Monday, March 16, 2009


Recently, I read this (a post on Terrible Mother which makes reference to a now-notable accusation made by Alice Walker's daughter that she was a bad mom), then this (an article on Salon that talks some more about that accusation, following through to a consideration of the question about whether a mom can be an important writer and an attentive mother--the answer the author comes up with is, "Trust me, a woman really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one."), and I have ever since been wondering about this question:
when women ask, "can women have/do/be it all?" what is "it"?
This is a serious question. Now that I am officially old, I really do look at my life with a different filter. For instance, when I look at my 20s, I think, there were people who could have, or maybe should have, given me advice about, say, how to "do" grad school, and maybe I could have learned from others how to focus and sharpen my ambitions beyond, say, getting good grades and keeping my scholarship. But, and on the other hand, if I had become a different kind of person--a person with sharpened and more focused ambitions, or a person who made more of her grad school experience--my life might have turned out quite differently than it had. At this point, I'm not sure that would be all that much of an improvement.

What if "it" is "a rich, full life"? Is that so impossible? (As you can see, I am conducting an argument with myself. Feel free to jump in at any point, though I can't promise you I will yield the floor.)


  1. I agree that it is a vague, albeit loaded, question.
    I too am not sure what "it" is...however, if "it" is a rich full life, then I would say you have had it all, and still do.
    I would say, also, that women can have it all. But, having one thing necessitates giving up other things. For myself, I'm pretty aware of what I've given up. I'm not sure I had to give up all those things, but I don't regret them or miss then.
    And I'm aware of what I got in return, which was also good.
    I feel like I do have it all. Except a clean house. And I can live with that.

  2. I must completely agree with you about the clean house--I do not have it, and don't regret it, except occasionally.

  3. I say it is not about what you have but what you give. Thank you for giving me all. I think we should stop measuring people by what they have and start measuring them by what they give. So might not have had it all but holy crap what would you do with it all if you had it. The crap we have really isn't ours. I know the "it" we are talking about isn't material necessarily but I think having is less important than giving. You have given me lots of love and opportunity and that has made all the difference. Thank you
    Love you

  4. this question is on my mind constantly. I want it all, but the "it" is unique to me, I think. I want to be so many things, one of which is a mother.

  5. I went to bed thinking about this and about the smart (I expect nothing less) responses here, too. I do think that as a young woman coming of age in the 70's I was sold a bill of goods--that with opportunity and excellent organizational skills I could have IT all. IT, I think, was defined as personal and professional lives which included lots of family! friends! and also rewarding career success!

    Now at age 52 I think everything is just a hell of a lot messier than I thought it would be, which has caused me to change my definition of IT. IT is what I have at any given moment . . . and learning to love what's there.

  6. Thanks. It was good to hear this dicussion today.

    Because I've been thinking all week about when I was a young grad student/ woman becoming a wife in the late 80's. I was at a prof's house whose witty, warm, laughing wife was a novelist. "But," whispered one of my friends, "did you notice - her kitchen floor is sticky."

    So I feel now that once I've swiped the sticky off the floor I've got the house part covered.

    And honestly, my children don't need a perfectly attentive mother. As long as they can say what your Isaac says to you (what a wise one - I'm going to remember that - "holy crap, what would you do with it all if you had it?") I'll have no complaints.

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