Tag Archives: Work

Marriage and the Magic Question: Who’s Doing the Work?

 

April 20161 (800x400)

I sent the text at 6.30, when (according to his schedule) he should’ve been an hour into his ninety-minute journey home.

‘Hey, where are you?’

I hate sending that text – the studied casualness of it, the fact that I’m too tired even to put a smiley face on the end. Wherever he is, he is not here, and we both know that unless the answer comes back as ‘Five minutes away, and bearing a giant pizza with your face on it’, it will not be good news.

When I’m really cheesed off, I miss out the ‘Hey’. It sounds worse, somehow. AND I MEAN IT TO.

After sending the text it occurs to me to check Find My Friends, so I do. He’s still in London. I sigh out a sigh that empties my entire body of breath, and head upstairs to find pyjamas for the boys. Between tubes, trains and taxis, he won’t be home till almost 9pm. I will make a huge effort to remember that he’s had a hard day too. Some days (the 9pm days, when he walks in looking like stepped-on toast) I succeed. Some days (the 7pm-and-I-missed-bedtime-by-five-minutes days) I don’t.

Looking over the landscape of an eight-year marriage – the lumps and bumps and glorious vistas – nothing has stoked our mutual resentment more often than this, this question that only became important once we had children: who’s doing the work? Secretly, I suspect, we both think we’re doing the heavy lifting. Tim earns practically all our money, so is pretty much responsible for keeping four humans fed, housed and comfortable. It’s a high-pressured job that involves early starts, late returns and travelling away for days at a time. He has targets to meet, people to impress, an inbox full of emails to respond to. He can never quite keep up, however long he works. How exhausting.

Then me. While he earns the raw materials, I’m project-managing our whole lives into something happy and functioning. I manage the meals, the schedules, the homework, the outings, the finding of exactly the right pair of dinosaur pyjamas when literally none of the other five pairs of available pyjamas will do. I am always on call. When I want so much as a haircut I have to scrabble around for cover. My coworkers are irrational, demanding and sometimes downright abusive. I do not get paid one whit for any of it. How exhausting.

I’d rather our roles weren’t so thoroughly marked out, and so would he, but they are. Busy office jobs mean long hours out of the house; I’ve neglected my freelancing career enough lately (mostly through necessity, though this is something that hurts all on its own) that I struggle to justify the time it takes away from the boys. So there we are, despite our efforts decidedly not breaking down any stereotypes: the man works, the woman tends the children. We spend weekends recovering from breathless week-days, and at church.

Some days I watch him sail out of the door, on his way to deal with proper adults and get properly remunerated, and it feels like he’s escaping something, and I boil with the injustice of it. Some days I dance around a sunlit forest with a two-year-old hunting for Gruffalos, or watch H’s face light up when he sees me waiting after school, or put T down for a nap and settle to some writing under a duvet, and I know I’ll never be as lucky as this again in my life.

It depends on the day. I expect it depends on the day for Tim, too, whether his work feels like inescapable pressure or blissful, uninterrupted quiet.

Neither of us has really experienced the other’s life (my years of full-time work preceded our very-full-time children so I’ve never done both; the one time I’ve been away without them for a week, he had to work and the boys stayed with various relatives). Maybe one day it would be good for us to try. For now I think we’re where we’re supposed to be, as long as we keep reaching outside of our spheres to help and relieve each other.

We just have to remember (consciously, out loud, and over and over again) that work is work is work. Work, no matter what we’re wearing or which part of the brain we use. Work that keeps our lives, our family and ourselves intact. It’s all work, and it all matters, and we’re doing it all together.

Except for the boys, who are basically freeloading at this point. The rotters.

Photo 19-12-2015, 1 07 56 pm

I used to have thoughts

At 4am this morning, I was feeding and reading old blog posts. Because I’d just had a dream that it was Blog Exam day, where some adjudicating body gave blog posts grades and comments, and all of my comments were just giant photos of cheese. I woke up with one hand over my stabbed heart and had to find a post that wasn’t cheese and/or a baby face. You know what, it took a while.

A couple of weeks before Teddy arrived, I wrote this:

There are ideas about myself that I hold on to, that are precious to me, and it hurts to be without them. Like, for example, I Am A Person Who Thinks and Writes. It is embarrassing to say it, but I feel vulnerable without it. I feel less of a person.

Then I realise that perhaps there are times when I’m stripped of those things so that I can work out how to be myself without them. They don’t have to define me, after all; or not all the time. I am about to go back to a point where the definition of a productive day is getting dressed and making sure everyone is fed. And sometimes not even getting dressed. It was hard, last time, accepting that simplicity. It was difficult to feel valuable when my own markers of value were all beyond me. I had to find other ways of being complete. I think it’s time to practice it again.

I am there, now. In the space where my best days involve getting dressed and putting in a load of laundry. Most days I don’t get any housework done at all, and just run around putting out fires. There are lovely, lovely moments and I adore these boys, but damn, if two years and ten weeks isn’t a lethal combination. When I get a spare second I don’t know whether to sleep, clean, or stop everything and try again tomorrow. I can’t read. I can’t think of anything to write. I want my words back. I want my words.

This is really hard.

I have decided to make some baby steps towards getting back in balance again. I’m going to take the boys somewhere this week that’s not Tesco or the local park. Tim and I have tickets to see the Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies double bill in Stratford next March, for my birthday (they are standing tickets, which is all they had left, but it will be TOTALLY WORTH IT, MASTER CROMWELL). Then Tim is in Edinburgh for a day and a half next week, and we’re going to go with him. Tomorrow we’re going to the library and getting something out that’s not about lions. And I want to enrol on a creative writing course that starts next April, and start taking this thing seriously. I’ll have my head back by next April, right?

In the meantime, hey – thanks for reading. I hope things are alright with you. I’m really glad you’re here.

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Blank face. I’m getting good at that one.

Mothers and work: three reasons why you’re doing just fine

I’ve been reading a lot lately about mothers and work. Is there something in the air? (Or, more likely, something in the news I’ve missed?)

Two thoughtful blog posts about it popped up in my feed yesterday: one on Peonies and Polaroids, from a self-employed mother of twins who went back to wedding photography after a few months; then one on Oh! you pretty things, from an at-home mother writing about satisfaction and validation. Both of them were sensitive and truthful and made me think.

I have friends in every situation: in full-time work, in part-time work, at-home freelancers, stay-at-homers; wishing for more hours or  for more time at home or struggling with the balance of the two. Or enjoying where they are, but feeling, somehow, that they shouldn’t be. Wherever you end up, you feel guilty about what you want. As with so many things involving babies – *cough* breastfeeding, cloth nappies, sleep routines, staple toddler foods, SHALL I GO ON – it feels like you can’t hear about someone else’s choice without it reflecting somehow on yours.

Me, I always thought that I’d give up work once we got to the baby stage. I knew my babies wouldn’t be small forever, and thought the raising of them was my job. While Timothy worked on computers, I would work on little minds. It was such a beautiful calling I would never want for anything but nursery rhymes, and be deliriously happy all. the. time.

Then I had Henry, and found that so many things changed – inside and out – I could never have predicted them all. And if it was like that for me, then it was like that for everyone. I felt like Mrs Dalloway: I could not say of anyone in the world, now, that they were this or were that. Do you know (you probably do know), I adore that boy. Watching him develop into a person is one of the great fulfilling joys of my life. He drives me mad most days, but for every don’t drink that dirty water no that’s a knife GET DOWN FROM THERE minute there are ten where I’m laughing too hard to move or whooping over some little accomplishment, and thinking you, sir, are the best thing that ever happened to us.

I carried on working part-time because we needed the income, because editing and copywriting lend themselves to freelancing better than most, and because they need practice if I’m not going to run mad and start putting splice commas in offensive places. (Please don’t look at this blog for evidence of my grammar sense. I try to switch off the radar here, and only occasionally break out into a rash of dependent clauses.) I discovered very quickly that I could only work when Henry was asleep, and wrestled with using my time in a way that felt right. Guilt, and guilt, and guilt. In the process, I made three more discoveries: 

one,

parenting is not ‘my job’. It’s ours. There are things Timothy gives Henry that I can’t, and vice versa. He will take things from both of us, for better and worse, and if he doesn’t feel that we both love him and are invested in him equally, then we’re doing something wrong.

two,

it’s alright not to love every aspect of raising a tiny person. The happiness is intense, but so is the smell of the nappy bin. Just like any other daily routine, between breakfast, lunch, dinner and constant clean-up, there are things that are a grind. It’s ok to admit it. It doesn’t mean you love your child less because you don’t sing like Snow White while scrubbing spaghetti sauce or clearing up pee.

three,

being a mother makes me more of myself, not less. Or it should. I still love the things I used to love and need the things I used to need. There are so many things I want to be over the space of a lifetime: someone who can play through a good concerto, someone engaged in politics and world events, someone who travels, someone who tells a magnificent bedtime story, someone who really, truly writes. I run through ten different aspects of myself in a week, and use all of them to mother with. If there are a million varieties of people, and hence a million varieties of mother, then every version of work-and-home is just someone doing their best to find what they need. Whatever you need to be happy – at home or at work or somewhere between – is an important part of you, and it doesn’t need excusing. It’s just fine. (I mean, unless it’s heroin or something.) 

Yesterday afternoon – seeing double after weeks of rubbish nights – I watched a female historian talk about Anne Boleyn and dreamed of dusty manuscripts. I listened to Hilary Mantel, got all shivery over her turn of phrase and wanted to lock myself away until I had ten good metaphors on paper. I sat under a duvet with Henry and sang the beehive song eight times just for the look on his face. And I cried around 5pm, unable to think of anything to make for dinner that didn’t involve an already dirty dish. Henry climbed onto my lap, murmuring ‘sad, sad?’ into my ear, and wiped tears off my face with the ends of his fingers. I put him to bed thinking that it hadn’t been a good day, parenting-wise. I am huge and exhausted and sitting him in front of Postman Pat more often than I’d like. But the truth is this: I used all of me to mother with – even if the version today wasn’t the sparkly one I’d roll out at dinner parties – and that’s all I’ll ever have. It’s all he knows. It’s everything he needs. 

And so it’s just fine.  

Daily check-in with Sir Pat. This is the best summary of 4pm I can imagine.

The way we work

Digger is always crashing our photos, these days.

Henry is experiencing some serious mama-love this month. Phases like that come and go: his heart beats for Daddy, as a rule, but every now and again he just wants to sit by me.

I do love it, while it lasts. But it has made me think – more than I was already – about the spaces we fill in our family, Timothy and I. What does Henry see us doing? What do I want him to see?

I mean something like this.

We had a day, a few months ago, where Henry wouldn’t take his morning nap. I went down to get him, eventually, and said ‘No sleep for you today, hmm? Want to come upstairs and help me work?’

And Henry said, ‘Daddy!’, and ran off towards the gate to look at the front door. Because I said ‘work’, and that’s what Daddy does.

I also mean something like this.

Since mama is the flavour of March, at the moment he wants things done the way I do them. One morning he’ll only get dressed if I come and help him. One lunchtime he only wants soup if I feed it to him. It’s not normal for him, so I don’t expect it’ll last long. But what if it did? The more it happens, the more my way of doing things becomes the correct way. And Tim starts deferring to me about what Henry needs and when. He doesn’t need to. It does a boy good to be looked at from a different angle.

We both matter, and suddenly it’s important to me that our sons see us collaborating. In everything. Timothy will win most of the bread for some years to come. I want him to love his work and excel in it. But I want the same for my work – paid and unpaid – because work is mine as much as it is his. And I will spend more time than Timothy changing nappies, wiping noses and singing songs about rabbits for the next little while. I will love that too, and try hard. But these boys are a product of both of us, which means that his opinion is as valid, and parenting is as much his as it is mine. I’m lucky, very lucky indeed, that Timothy never even considered leaving the nappies and vacuuming to me. He sees something that needs doing, and does it. But I want to make that obvious to the babies who watch us.

I think I believe in personal strengths more than I believe in spheres. My boys will grow up to be men, and I want men who understand that marriage is a partnership, not a pigeonhole. My girls, if we have them, will grow up to be women, and I want women who understand that they can think, and excel, and achieve any damn thing they want.

Oh, it’s all kind of a work in progress. Perhaps it always will be. But we are better together, we are more together than the sum of our parts, and that’s how I want it to stay.

Handel the Overachiever

Oh, how bitter it is to return to work after a four-day weekend. I have sulked and grumbled and headached my way through three days, deliberately sleeping through my alarm, proofreading with gritted teeth, threatening to turn up on the doorstep of unhelpful authors with an angry wolf in my arms, eating a disgusting amount of chocolate. On these occasions I wonder whether I do anything of use or value at all, an impression strengthened when I learned that Handel composed the whole of his Messiah (our performance was on Sunday) in 24 days. What did you do in the last 24 days? Between you and me, I didn’t compose a world famous oratorio that echoed down the centuries and had the King himself wiping tears from his royal beard. Handel, you jammy beggar. Bet he had no problems getting himself invited to palace shindigs after that.

Good to know, though, that even Handel experienced teething problems: the first performance of the Messiah was in a concert hall on the unsavoury sounding Fishamble Street in Dublin, and it got delayed for ages because the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, one Jonathan Swift, wanted it to be renamed ‘A Sacred Oratorio’ (eh?) and have all the money donated to a hospital for the mentally ill. Ha. What a nerve. When you write an oratorio, Swift, you can call it what you want. I think he was just annoyed that Handel managed to be a successful unofficial Englishman, whereas he was stuck back in Ireland writing pamphlets about baby-eating and maintaining ambiguous relationships with orphaned daughters of household servants.  

There’s a great deal to be said about having a secure job in this economic climate, of course, and when I’m not so busy I haven’t a hope of catching up (as now), I do enjoy it. I can’t imagine doing anything else that would suit me so well. I just can’t help feeling a bit peeved that my engineering journals are never going to make the Queen cry. Unless I told her she had to read one.

No more four day weekends for me – clearly more harm than good. Especially now I’ve got three bars of the Messiah repeating dementedly in the back of my head with plots to make her Majesty shed a few tears. Get a grip, woman! A large pile of proofreading awaits, and that wolf needs riling up a bit before we leave.

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