Ever since I watched the CBC documentary The Motherload, I’ve been plagued by a sense of injustice the likes of which I haven’t felt in decades. It’s the kind of feeling that makes you want to scream, “it’s not FAIR!” at the top of your lungs to the world in general. It’s a sense of betrayal that the world made you a deal – you lived up to your half – and now the world is reneging.
We all get this feeling sometimes. Likely you experienced it first in childhood: maybe a classmate broke a rule and you wound up taking the blame, or a sibling broke your favourite toy. We learn, in small ways, that the world is not a fair place and we learn (in small doses) to deal with that fact. But from time-to-time, life ups and wallops you – hard.
The first time I remember this bitter feeling was 1993. I had graduated from university into one of the worst economic recessions to date with two shiny new degrees and the dream of being a teacher. The world had other ideas. My degree in elementary education landed me a job as a nanny with a salary of $200 per week. After a few soul-killing months there, I spent the next year as a temp, bouncing from office to office every day, answering phones and making copies for a few bucks more per hour than minimum wage. There were dark days during those first few years out of university. I had worked hard to earn my Bachelor’s degree (yes, I played during those years too, but I understood the importance and value of a good education and I excelled; earning honours at graduation). I knew a B.A. in English wasn’t going to be the ticket to a great job, so I spent my final year volunteering in local classrooms and writing long application essays to a range of universities with the goal of becoming a teacher. It was competitive then, getting into B.Ed. programs, but I worked hard, and I was accepted. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was it: the job I was made for. I knew I’d found my life’s work and that made it all the more painful to get letter after letter after letter from school boards explaining that they were not hiring, no not even for substitute teachers. That year, I only knew two students from our graduating class who actually got jobs teaching for public school boards in Canada. Some headed to Asia or South America to teach, others gave up on the profession in favour of other pursuits. I felt sorry for myself.
But here’s the thing: I knew people who had it worse than I did, and eventually I was able to appreciate the skills I learned as an office temp. To this day I can still un-jam any photocopier around and I still know more about Word, Powerpoint and Excel than any of my friends.
With age and experience, I’ve become pretty good at accepting that the world doesn’t owe any of us a favour, and the best you can do when life comes out swinging is to roll with the punches and just keep on keeping on. But this doc – The Motherload – it knocked the wind out of me. This, people, is really not fair. It’s also not right and it’s definitely not sustainable. The Motherload was inspired by the famous 2012 Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All“ which everyone really should read, for the record. But to be honest, I never really even wanted it all, and I suspect many of you would agree with me. It’s the economic reality of the world we live in which forces me to try to have it all anyway. Even before my marriage ended, I had gone back to work full-time, because our family simply could not make do on one income. I love my job, which makes it a bit easier to balance it all, but I still groan in recognition when I read the phrase “the second shift”, and I have come to accept that my only alone time is the 30-minute commute to and from work. You know what I mean, don’t you?
Then go dig up your 4 Non Blondes tapes and listen to “What’s Going On” with me. Come on, belt it out at the top of your lungs – it’ll make you feel better.