“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” Phyllis Diller
The truth is, being a mother is a lot of work. At the height of my mothering of 4 children at home I cleaned. Every day. I did 4 loads of laundry. Every day. I cooked the meals and loaded the dishwasher and and found missing shoes while not missing school or practice schedules and unloaded the dishwasher in order to do it all again. Every day. Those who wondered what I did with my time only had to look at a day I didn’t do it to understand how the work piled up. Because blips in the routine and vacations out of town didn’t provide a break in the work — it just shoved it to another day. Kind of like the snow I am battling today. The snow that I am about to put a shovel to for the 3rd time in 24 hours.
This particular snowstorm is not epic for one who was a midwestern teenager during the blizzard of ’78 and it is even somewhat welcome given the relatively mild winters of late. But, just like the laundry and cleaning of raising my children, every time I think it’s done I look around and it’s been undone. As a single mother with one school-age child still at home and household and work commitments to take care of, I have no choice but to tackle it, as it comes, in order to stay on top of it, whether I want to or not.
As I was working on my driveway this morning, the above quote came to mind from comedienne Phyllis Diller, whose self-deprecating stand up routines of the 60’s and 70’s are woven into my same-era childhood memories. Recalling her eccentric persona and raucous laugh I couldn’t help but link her observations about culture and current events to the The Post movie that I saw over the weekend. Like Diller, Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Katherine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, The Washington Post, seemed awkward at first, and almost bumbling, but as the story unfolded, it became obvious to me that that was part of the point. Because the truth, itself, is very often awkward and even if told with humor and grace, is as welcome a female in the misogynistic Washington Post board room.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and headlined by Streep and Tom Hanks, The Post is a story that is as much about women’s struggles in the workplace as it is about the Pentagon Papers. Its relevance to these times is obvious and is worth the retelling because if we don’t keep up with the process of sorting the information, it will overtake us. We will be covered by piles upon piles of the dirty laundry and polluted slush that those who wish to bury the truth continue to churn out. It is not news that those in power wish to cover up the truth. This is especially true when the truth teller is a woman who gets talked over and looked past and put down.
But here’s the thing — no matter who is saying it or how it is told, time is the one thing that always tells the truth. This movie is historical. And fact based. The facts are the facts and they now speak for themselves and they will continue to do so if we let them. If we continue bring them to light. Just like the facts underlying the struggles that both women and media still face. We work every day cleaning things up and clearing the path only to wake up and do it all again. But we are undaunted. And just like Streep’s characterization of Graham, as she steps into the power of the truth she becomes steadier, straighter, taller and firmer.
Telling the truth, like being a mother and being a feminist, is hard work but it gets easier with practice. As Streep-as-Graham states to Hanks-as-editor Ben Bradlee near the end of the movie, “We don’t always get it right. We’re not always perfect, but I think if we can just keep on it, you know? That’s the job, isn’t it?” That is the job. Keeping on it. Because if you let the snow sit, it gets heavier. If you let the laundry pile up, it gets stinkier. Just like the lies. So we must continue to be willing to dig to find the path even when it is awkward and bumbling and hard to hear amidst the other voices.
There are days when I want to just stay inside and let it all pile up — this every day work — knowing that come springtime, the snow will melt and the kids will move on to another part of their closet where the clothes are clean and neatly put away, already. But the truth, like a good snow-shoveling — gets my heart pumping. It has become a blunt-force objective for me to stand in my truth and receive it from others, even when it hurts. Especially if the lies hurt others. Because even when the half-truths that people believed I wanted to hear were as beautiful as a new blanket of snow, they left me just as cold.
There is a path under there — cleared by women like Phyllis Diller, who understood the power of being a court jester, of sorts, to challenge audiences with truths on gender and sexuality and Katherine Graham, a town crier who held court in a public forum. Truth — our right to know it and her right to tell it was upheld by the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that “the press was to serve the governed, not the governors”. Supremely relevant, still today, as the governed have become part and parcel to the media with devices for our truth telling in our hands. It should be our aim, as parents, to make sure that our children’s growth includes an accurate portrayal of larger societal truths more than our personal social media-based fictions.
Just as the snow and the laundry and the penchant for power mongers to manipulate the truth are relentless, so are those of us who are governed and galvanized and willing to pick up a shovel and dig. And its a good thing I am willing because it is snowing again, much to the delight of my dogs and my 10-year old daughter, who just learned of another day off of school. So they will play and undo all I have just done… but the truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not today, anyway. For she will see me working every day to dig us out and hold us up. Her history will include my relentless quest to live and love the truth of who I am — with a little grace, some humor, and a whole lot of awkward. Because if, as Diller once said, “comedy is tragedy revisited”, the more we can tell our truths and retell our tragedies, maybe, just maybe, we will be able to undo some of what has been done.