My old boss and I are in regular contact as we share a mentor-mentee relationship and have done so for some time. I called her today to discuss a small matter which I had volunteered to do some months ago, only taking a couple of hours of my time. In talking this small task over with her, along with the resignation of another staff member, she decided to offer me a day of work a week. She joked that it was my fault; that I was convincing her through our conversation that she needed me on her team for the next six months to help organise a conference in the organisations name coming up in October.
I’ve been offered work a couple of times since I went on “maternity leave”, which later turned into “your position no longer exists in the organisation”. Whilst I wasn’t happy that I seemed to singlehandedly close a whole state branch of this important foundation during my lead up to leaving, I was glad that I never had to have an awkward conversation with my mentor, telling her I didn’t want to go back to work.
Both times I was offered something in the past, there was no way I could have possibly even contemplated it. But today, the offer of a day a week, for reasonable pay, doing something that I could feasibly achieve seemed tempting. Having talked this whole matter over with the Toolman, I’ve come to realise the temptation has a rather sad genesis.
You see, the modern mother likes nothing more than to ruminate on her choices, her parenting style, how and why she’s chosen a particular enrichment class for her child and how every little move she makes has the potential to completely ruin her child for life. This is delicious fodder for her contemporaries of course whom, depending on their nature, may or may not use all this as an emotional weapon.
In the last few weeks, I have become so excruciatingly self-conscious about these choices and have seemed to find myself in the emotional firing line for “not working”, I’m tempted to take the work simply so I can feel more comfortable in social situations.
Now that Bella is approaching 16 months, it seems I am out of the comfortable timeframe where simply being with her is acceptable. I’ve heard it all in the past few weeks, from the innocent “What do you do with your days” (picture the high rising tone and head tilted to the side), the angry “some of us have to work you know”, to the assertion that any woman staying home with her kids is “coping out” from the real world and hard work (yes, I nearly choked too).
Most of these types of pieces written end in a line about how we are all simply doing our best, how the sisterhood is dying, how we should really just support each other and ultimately leaves you wanting to run topless into a hairy arm pitted group hug….for about 3.5 seconds. The only problem being, these one liners are NOT WORKING. We’re all insecure, most of us have retractable claws ready to launch and most tantalising, are usually re-enacting the most violent Tanantino in our minds driving home from these encounters.
I’m not actually considering this job because I want the stimulation. Quite frankly, who works for an hour a day? We all know that won’t happen. It’ll turn into three or four and becasue I know my old boss it will become a few days a week. I’ll be bouncing Bella on my knee while she plays with my iPhone so I can draft an email to someone I don’t know. I don’t want to do this more than I want Bella to have my attention.
Now I know what you’re thinking. I can see those claws stretching the skin on the backs of your hands already ladies. Yes, I have the luxury of not having to work. I do, I’m very lucky. But just as a side note, if you want to see our camping holiday plans and my weekly food budget which sees me travel to no less than four outlets for my shop to save $50, I’m more than happy to share it with you. So the choice for us, which is a good choice I admit, is how much we want to enjoy all that requires monetary resources I could bring in and how much we want Bella to stay at home with me. We have found something that works for us, right now, in this stage of our life.
Everybody weighs this up in the end. For some families, all people in their family have to work to get even the basics and this must be really, really hard. Many people I know only need one person to work to get the basics plus a little luxury. And there’s a lot of people I know who have families where both parents work because they require a lot of luxury. And there are even some families where everyone works just because they darn well want too. I take issue with wrapping all of these into the “we have to work” bundle and “you don’t” scenario, resulting in those at home feeling like they have to somehow apologise for their good fortune but also their sacrifices.
But because it’s a tricky balance and we’re all working for different things, I have long despised the implication that mothers who stay at home with their children may not sacrifice their own creature comforts, like a haircut, to be with their children. And obviously I see red when it is implied it’s a cop out!
It’s for all of these reasons, I considered taking the job. I’ve considered it so I feel I have more social currency, so that I can feel part of the gang, so that I have a story about my day that means something to everyone else and not just me (I’m now fully aware that Bella mastering the art of climbing the couch has a negative value on everyone else’s radar), so that I have something else to write about here for heavens sake. I’ve considered it all night, fuelled by the feeling that I should be ashamed to be at home with my daughter, not proud that it’s possible. Embarrassed that I “don’t want more” and defeated when people comment that “your husband can afford it”, like I’m a silent witness to our financial success or failures. In a culture that celebrates being “busy” and equates this with being fulfilled and successful, it feels as if being at home is a failure.
But if I’ve learnt anything over the years, it’s this: Nobody makes YOU feel anything. If it’s in there somewhere, it’ll come out if someone tickles the right spot. Maybe it’s time I acknowledged that a part of this does embarrass me; that I enjoy my days and for the most part, don’t have to worry. Perhaps I could feel more comfortable if I was struggling, if I was trying to juggle work and my daughter.
And then I had a thought about the women who truly have no choice in the matter. That are working their elbows to the bone while their kids are in care because they have no one to help them and have an overdue electricity account. Given the choice, I wonder what they would choose? I’m embarrassed to think…
No doubt I’ll continue to think about it all night. To glorify the “busy” life and appreciate the quiet one. I’ll be thinking of the women who said you can have it all and its fabulous, and those that said you can have it all but not at the same time.
Most of all, I’ll be thinking of Bella and these years, these ‘good old days’ that I’m in right now and what I’ll want to remember most.