Let's Make a Deal
Avigail is young, Orthodox woman who lives in my building. She is the same age as me. She is married, of course. She has children, of course. And she is a stay-at-home Mom, of course. I will confess that I have always regarded her with more than a bitof disdain and apathy. (I am not proud of this.)
How, my fellow sassy, singleton diva friends and I would wonder, could a smart, attractive, vibrant woman like Avigail, allow herself to be so 'constrained,' ‘contained’ and 'controlled'? There Avigail was, my friend Gisella would always say, "a perpetually reminder of how far women had not come": meekly silent, unfashionably dressed, and she seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be always, always perpetually pregnant.
“The baby factory” was the crude moniker by which my friends and I referred to her. “What an empty, mindless existence she has,” and, “What a waste,” were what we thought of her, either silently or aloud. But watching Avigail now, three years on, walking in the autumn breeze of Washington Square Park, with her brood of four beautiful girls, and I see that she, unknowingly, has had the last laugh on us all.
Recently, there has clearly been a sea-change. My gaggle of late-late-late 30-somethings has changed. We have reached a point where we ask ourselves, “What’s it all for?” The nameplates, high heels, business cards and walls full of accolades for which we strived so terribly hard, have left us feeling empty and unfulfilled.
We, who have stood upon the shoulders of women who could only have dreamed of what we have actually and factually achieved, have climbed the ladders of success, and reached the top only to find that there is nothing of real value there.
My friend, Mikaela, likening our lives to the popular, American game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” put it nicely: “We are all still hoping there’s something special behind door number 3.”
Like “Let’s Make aDeal,” our lives are all about choices and consequence. I understand better now, why, as I child, I was almost obsessed with that particular game show. I loved the sheer vibrancy and utter enthusiasm of its contestants. The host would ask them to make a choice: “Would you like what’s in the box, what I havein this envelope, or what’s behind door number 3?”
The camera would then zoom in tightly on the bemused contestant’s face, their brows furrowed in a pinched knot, trying desperately to ascertain without any clues whatsoever, what the best choice might be.
Inevitably, he or she would eventually turn to their fellow audience members for advice and guidance, as if they somehow held more insight into what was hidden than the contestant. Right on cue, without any hesitation or knowledge, the audience members would begin to shout definitively: “The Box, take the box!” or, “The envelope, the envelope!”
Then, my favorite moment. Suddenly, the contestant, struck by some sort of divine insight, held once again in extreme close-up, would make an unflinching and unwavering decision: “Door number 3, Monty!” How I admired that grit, that determination, that certainty, that steeliness. We would all hold our breath as the prize was revealed.
Sometimes, behind door number 3 there would be a trip for two to Hawaii (a prize that was always met with the exact same dead-pan “ooh’s” and “ah’s” each and every time) or—the biggest bonanza of all—“a new car!” The announcement of “a new car” was always met with fanfare and confetti – the ultimate sign that the contestant had made the right decision, and that the game show gods were smiling down favorably.
But, just as often, the curtains would part and reveal that the contestant had won a donkey. A real, live donkey, which of course made the contestant feel and look like an ass. (I always wondered what the people who chose the donkey did with the animal after the show was over. Did they actually take them home and keep them as pets?)
For some reason, I have been thinking a lot about “Let’s Make a Deal” these past few days after turning 40. As many have already and extensively acknowledged, forty is not the major milestone that it once was. I read somewhere that “40” is the new “30,” and indeed, it does feel “new.”
Unlike tales of old, of women crossing this threshold, going into deep mourning and weeping unceasingly at the loss of “youth,” and the progress of time, I happily dove headlong into 40. The arrival of 40 for me, felt like I had a chance to choose again. To start again. To give the donkey back, and make another selection.“I’ll take the box!”
Game show metaphors aside, for today’s woman in this post-post-post-first-wave-feminism era, the choices are the same as they always were: career or family. Sure, there are people who say that they actively manage both, but I know very few of these women, and even fewer who are happy with the compromises they are forced to make on either end.
This leads me back to“Let’s Make a Deal.” As I face the next forty years of my life, I find myself standing as a hopeful contestant faced with a difficult choice. My biological clock, my internal Monty Hall, reminds me that “times running out” and I must decide.
I can imagine hearing the voices of my peers in the “audience,” clinging to the tenets we were taught in Feminism 101: “Achieve! Achieve! Achieve!” and “Succeed! Succeed! Succeed!” But then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Avigail and her merry, little brood, and I see that her achievements and successes have been far greater and longer lasting than my own.Perhaps, I find myself thinking, Avigail has known there was nothing behind door number 3 all along.
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