Friday, December 14, 2007

When you see a cliff, put on the brakes

Most of the time my life is one big juggling act, always managing somehow to keep many balls in the air. As an author, my life is all about networking, outreach. My tree puts out new branches large and small.

But there are times that this just doesn't work anymore. I hate pruning back, and I have resisted it, but right now I have to face the fact that this is what I need to do. Both of my parents have had health challenges over the past couple of years. They are divorced, both live nearby, and I am their only child. Last week my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went in for a routine mammogram and the next thing we knew the whole process of testing and diagnosing was underway, like a whirlwind. We went from follow-up screening to biopsy to meeting with the surgeon in the course of three days. We are grateful to have access to such speedy medical care, but it's a shock to the system even in the best of circumstances. There is so much to internalize and process, from medical information to emotional turmoil. I wandered around for a week, feeling like someone had hit me on the head with a two by four. You know those cartoon characters who have googly eyes and planets and stars floating over their heads? That was me.

I started to come out of it a couple of days ago. My Mom's prognosis is likely to be pretty good, but she does need surgery, scheduled for next week. So I am reorganizing my priorities. A couple of days ago I had a major epiphany, which is that it is actually easier to keep it together than it is to fall apart. I have too many people who are depending on me, and falling apart takes a lot of energy and explaining. So my strategy is to pare back to the absolute essentials, get them done, and let everything else go for now.

My three priorities are: 1. Family, 2. Writing, and 3. Friends, fun and self-care. Everything else has to go on the back burner.

It's going to be an interesting discipline to stick to these, because I am usually very open to doing things for other people, and I am going to have to turn down some kind and worthy requests. I am mentally checking out of my office until mid-January. I do plan to keep writing here and on (parent.thesis) but I can't predict exactly how regularly I'll be able to blog.

One more thought to rattling around my head right now: As Mojo Mom I have struggled so hard to reconcile feminist ideals with my reality and the outlook for mothers at large. I see huge structural issues with motherhood, and I know it's not all about individual choice. But at the same time, I feel like we need something beyond feminism to help us as mothers cope with our reality. I've worked hard to build up my work identity as a writer, and now I have to lay it down. I don't know HOW I would fill a 9 to 5 job right now, and yet that's exactly what the majority of women in my situation need to do.

The feminist wave that began in the 1970's gave us the right to compete on the male playing field but we have so much unfinished business to address. Adopting the male model isn't working for me, and by the way, the Third Wave of feminism is speaking to me even less than the Second. I need a Caregiving Society to help me out. We have a quadruple-decker sandwich going on in my family--my parents each have a parent living. I need a society that allows me to work and take care of my family, and one that won't put the burden of caregiving only on the daughters and wives. Is it feminism, or something else, that will make this possible?

I am glad I've been involved with MomsRising because it is the one movement that offers me hope right now.

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Blogger PunditMom said...

I am so sorry about the health issues in your family right now. My thoughts are with you.

As for your comments:

"I have struggled so hard to reconcile feminist ideals with my reality and the outlook for mothers at large" -- I feel the same way, but how do we figure out the next step?

9:33 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Hi Pundit Mom--thanks for writing in. Knowing that I still have at least one blog reader makes me feel good!

I don't have all the answers yet to indicate what the next step is. I am open to ideas. I know that feminism is part of the solution but the yearning for something more, new, different has reached critical mass inside me. We need a bread-and-butter movement, not from academia but from the grassroots on up. Making sure that we ALL VOTE IN 2008, and let candidates know that they'll have to work to win us over, is one urgent and practical place to start.

9:39 AM  
Blogger High Heeled Mama said...

I am sorry to hear about your mother's health issues. It's a scary time, but my thoughts are with you and your family.

And I hear you on your frustration with feminism vs reality vs real solutions. No clue what the answer is, but I think the fact that more people are contemplating the issues that are important to "real women" means we're on the right track to finding solutions.

I hope.

12:57 PM  
Blogger RocketMom said...

Best wishes to you and your family.

I'm still reading, even if I mostly lurk.

6:38 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Reading is good, lurking is fine, but comments are always appreciated.

I feel that writing will help me get through the coming weeks.

Thanks for your kind thoughts.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy, I'm so sorry for the fear and vulnerability you feel right now. You have to know that every step you take is the right one. I have taken this turn as well and seen it through. I wish I could idealize external institutional change, but I no longer do. We do what we can and must. And as women, we can and must do it all. What can I say? Women alone sustain life and family. I can't imagine that it has ever been different. We are just lucky to live that much closer to the divine, to truth, to the daily bread of life and death. If you call it lucky. Perhaps by each of us living the totality of our lives, not just the ideals of either/or, making costly, precious and loving choices; we will birth a more compassionate culture. Perhaps we will know in our hearts what is worth fighting over, and how much is not. I will say a service for you and your mother daily. It is the only thing I can do.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

That's a scary diagnosis, even if all signs are good for a full recovery. I will hold your mother in the Light.

As for the life/balance/priorities issue ... I think it's important to recognize that we are privileged to have the flexibility in our professional work that allows us to care for our families at times like this. A working-class or single mom in your position would be faced with the choice between caring for her ill mother and losing her sole source of income.

I suggest that we mobilize around this issue from that perspective -- paid family leave for all workers. That would also make it more feasible for the men in our lives to do their fair share of the caregiving during crises like this.

So it's still feminism, in my eyes -- but one that doesn't reduce the whole world to gender and sexism. Class can be our starting point.

May I also suggest that you nudge "self-care" a little higher on your list of priorities?

Hang in there, hon.

8:44 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

I agree that the feminist wave of the 70's stopped short of addressing class issues in the depth they deserved. And now I am ready to stop merely complaining about that fact and start mobilizing our generation to work on it. That's why I am so excited about MomsRising.

My new thought about feminism is that I am ready to give myself a break about the fact that I am not accomplishing all that I am "supposed" to do according to writers like Leslie Bennetts (The Feminine Mistake). I think I had been beating myself about the head with that guilt stick without even realizing it. I am privileged to have the financial flexibility to adjust to all of life's challenges, and my goal as an author and activist is to continue to insist that we make the invisible work visible, and then divide it fairly.

Daughters and wives are expected to do so much caregiving quietly, off-stage, with no monetary compensation or even societal recognition that it is keeping us BUSY. I am angry that our system does not take this vital work into account. On a personal level I am doing it with love and gratitude for the opportunity to care for my family. On a political level I want us to raise our voices and flex our muscles to insist for a better deal for all caregivers.

10:46 AM  

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