was all I needed.

It was 1 in the afternoon.

Now, I know there are people out there that think this is exactly how the freelance life works. You nap when you want to. You have kids performing circus acts while you’re doing phone interviews. And truth be told, sometimes that is what happens. But most of the time I sit myself down at 9:30 and don’t get up again until 3 p.m. when the kids come home and I leave my second job for my more demanding primary one, the one filled with kids quizzing me on their homework questions, my corralling them into the car, the words “Can we please try not to be late this time?” having long ago taken on a rhetorical tone.

Most days I power through but today, the world just descended upon my shoulders. My husband crawled into bed next to me and made the kids scatter. “Did you hear this segment on NPR today about being overwhelmed?” he asked. “I heard it and thought of you.”

He then proceeded to play it for me from his iPhone. It was an interview with Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte, whose book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time was published today. If you had been with me as I was listening, you’d have thought I was in church listening to a sermon.

One of the main differences is women are still doing so much of the housework and the child care. … There’s physical labor that goes along with that, but there’s also mental labor. You’re keeping track of everything, you know? You’ve got all this stuff going on in your mind: the to-do lists, and “Did I remember the carpool?” and “Oh, my goodness, I gotta fill out the Girl Scout forms,” … all this stuff that kind of gets crowded in there along with all the stuff you’ve got to do at work. Men generally don’t have that. They have one sphere, which is work.

“Mmm hmm” I muttered. “Mental overload.”

“We had started off, I think like most people in our generation, wanting to have a true partnership, wanting to be equal partners,” she says. ” … We had a very low moment where I thought, ‘Wow, we have really gotten off track. What happened?’ “

“Yeah? What happened?” (I’m not sure that I said that aloud.)

Schulte proceeded to tell a story about a day when her work life and mom life collided, when she had to meet a deadline at work but also had to get her daughter to ballet on time, and she ditched work in order to do what a good Mom is expected to do. In the process, she realized that she was giving her daughter an inflated sense of her importance and in doing so, was not being the proper working mom role model. (Something many women of our generation never had, which is why we struggle so much with the equal partnership idea.) Sometimes the kids can’t come first, and sometimes that has to be okay. Because mommy’s work is just as important as daddy’s, and should be equally respected. And plus, bosses don’t care about ballet lessons.

I listened to the seven-minute segment and sighed. Here we are again, talking about the same subject, but no closer to a solution. Instead, I’m laying in bed at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, hoping to shut the world out and finding that nearly impossible to do.

“Let’s take a 20-minute break,” my husband said.

My mind reeled. No. I had work emails to answer. The kids needed to pack their bags for swim. Had my son eaten lunch? And 20 minutes would barely give us enough time to get to parent-teacher conferences on time. My instinct was to throw off the covers, get up and get working. But then I looked at my husband. He was seconds away from snoring. He was not thinking the things I was thinking. So what if, as Schulte proposes, women started acting more like men? Would the world come to a crashing halt?

I closed my eyes. Twenty minutes later the alarm went off. I grabbed swim supplies while my husband made Miles a cheese sandwich. We were late getting out the door but arrived at our appointment on time. Teachers were effusive in their praise of our children. It all worked out… even though I took that 20 minutes.

Later in the afternoon, I had an errand to run. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get dinner made and get the errand done. And then — Eureka! — I remembered. Sid is home. He can make the meatballs. I asked; he complied gladly, almost happy to know what it was he could DO to make things easier for me. I relaxed. And when he augmented my mother’s recipe to include horseradish and sundried tomatoes, I said nothing except, “Wow, this is really good.” (It was, but don’t tell my mom.)

Now it’s after 5 p.m. The smell of meatballs I did not make fill the house. The kids have finished their homework. I have some interviews to do tonight but after that, I’m going to let it all go again. I’ll brew some tea or drink some wine. I’ll try not to let my worries control my mind. And I’ll find confidence that no matter what challenge I have, if I just let them go maybe the solutions will begin to present themselves in the most organic ways.

What do you think?

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