I had coffee with a girlfriend this morning. She is a fellow journalist –pretty, well-spoken and hard-working. She and I talked about first this thing and then that, catching up and comparing notes. Then we got into a conversation about the business of being a wife, a mom and a professional. I was reminded of a piece I wrote several years ago, entitled, "Thanks Mom." It went like this:
"I can still see her – that sexy (yet somehow executively competent) blonde vixen in a clingy evening gown. She slinks seductively toward the camera, cooking imaginary bacon in a real skillet and singing, "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan," then "something something blah blah blah …and satisfy my man." I believe she was peddling perfume with that ditty.
Sexuality and confidence simply oozed from this woman. And as a young girl of eight or nine staring wide-eyed at the T.V., I remember thinking, "That's how I want to be when I grow up."
Wow. Talk about a reality check. I sit here in a faded tie-dye sweatshirt and denim shorts, somewhat overweight (oh, who am I kidding) amid papers stacked on carpet that really should be vacuumed this week. There's a dog at my feet and one practically sitting in my lap. I'm researching an article, folding laundry and trying to figure out which thaws faster – chicken or ground beef – because I forgot to defrost something for dinner. Again.
And there's not even the hint of the scent of bacon cooking. No silk, no sequins. Where did I get off track? What happened to my girlhood dream? The bacon lady told me years ago that I could have it all, be everything to everyone and look great doing it without ever breaking a sweat.
Well nearly 40 years after I first saw the amazing bejeweled bacon lady, I'd like the chance to go back and ask her a few questions, maybe get some pointers. She was probably, say, in her late 20s when that commercial was made. Then again, that's from my perspective today – I'm a 47-year-old mom. She was probably more like 12 when that ad was shot.
I suppose the first question I'd pose to her would be, "Do you have any children?" I mean, I distinctly remember that she had mascara on both eyes and her shoes matched. How often does that happen when you have kids? If her answer is "yes," then I'd have to ask her part "a" of that question, which is, "What did you do with your children while you were bringing home the bacon?" Day care? A nanny?
Part "b," I'd have to say, would be, "Did you dress like that for PTA meetings?"
Our moms and their moms are responsible for the conundrum that is the life of women today. Oh they meant well, and they achieved many rights to which we are all now entitled – the right to vote, to drive, to smoke, to fight in wars. And they fought hard for the right of a woman to work and actually get paid for it (not the same pay as men in many cases, but that day will come). I can't believe they foresaw all the repercussions of these liberties, though. If they had, they would have started teaching us to multitask like crazy while we were still in utero.
Who among us working moms hasn't felt the heartstrings pull when we peel a screaming toddler off of us in the doorway of the daycare center, all the while assuring him that mommy will be back soon? Then again, who among us liberated women hasn't worried and sweated about missing work to care for a sick child? Who hasn't heard the disapproval in the boss' voice while soothing a fever and rushing a crying child to the toilet for the tenth time – and it's not even 8 a.m.?
I'm not smelling bacon.
I have a daughter now, and she's 16 years old. She is so much more savvy than I was at her age. She just "gets" it. She digs in her heels when I coax and instruct; she definitely has her own ideas about how life ought to be – about how it will be. I walk a very fine line, feeling the need to keep her feet on the ground but thrilled that she wants to soar. She will be a better mother than I am - probably a better woman, too - and for that I am grateful.
When she's not looking, or not noticing that I'm looking, I see a little bit of me in her. I hear common-sense practicality and an even character. I hear laughter and dreaming and a love of life. She likes who she is. She's a knockout when she's all dressed up, and she's beautiful when she's in jeans, a t-shirt and no makeup. She knows who she is.
It took me 47 years to get where she's gotten in 16, but I like where I am, too. I like to think that all I've learned in nearly half a century I've been able to pass on to her. There are things I would change if I could, parenting things that seemed so important at the time but that I can't even recall now. I would've let more things slide, and I wouldn't have beat myself up about it. What matters is the bottom line. I am happy and loved. My husband and my children are happy and loved.
I think the bacon lady might have temporarily derailed my idea of what kind of woman I thought I wanted to be when I was younger. We moms, we women, can't be all things to all people. But we can love and accomplish, heal and nurture, conquer and achieve in our own time and on our own terms. And that's sexy. With absolutely no animal fat or preservatives."
To my friend with whom I enjoyed coffee this morning, thanks. You're not alone.