44: Getting Real

44: Getting Real

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Getting Real

Sometimes you just need a little bit of time for yourself to clear up your mind and see things from a new perspective.

~Author Unknown

Clutching my steering wheel, I stared at the cracks in the pavement in the parking lot at the Presqu’ile Beach Motel in Brighton, Ontario. Up until that moment, the destination had been just another familiar sign on a well-traveled road, one that would normally have signaled the halfway point of my regular two-hour commute to the city.

But on this occasion, it was proving to be an historic landmark — a tipping point — the scene of the unexpected mutiny from my life.

The cheerful hanging baskets and colourful plastic chairs belied the dark mood that had brought me there. While my car idled, an internal debate about whether or not to check in — and check out for a few days — raged within me.

I wasn’t a camper, sojourner or wayfarer. I had none of the seasonal trappings of the other guests — there was no canoe strapped to my roof or flip-flops on my feet. There was no good reason for me to be in that place at that time, except that I was a tired working woman who was dangerously close to crossing the centre line of sanity for no apparent reason. I guess that made it as good a place as any to stop and try to catch my breath.

What would people say? This was the main point on which I was stuck.

A friend of mine had done the very thing I was contemplating and not only did she live to tell the tale, but her reputation as a dedicated wife, mother and working professional remained intact in spite of it. She told me her story over a glass of wine one night, in matter-of-fact tones, as if she were weighing the merits of shaving versus waxing. Exhaustion is a very common condition amongst working women, and I bore the signs of one who was similarly afflicted, so she had every reason to trust that I would lend a listening ear without judgment.

You see, the real trouble with “leaning in” and trying to excel at both career and family — with a bow to Sheryl Sandberg — is that unless you have paid staff keeping the home fires burning, the chances of catching a steep angle and finding yourself prostrate on the floor are pretty good.

I was impressed by the methodical nature of my friend’s revolt. Even in her darkest hour she was the consummate planner. She brought enough food to sustain her for forty-eight hours so she wouldn’t need to leave her hotel room.

While she was there she had a good cry, a long bath, and watched a couple of movies. But mostly she just slept off the dark cloud until some glimmer of a silver lining helped her find her way back home.

“I just need a break,” I said to myself as I turned the engine off and reached for my purse.

I knew I couldn’t make the trip to work, but could I really make the decision not to go home? Taking a sick day is one thing, abandoning your family, even briefly, is quite another.

The fear that had been manageable while the car was idling now began to make me tremble. I needed more time to weigh the pros and cons, to make a list of some kind that would prove that this was a totally ridiculous idea. I quickly turned the engine back on.

My friend had checked into a hotel, not a motel — there’s a huge difference. Motels never have bathrobes, fluffy towels or plump mattresses. And worst of all they are a haven for those hideously patterned, quilted polyester bedspreads — the ones contoured to fit old beds with rusty springs, like some sad, stain-screening shrink-wrap. How could I get the rest I so desperately needed in such a low thread-count environment?

I shuddered to think of it and then I remembered my bedroom at home, a linen aficionado’s paradise with cozy cotton quilts, a feather bed and, yes, my very own terrycloth bathrobe. My rational voice said, “Just go home, woman, and call it a day!” If fretting about the sheets was my biggest concern, maybe I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet.

Home is comfort, that’s true. But home is a lot of other things, too, like expectation, routine and the unending call of duty. To the occasional visitor home is a showcase of all that you’ve done, but for the permanent occupant it is more often a screaming chorus of what you’ve left undone. It’s no small wonder that home, for many people, is the least restful place on earth.

I was about to turn the engine off once again when I thought about the call I would need to make to my husband. I couldn’t do this without at least telling him where I’d gone, that I was okay, and that I did intend to come back home, after about forty-eight hours of self-imposed isolation.

“Blindsided!” was the word I imagined him using when he, inevitably, called his mother or my mother or one of his friends to tell them what I’d done. I could see him with his face in his hands sitting at our craggy old kitchen table repeating the word “Blindsided!” and alternating between rage and disbelief.

Realizing the extent to which Mark would be completely shocked by my taking such a desperate measure to deal with my exhaustion — a situation about which I hadn’t given an adequate voice — was, even more than the abhorrent flame-retardant textiles, what made me realize I had to go home. It was time for me to grow up and finally learn how to speak the truth, to make up for all the times I’d lied to my husband, saying “I’m fine” even though I wasn’t. Like many women, I had made the classic mistake of secretly (and stupidly) wishing he could read my mind.

And so with at least one curious onlooker, I slowly backed out of the driveway, turned my car around and pointed it in the direction of home. I would take some unused vacation days and I would tell my husband what, exactly, I needed by way of a couple of days off the grid.

More than anything I would ask him not to judge me. Maybe other women were coping with all of the demands better than me, but “compare-and-contrast”, while great for book reports, is a horrible way to live your life.

As for the title of my book, instead of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I’m thinking about Get Real: Women, Work and the Will to Survive.

~Michelle Hauser

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