I love a good book, because I’m reading quite theoretical texts day in day out for my Masters degree I love to pick up something totally light-hearted. I love Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It – no wonder it was made into a blockbuster film, it’s totally topical for the generation of the juggling mother and Pearson writes with great wit and verve. For me this is no ‘chick lit’ novel, although the cover betrays this, her protagonist Kate Reddy is brought to life by an author with a brilliant eye for detail, a heroine for the ‘can’t have it all…. can I?’ mother.
We were the first of our friends to marry, the first to have children, with only other mamas at baby groups to compare myself to they seemed to have made a really easy transition back to work, breezily they’d ask where Joss would be going, how brilliant it would be to have a hot cup of tea, adult conversation, use my brain again. Inside I was panicking, how would we manage the busy mornings, what if I had to undertake a really big task at work on no sleep, were there alternative childcare arrangements, which would be the best for me, for Joss???
I’ve been back for 12 weeks now, I feel quite settled but am still aware that I want to have it all and I can’t so something has to give. I’m also acutely aware that my ‘organised chaos’ whilst a tried and tested method for living life pre-children, isn’t so adequate when we have 100 things to do before we can get out the door and only ten minutes to do them in.
The emotional side of leaving my darling child is a conflicted one, I’d be lying if I said I don’t like my work days, I know a few other Mamas who feel the same but maybe others do and prefer not to say. I am a better mother the other five days of the week because I have another self that has other responsibilities, space in her head for more than just the housework, contributes and can take some space from the minutae of raising a child. On the other hand, leaving her is an incredible wrench, it’s knowing that she will be chatting to someone else, sharing lunch with someone else, I won’t cross her mind at all but she’s always in mine. I pop out for lunch and see something she would be interested to see, see another child doing something that she would be amused by, but I know she’s settled and happy and will be waiting with a huge grin when I pick her up.
What I most struggle with is the pace of time and managing it. There’s this tension between the start of the week where the hours and days stretch ahead, and the end where I return home on a Thursday, frantic to prepare a meal, get a nappy wash on so she has something for her bum for the next day, make the lunches, wash up, tidy and prepare my own clothes for the following day, into morning, getting everything ready and racing to be at the childminder on time to get to the office on time…. And then the return home, the Metro is delayed because it’s so warm that the overhead line cable has snapped (really!) and so I take a taxi and am late for Joss who is now hungry and crabby… Kate Reddy clearly feels my pain; “If I stay in the bathroom long enough Richard will fall asleep and will not try to have sex with me. If we don’t have sex, I can skip a bath in the morning. If skip the bath, I will have time to start on the e-mails that have built up while I’ve been away… ”
Then there’s the guilt, OK if I didn’t work we wouldn’t long have a roof over our heads but maybe I should have had a better career, a better house to take the pressure off… “Personally, I find nonworking mothers awkward company because it’s like someone standing there holding up a large polished mirror, the better to show the reflection of my guilt.”
I was struck by this when doing some less light hearted reading. I’m researching and writing about maternal time for my dissertation, I read a really insightful article by Heather Elliot which gave me some real food for thought. You might like to read it here http://www.mamsie.bbk.ac.uk/back_issues/3_1/documents/Elliott_SiM_3(1)2011.pdf
She also talks about Pearson’s book (fate, no?!) and her own experience of running into a friend and telling her she’s gone back to work “Does he miss you?’ she asks lightly. Mommy Wars.” I find the idea of being a ‘good enough’ mother really interesting, as a self-confessed perfectionist could this ever be enough for me? Motherhood has really forced upon me a sense of needing to let go of this, yet it forms a massive part of my identity and is something I look for in other mothers so it really interested me that Elliot found the same in her research – “I often come away from the mothers I interview wondering if they are ‘alright’, if they are coping. In thinking about my experience of reading, I also spot how vulnerable my mothering was, how easily I started to doubt myself. I am on the look-out for a similar sensitivity in the mothers I interview.”
So I see these other mothers and think to myself, I don’t know how she does it… But I do it, maybe not well, but I do. I do work, study and juggle, there are some practical skills I have yet you hone. Packing a bag the night before is something that has always evaded me, proper preparation prevents p**s poor performance apparently. I’m not a preparer, I’m a flapper, a frantic whirligig of activity slowly moving towards the front door, shouting to my husband quick, grab this, that, and the other, and constantly reminding him we have to be about by 8:15 or the world will cave in on us and spark a chain of events resulting in…being a bit late for work. Remembering things along the way and then, oh sh*t I’ve forgotten x,y,z. I probably ought to keep a diary, I buy one in December every year, crisp white pages, I love this one, how could I not want to write all my appointments in this, I’ll be a new woman, January 15th comes around and I stop and never return to the damned thing!
Call it procrastination, call it head burying in the sand, I know I’ll be the Kate Reddy that’s bashing shop bought mince pies for the school fair with a rolling pin to pass them off as my own! Why change the habit of a lifetime, eh?