Monday, October 21, 2013

Is this Real Life or just a Fantasy?

October 2013 will always be remembered as the month that I had a rude, but necessary, awakening.

I have been suffering with numerous aches and pains for the past 18 months but always put it down to straining, pulling a muscle or carrying too many children!! I always remember Oprah saying that life gives you a whisper and if you ignore the whispers, it starts to shout. Well apparently my life is shouting at me. I was so busy working and being a mommy just running from event to lecture to meeting to swimming lessons, that I may have forgotten to look after myself during the mayhem. Stress and sleep deprivation apparently play a large part in igniting my symptoms, so after a particularly stressful 2 months with Tomato and her skin issues, I was  diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder. Whaaat??  Doesn't that only happen to old people?? Oh wait, how old am I again?

I thought I was a young spring chicken and I often relate marketing facts to my students like I'm still one of them, e.g. "our parents were technologically challenged" when in actual fact some of their parents are my age!! Social media brings this home too with Facebook showing friends with children who are enterning varsity and some becoming grandparents!! WTF!!  Where did the time go? I had a plan, I had things I needed to do and now I'm faced with a death sentence disease.........

*dramatic pause*

Ok that's a bit drama-queenish [is that a word?] it's not a death sentence but rather a slap through the face with the reality of my mortality, but it feels like it's the death of my youth. I've gone from a no-pill-popping 20 something to a pop-a-handful of serious meds every day 40-something. This all got me thinking.....

What are we actually doing?  If you ask anyone they will tell you that they only want the best for their children and they want them to be happy.

Are you happy?

If your child wants to play in the mud do you let them or do you think of the muddy clothes? It would make them happy. When your teenager tells you that he wants to smoke a joint, do you let him? It would make him happy (actually very happy). When your matriculant decides that tertiary education is not for her and she would prefer to start work as an assistant in a music store with her new boyfriend, do you let her? It would make her happy. Are we spending a large chunk of our time grooming our children to have similar lives as our own, or even better than we had, because it will make them happy? Again, are YOU happy?  I was reminded by a quote on Facebook today that says it all ------>>>>

I really really enjoy my job and I really enjoy my kids (most of the time). I have enjoyed the challenges of a high-powered corporate position and battled to find work-family balance. I was fortunate to be offered the more flexible "consulting and stay-at-home career mom" combo which I feel has worked well for me over the past 3 years. I think, without work, my mind would stagnate and I wouldn't be happy. However the stress of doing both jobs to the level of excellence to which I strive, is obviously taking its toll on my body without my permission. So, all these new thoughts have been floating around in my head and I am reminded yet again of a story I heard long ago. 

*Warning*  I am now about to open a HUGELY contraversial can of worms, especially since most of my girlfriends work, but here goes...... 

Many years ago I worked with an older Afrikaans lady named Magriet who was excellent at her job of being a pharmaceutical rep but she was nearing retirement and she often told me that it was time, she was tired "Lisatjie ek is moeg" she would say. One day she told me something that infuriated me and I disagreed vehemently with her at the time, but it has stuck with me for many years and I am beginning to see her reasoning. Now before we start [read as disclaimer because I'm scared you'll hunt me down] I am not agreeing with what I am about to relay, I am saying just think about it. Remove all the women's lib, women's rights, upliftment, sexist, male dominant world thinking and really give this some thought. 

The South African unemployment rate currently stands at 25% (men and women actively seeking employment, let's assume a 50/50 gender split). Women in the workplace amount to over 13% (2009 stats), so probably around 17% by now. Many of the women in the workplace contribute to a double-income household while many of the unemployed are unable to contribute to a double-non-income household. Take a breath and think what this means. Families who have no income. Unemployment causes poverty and could potentially result in criminal behavior. What Magriet said that made me angry, was that women should not work, men should be the only ones allowed to work. I had recently finished studying marketing and I loved contributing to projects and campaigns and using my ideas and learning everything there was to know about business, so I was not about to agree with that statement. She saw my face and continued, she said if women did not work, or look for work, there would be no unemployment, every family could eat. I quickly shot this theory down with numerous, obviously sexist objections, but it stuck with me. 

Through the years I have thought about how this would work and the obvious arguments sprung to mind, what if a woman has the cure for HIV in her brain but was never able to use it? What if a woman doesn't marry or gets divorced or widowed, how would she support herself and her family? What if there are lesbian couples with no income, while male gay couples would be coining it? And so on and so on.....

Parents on Phones . . . it beats changing nappies.
After my close brush with my impending death [ok I'm really milking this now, I'm not really dying] I have thought about Magriet's words again and although simplistic, it does have some merit. As women, whether we are a stay-at-home-mom or a business executive mom, we all want the best for our children and we want them to be happy. Are we giving our children the best of us?  Is your full attention with your child when you are with them? Haven't we all done this? Check our phone while the children wait to be pushed. I know I have, I often send work emails while out with my children. As a consultant, I need to be contacted and I need to have answers and I believe that I need to be better than the next consultant mom who only answers emails on her PC at home. But would I be so engrossed in my phone if I didn't work? Would I step off the hamster's wheel and calm my life down, not worrying about where the next job is coming from? If I had never worked, would I know what I was missing? 

My mom became a stay-at-home-mom after marrying my dad. She was also a career woman who gave it all up as there was no telecommunitng in the 60's. I remember she did so many creative things like fancy cooking courses, cake icing and decorating, sewing, baking and she even volunteered to do civil defense (ambulance duty). Are women these days just working and being mommies and not enjoying other joys life has to offer? Would we rather be streched beyond breaking point than reduce our standard of living? Magriet's theory is obviouisly sexist and goes against the grain. She left our discussion with these parting words "if women didn't know any different, they wouldn't be chasing in all directions, trying to do everything and losing themselves in the process. Women would have like-minded friends who all believed the same thing, they would have time to be with themselves and to connect with their world in a quiet manner instead of racing through it, chasing a never-ending to-do list. Women would be able to find the time every day to be happy." 

Unfortunately I, and many other great moms and working women, have tasted the forbidden fruit of the workplace so Magriet's theory could never happen and should never happen (I like the idea that a woman will have the cure for HIV) but every now and again, when I have to stop my crazy, frenetic pace and force myself to slow down and smell the roses (especially now when my health literally depends on it), I think of Magriet and her looking back on her long working career and wonder whether I will agree with her more or less when I get to retirement age.

I'd like to end this post with the list compiled by a nurse entitled The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. If you were to die today, what would your regrets be? Change them today :)

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”