Growing up, Margaret Mitchell’s, Gone with the Wind, was one of my favorite books. I read it as a teenager, and later saw the movie. I always envied the female heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, for her ability to emerge steadfast and strong as her world was turned upside down.
Last night, I made a mental list of the tedious, yet necessary, chores I needed to do today during the six and a half hour school day. Among them were balancing my checkbook, paying bills, making a few overdue phone calls, folding laundry, and going to the supermarket. And how many of those tasks did I complete? Absolutely none.
Since I became a mother more than 13 years ago, I haven’t worked outside the home. My home and family became my career, and I managed my life as though it was a corporation. My checkbook was balanced daily (to the penny), every bill was paid on time, the laundry hampers were always empty, and the inside of every closet could compete with a Gap ad. Dinners were home-cooked and delicious, and my children were poster children for little suburbanite overachievers. It was all picturesque and perfect.
But not really.
One day my marriage blew up in smoke. Poof. With one sentence from my husband, my life of bullsh*t came to a screeching halt.
But the thing is, I still had to get out of bed in the morning. No matter how crappy I felt. I had to make breakfast for my kids. Pack school lunches. Wash clothes. Make beds. Go to the supermarket. Cook dinner. I didn’t have the luxury of curling up in a ball and dying. I had responsibilities, and I needed to keep going if not for myself, for them. As the only parent in residence, raising them was, and is, all on me.
Not that it wasn’t on me before. It was. But when I became separated, it was different. My workaholic husband was gone from our home, permanently, so there was no longer another body to pick up even the littlest bit of slack. If I wasn’t able to drive through the carpool line because I was heaving over the toilet with a stomach virus, no one was going to school.
Each day of my old life, I would have little competitions with myself. How much could I pack into one day, as I worked toward achieving my picture-perfect existence? I awoke at 5:30 AM and packed three lunches, made a breakfast for my kids that could rival one at the Four Seasons, arrived extra early in the carpool line at dismissal time so rain should never touch my children’s delicate heads for fear they might melt, and prepared organic meals at dinnertime. And if, G-D forbid, someone didn’t like what was on the menu, well, I quickly whipped up a comparable substitute.
I was woman. Could you hear me roar?
This is no longer my reality. Not because I can’t make it so, but because I no longer want to.
Don’t get me wrong. My house is tidy, the beds are made, and the children are all clean and well fed. The thing is now, on some nights, I may order in Chinese food for dinner. And there may be an occasional day, like yesterday’s snow day, when I don’t make the beds. And guess what? The sky didn’t fall down because there were unmade beds!
My divorce forced me to take stock. Everything around me was pretty, pristine, and perfect, yet my life was anything but that. I was in a loveless marriage, marred by constant bickering and profound loneliness.
Now divorced, I am no longer compensating for what I lacked.
Today, I revel in the fact that there is sometimes an unopened pile of mail, laundry to be folded, or dishes to be washed. I’m not going to take care of those things in lieu of living my life to its fullest. These days, I make time to care for my family, and myself. I focus on my children’s futures, and my own, a future with, hopefully, a burgeoning new career that I love.
This evening I ate dinner with my children, one I did actually cook. But tonight I’m going out to a fundraising event with a friend. Yes, there are still dishes in the sink and, no, the laundry still isn’t folded. But who really cares anyway?
As Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
This article appeared on MariaShriver.com February 18, 2014.