The Lumberjill: ‘You’re not the carefree woman I married’

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Columnist

A friend recently sent me a New Yorker cartoon. Depicted in it is a harried woman wearing a baby, a child and a dog begging for attention at her feet, toys strewn across the floor and dinner bubbling on the stove. Her husband stands at the edge of the scene and says, “You’re not the carefree woman I married.”


Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

It’s funny because it’s true. It’s also not funny. Because it is true.

Another friend quipped it would be more true if the woman was saying this phrase to herself. I agree. My husband is steadfast. I am the one tied up in knots about my fullness of cares.

I am not the carefree woman my husband partnered with many years ago. Back when we were in our 20s. Back before we had a mortgage, a business, a child. Back before we cared to play the connect-the-dots game of Responsible Adulting that generates a picture of what can best be described as a near-drowning experience.

I am no longer a carefree woman. 

Where once I delighted in floating large rivers atop Walmart air mattresses (it’s a raft, but it’s also a bed!) or generating schemes to drive away hordes of tourists (Beware, said the mock flyers, of the rabid ringtail cats!), I now just don’t delight. Not often. Delight has been relegated to the closet of childish things. Delight is crap when it comes to laundry or budgeting. Delight can go jump in a lake. Like it used to. Back in the day.

Long ago, in the years when delight still reigned supreme, I hiked with a male friend who was older and, ostensibly, wiser. He told me that the reason mature men preferred younger women was that they were “less rigid.” Older women, apparently, became rigid. Rather than calling him an ageist asshole, my young and accommodating self vowed to never become rigid.

Ha. Hahaha.

I’ve failed.

Or have I?

Depends on which metrics you use. 

Does running a successful business, raising a happy child, owning a home and being full-heartedly married count as a failure? I think not. I think that’s winning.

However, what about the part of me that can’t relax at home for the proliferation of to-do lists? What about the part of me that refuses to prioritize aimless rambles in the woods for all the things in life that seem more pressing and productive? What about the part of me that has forgotten how to be spontaneous because I am spinning a hundred plates right now, and any unplanned movement will send them crashing to the floor. And then <sigh> I will have to sweep up the mess.

Is that winning?

Long ago, in the years when delight still reigned supreme, I accepted an impromptu invite to an avant-garde circus. There were plate-spinners, contortionists and sword swallowers. There were burlesque performers and daredevil clowns. I look back on that show and think, I’m not rigid.I am, in fact, an entire effing circus.

Not only am I spinning the plates of all my responsibilities, but I am contorting to the shifting demands of a maturing child and a growing business. I swallow the swords that are news reports of violence and then regurgitate them in a way that won’t cause nightmares for a 7-year-old. I have a song and dance routine that I perform for certain people and situations. The only thing I might omit is the clown routine. I’m bad at the clown routine.

So, is all of that rigidity? Or is it, in fact, the greatest show on earth?

Perhaps the latter. But the performance comes at a cost. 

During workday lunch breaks, our crew seeks out shade and delights in off-color observations and jokes. It is a good lunch if laughter drowns out the sound of a cooling chipper engine. I once took pride in my unprintable one-liners. But now? I am instead consumed by my smartphone. I try to use my break to stay ahead of my to-do list so my evenings aren’t working hours. I am boring on lunch break. I feel detached. And alone.

“You’re not the carefree woman I married,” says the cartoon. I hate that cartoon. And I love it. Just like I both hate and love the responsible, some might say “rigid,” person I’ve become. That person seems uptight. And that person seems like Superwoman.

I look at my husband and I think, He’s lucky to be with someone so dependable and driven. I look at my husband and think, How can he stand to be married to someone so boring? I am all contradictions when it comes to the expression of my maturity. I am awed. I am ashamed.

With such maturity now in hand, I want to go back in time to talk to the man who spoke of women’s rigidity. I want to say, It’s not rigidity. It’s strength. And that strength probably scares you.

It sometimes scares me. Because, once you have learned that you are capable and strong, it’s hard to step back from the challenge. It’s hard to say, I can do it all, but I choose not to.

Having it all as a woman comes at a steep price. Yes, you can have a career and a child, but you will also still have much of the homemaking and the mental load of householding. You can have it all, and all is a lot to carry. I wanted it all, took it all on and now I am looking around my tidy-ish house for the self who wanted it to begin with. Where is that young woman who made a list of dreams and, in the alchemy of youth and hope, made it all manifest? Where has that person gone? I want to yell at her to come back here and take responsibility for her abundance. Damn it.

Maybe if I inflate the air mattress and take it for a boozy float with my true-blue beloved (a man blessedly unfazed by my crazed circus), I’ll find her again. Maybe carefree being is but one decision — and $50 worth of babysitting — away. Maybe it’s best that the carefree woman remains somewhere out there, rather than inside this planning mind of mine. Maybe she’s safe. And maybe, when I find her again, I can let all the spinning plates shatter, and we will make a mosaic of the wreckage.

Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at See more of Quintano’s writing at

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