I have a friend. She and I went to high school together; she was a year behind me. We weren't great friends in high school, but we ran in the same crowd: geeky pencil-behind-the-ear types who pretended to be sick in calculus class and then miraculously recovered just in time for Mrs. Putnam's Shakespeare elective. We recently reconnected and have become extremely good adult friends, meeting for lunch now and then and running our ideas and problems by each other for advice. I try not to tell other people's stories in my blog, but, with her permission, I'm going to tell you hers. I'll call her "not Christina," because her name is not Christina.
Not Christina is, like a lot of women in our age group, a Supermom. She has three beautiful young children, second in genius and looks only to my own, and a dashing, erudite husband who is also kind and sweet and worships the ground she walks on. She also has several less important things, like a very successful full-time career, a Girl Scout troop, a Cub Scout den, a church, a house in the suburbs with a pretty garden, and a wicked sense of humor. Maybe the sense of humor belongs in the important category with her husband and kids. But I digress.
I met not Christina for lunch on Friday because I had not seen her in person in a while, and we both needed a good dose of each other's company. The diner where we usually meet is closed for renovations, so we ended up in the restaurant on the top floor of Bloomingdale's, at a tiny table for two near the window. Not Christina was exhausted but good-natured, as usual. She's oversubscribed and having trouble balancing it all, and like all jugglers who have too many balls in the air, she's starting to drop things. Important things. For nearly two hours, I lectured her about the importance of slowing down and cutting back on her commitments. I tried to tell her that, like the narrator in Robert Frost's brilliant 1928 poem The Armful, she needs to sit down and take stock of all the things she carries, and decide which ones she can set down safely.
This is a problem that's endemic to my generation of women. We try to do everything all at once. Our mothers, frustrated at their lack of professional options, at their inability to be taken seriously in the workplace, raised us to believe we could do whatever we wanted with our lives. We could be mothers AND have successful careers, both at the same time. We grew up in the era of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. We were invincible. We could do it all. Hear us roar.
The catch is that nobody can do it all, at least not well and not all at once. So we are the Starbucks generation, having landed solidly in our forties in full possession of all the things our mothers dreamed of having, but heavily caffeinated, lacking sleep, communicating only electronically, and wishing we could figure out what to eliminate so that our lives could be simpler. We surf the Internet looking for recipes and craft ideas that give us the illusion of living in simpler times past. We lecture our daughters about What's Important and urge them to focus only on that.
Not Christina loves her Cub Scouts and her Girl Scouts and her catechism class and her elementary-school dance committee and doesn't want to give any of them up. I pointed out to her that it's June, which is the perfect time to put a wrap on school-related activities. I also asked her what would happen if she quit leading her troop and den. What if someone else taught the Sunday School class? Would the world come to an end? Would her children suffer irreparable harm? I remember the night when it dawned on me that I could not work full time in the city and still lead my suburban middle-school Girl Scout troop. I had to step down. Nobody stepped up in my place, so the troop dissolved. As far as I know, I am the only person connected to the troop who shed a single tear over its demise. And when I cried, I wasn't mourning Troop 652 so much as I was mourning my image of myself as the All-Powerful Mom and Lawyer Who Did a Million Things and Did Them Well and was All Things To All People. I tried to tell not Christina how liberating it felt, once I calmed down, to realize that the world would indeed go on, even if I didn't carry it on my shoulders right into my grave.
After we parted, not Christina and I both went to pick up our kids from school. I headed home, but not Christina headed north with her young son to meet his Cub Scout friends for a hike in the woods. They hiked until dusk, and then not Christina and her son got into their car and started the long drive home. Horribly sleep-deprived, my friend fell asleep at the wheel. Her car veered into a street sign and then flipped down an embankment. It was completely destroyed. Both my beloved friend and her son, thank God, emerged from the wreckage in one piece and are going to be completely fine.
The accident was, as she told a very shaken me today on the phone, an exclamation point at the end of our conversation. She is now making a complete list of her extracurricular activities and devising a plan for their wind-up. There are a few things she's committed to through the end of June, but she's going to go forward into the summer focused only on her family and her career. In that order.
Once she has calmed down, recovered, and gotten her life back into shape, though, I hope she'll still have time to meet me for lunch now and then. She is a tremendous inspiration, and I can't imagine life without her. I'm glad - no, unspeakably relieved and thankful - that I don't have to.