To the core.
“Before you start looking for happiness, better check – maybe you are already happy. Happiness is small, common and inconspicuous, and many are not able to see it.”– Dušan Radović, Serbian writer
We met each other for a walk. I knew she would judge my choices. Ever since I got pregnant, she would question my decisions.
“Are you happy?”, she asked me once. At that time I was going through hell. She knew that.
I didn’t know how to answer the question. What did she mean?
I don’t believe in happiness. I see it as a feeling that comes and goes, among all other emotions: surprise, sadness, jealousy, etc. I believe in contentment – the feeling of satisfaction because things are generally fine. The place very hard to reach.
Recently I finally got there. No stress, everybody’s healthy (including my parents), the kids are not so tiresome anymore, we have enough money, I‘m doing some interesting projects. I don‘t want more. I‘ve been through a lot.
So, we met each other – she in her leather boots with a new hairstyle, me with a ponytail, a baggy jumper and waterproof winter shoes.
As we were walking, I confided I‘m more satisfied than ever.
She had to check it all:
“Why doesn’t he help you with the kids?”
But he does.
“Why doesn’t he take sick leave to treat them?
Why don’t you get a job outside the house and then see if it fits you?
Why should you pick a school for your children?
What’s the point of being educated?
Why are people thinking about their children’s happiness?
So what if the kids don’t go outside?
Why should you teach your kids to play with everybody? Your teacher taught you the same?! What school did you go to?”
The one we‘re just passing by.
“Why do you recycle when the trash ends up in the Third World countries?
What should I do with McDonald’s packages without a recycling can at sight?
Why do you write on Medium since everyone can write there?
Why don‘t you travel? Vienna is not interesting. I’m going to Naples. The ticket for Colombia is $600. What about going there? My colleague has 4 children and they travel all the time…”
“Well, let her travel then”, I said calmly.
There was no end to the questions. She had assumptions, conclusions, and doubts. At times it seemed as if she were grilling me. It was useless to persuade her that she misinterpreted something.
I know who she is. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. We’ve seen and heard each other‘s infatuations, heartbreaks, and moral dilemmas. We know each other very well. I know what to expect of her. She is the queen of the party.
But in the last couple of years, I am judged by a friend who seems to have everything she wants. I don’t think she is miserable. From her standpoint, things are not perfect but we‘ve both seen worse.
I can’t remember the time when she said: “I’m happy for you.” My life is not good enough. She is irritated by it. She‘s too cool for me, the little wife.
She used that expression before, to talk about her lovers‘ girlfriends and wives. The nice boring girls would get a man and strong women would stay empty-handed. The contemptible wedding-materials.
I looked into her eyes. They were still beautiful turquoise blue. But the pores on the face seemed bigger. They were surrounded by the smile lines and wrinkles carved deeply into her forehead. Sleepless nights spent drinking in fancy places full of cigarette smoke took their toll. After all, we are 40.
I‘m also full of crow‘s feet. One morning, 18 months after giving birth, I saw a 7-year-older me in the mirror. The new role was tiresome – a 24/7 servant-entertainer-cop. Only cashiers and passers-by mistake me for being younger. That wasn’t the case before.
Parenting has changed me in an unimaginable way. My body, routines, career, nice clothes, and getting outside of the comfort zone – gone. I lost male attention, I found patience and determination.
I never wanted to change, but you really have to. You‘re trapped inside the house, raising a pair of young human mammals. As you are inside, the hype clubs change, and so does fashion. You don‘t know the latest gossip. I felt jaded and weighed down until I realized you can‘t fight the course of nature.
This woman-of-the-world has such a strong desire to prove my way of life is wrong. She would never settle for a life without a big career, a lot of money, infatuation, and party time. She despises what I‘ve become. The soccer mom hate.
For her, happiness is being able to make every single choice without considering anyone else. For me, it is a symbiosis of my wants and family needs.
I‘ve never been a housewife before. I changed companies and industries for over 10 years. Then I decided to have a family. This is where I put my effort now. But being a mother and a housewife is not enough.
In her article Soccer Mom Hate Sady Doyle states:
“In the Times, soccer moms were formerly ambitious working women who “have kicked off their high heels and replaced them with Keds.” In another ’96 description quoted by Slate, she’s a “well-heeled superparent whose primary mission in life is to do too much for her children.” This woman — simultaneously overambitious and unambitious, overprivileged and overworked — has been our predominant cultural image of motherhood, and our favorite punching bag, for the past 20 years.”
As if you have a choice to be something else.
If you have enough empathy and no extra pair of hands to shove the baby into and hop off to work, you are impeded by childhood illnesses, milestones, parks, and family chores. It takes years to adapt to the constant demand for attention, cries, and needs until you realize you have become someone different.
There‘s no way around it, so you choose to accept it.
Kids are sloppy little creatures. They spill and break, climb up the radiator, throw tantrums, and laugh irresistibly. You have to wipe asses, clean, discipline, persuade, hug, and comfort a lot. It‘s not the time of your life. Their complaints vs. your boredom.
But we make pies together. I cook chicken soup, they cut the whole notebook into pieces. They have trouble with peers, my heart breaks. They spend a night at grandma’s and run into my arms cheering as they see me next morning. They are my center of gravity.
You don‘t get obsessed with them, they are the pups you take care of. They occupy your time and energy. They drain you physically.
In her interview for the Los Angeles Times, one of the best contemporary writers in the world Elena Ferrante describes how motherhood swept away her need to write:
“Conceiving a child, bringing it into the world, raising it is a marvelous and painful experience that over a fairly long span of time — especially if you don’t have the money to buy the time and energy of other women — takes away space and meaning from all the rest.”
And you need a job. To stay mentally engaged. Women drown themselves in the comfort zone of their own houses. They lose their confidence and drive. But I won‘t settle for any job. Nor the rushing home from work to sorry-I-don‘t-have-time-for-that.
I needed my mom so much when I was little. She would do the housework swiftly and then go to work as a sales clerk in a big department store. A job that teaches you tolerance and zen. In the evening she would clean up and rush us into bed. She never had a minute for herself.
Although I do a lot of the invisible work around the house, I am calmer and more satisfied than ever. I always look forward to hanging up the laundry in the sun. That’s my zen.
I see the 9-5 career as a means of getting enough money on the table. For my cool friend, it symbolizes a status – prestige, beauty salons, travel, clothes, and clubs. I‘ve always admired her stamina to work under pressure. She started as a waitress on the beach and got to a bank manager.
I always wanted a family. She would crave for a heartthrob, then settle for a regular guy with a lack of ambition. Her happiness is one-night-stands, the flirting, infidelities, exhilaration, drama, and suffering. And I‘m OK with her choices. That‘s her happiness.
What I‘m not OK with anymore is not being able to see her on Fridays and Saturdays because those nights are for the fun-loving friends. I‘ve been someone to kill time with on Tuesday afternoons. An uncool mom with no active social life. A useless woman to scorn. So, we don‘t meet so often anymore.
She sees parenting as an end to a good life. She neither understands it, nor she wants to.
She sees me as a country teacher because my family comes first. I’m boring because in her eyes I’m a lady of the house.
The fact is I always hated the idea of heaps of friends because they can’t be real. And it’s boring and tiring to go out at midnight, strike a pose in front of strangers, then come home in the morning intoxicated.
I would never choose her way of life, but I would also never judge her. She’s happy with it? Fine. But if she doesn‘t want to accept my kind of happiness, it is time to see each other even less frequently. Her choice.
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