Hubbie came home yesterday afternoon, after his night away for work, and was all smiles from the joy of having spent twenty-four hours with like-minded people, being listened to and appreciated. It seemed to confirm for me everything I wrote about in yesterday’s post, about the difficulty of being a stay-at-home-mum.
The word sacrifice is bandied about, sometimes, when talking about motherhood. The things we sacrifice to raise our children: sleep, serenity, the ability to pee alone. For some it’s a career, for others it’s the luxury of time or the ability to buy clothes for themselves instead of for their little ones.
And of course the sacrifice is worth it, most would agree with that. I gave up material things when we had kids, and realised I didn’t miss them. I’m quite happy hanging out in the same two pairs of jeans week after week, until they fall apart and I scour the charity shops for two new pairs to trash.
I’m happy not getting my hair cut, or spending endless money on scented candles and potted plants that will only get burnt/killed respectively. Hubbie gave me £100 to spend on clothes last Christmas and I spent about a fifth of it at the charity shop and then the rest on getting the air conditioning fixed in my car. It was money well spent.
The sacrifice for me was guilt-free time. I have always struggled with guilt (and I’ve noticed I’m unconsciously teaching my children the same things, which I hate). My father loathed idleness and I learned to never be idle, particularly if he was busy. He could aggressively vacuum clean like no man I know and god forbid the kitchen was messy if we wanted to get to gym class on time. So, if the house needs cleaning, I have to clean it. If there are shirts to iron, I must iron them. Walking the dog every day was a responsibility I took on the minute we brought her home, quivering in my arms in the front seat because she wouldn’t stay in the boot.
Which is all fine until hubbie says, “How can we get your smile back? Shall we hire a cleaner?” and my answer is “No.” Cleaning is my job. I signed up for that when I gave up paid employment. Besides, as I said in my previous post, I find having a cleaner ridiculously stressful. No, the problem is more my inability to ignore the piles of laundry and the dirty floor and just write regardless. The cleaning will always be there: evil elves come in my house and chuck dirty water over the floor as soon as it’s mopped. It’s the ultimate exercise in futility. Writing, though, that’s there forever. If I write a novel, no one can take it away from me.
One of my blog followers, Hollis Hildebrand-Mills, commented on yesterday’s post, saying, “An artist, like you, I yearned for so much more……and at the same time, felt I was a good mother and wouldn’t trade places (who had the time to think about trading places?) with anyone else.”
It reminded me of a book I read, before I had children, called Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale, about a bi-polar woman and her life as artist, wife and mother. It is a wonderful, powerful, book. It showed me how I didn’t want to be with my children, and yet I could relate to such an extent with the conflicting desires of the need to create and the needs of the family, all wrapped up with the challenges of depression.
With martyr-tendencies, it would be easy for me to be the housewife: to go downstairs, like I did this morning, and numbly lay the table, make breakfast, let the dog out, empty the dishwasher, make the beds. But numb is the word. I can be that person, but by god she’s dull. I don’t need to become Rachel Kelly from Gale’s book (I thankfully am not bipolar, only very mildly depressive) but maybe it is important to make time for the creative things. To stay human. To stay sane.
There’s a meme that goes around Facebook every now and then: a poem about children asking their Mummy not to rush; about the importance of spending time with the children while they’re little, rather than doing the dishes. (See image above)
I’ve just searched for it and the poem is by Rebekah Knight and her blog is Slow Down Mummy. (There are some other lovely poems on there: worth a visit) It’s a sweet poem, although I’ve always felt it just adds to the Mummy guilt, every time I see it and my usual response is, “If I don’t do those darn dishes, who will?”
I wonder if sometimes we also have to slow down and do something for us? Maybe I need to swap out the Mummy for Amanda and remember that there’s a real person in here that also needs nurturing, that also would like to kick the leaves or bake a cake; just for me, not because I feel I should for the children. My children are happiest when they’re creating – sticking, gluing, cutting, making up games and songs. As another of the images on Slow Down Mummy’s blog says, “Creativity brings Happiness.”
Maybe art is the answer after all.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire sat at the table, building her presentation, trying to ignore the stunning view outside the window. The tall frames only enhanced the scene beyond, of boats bobbing on the water and children playing in the sand. Sparkling diamonds danced on the surface of the sea, taunting her and tempting her to put the work aside and daydream.
She’d been surprised at Conor’s choice of restaurant when she’d arrived. It was a tiny place that appeared to have been a coastguard station at some point. The walk back up to the car park would be hard going after a beer or two. It seemed a bit secluded for a work meeting, and Claire had felt a fizzle of anticipation in her stomach as she was shown to their reserved table by the window. The view really was spectacular: the restaurant was right on the beach, with a view of the harbour and the bay beyond.
Claire’s tummy grumbled as a waiter walked past with a steaming pile of muscles and another loaded with lobster. She was glad Conor was paying, although she had to remind herself it wasn’t a date, it was business.
She turned her attention back to the presentation. The screen shots from the two websites nicely emphasised her point, and she’d managed to incorporate some transitions and graphics that looked impressive, although deep down she suspected Conor wouldn’t be as fooled by such things as Carl used to be.
The challenge of having a boss with a brain, I guess.
She was just running through the final slides when she sensed someone watching her. She turned and met Conor’s gaze as he stood only feet away, his expression inscrutable. A jolt of energy shot through her, and her hands shook as she closed the laptop. When she tried to smile, her cheeks quivered and she quickly abandoned the attempt.
“Conor, hi.” She chanced a quick look into his eyes and they seemed to hold a mixture of amusement and remorse. A hesitant smile hovered on his lips. Then his face shifted, like a mask dropping over his features, and he was her boss again.
“Hard at work, I see. That’s what we like. Did you have any bother finding the place?”
He slid into the seat opposite her and immediately picked up the menu, as if he couldn’t stay long.
“No. Sat Nav. And yes, I was just finalising a presentation. I’ve found a great case study I thought you might like to run through.” She heard the wobble in her voice and silently cursed. If he was going to pretend like nothing had happened the previous weekend, two could play at that game.
“Great, well let’s order and we can run through it while we’re waiting. I can recommend the lobster.”
“Do you come here a lot? It’s not exactly on your doorstep.”
“I was based down here for a few months in a previous job. This place is a gem, especially at sunset.”
It was on the tip of Claire’s tongue to make some comment about wooing the ladies and she stopped, blood rushing to her cheeks. Despite the air of romance, this couldn’t be further from a date, and their days of banter were gone now.
She looked at the top of Conor’s head, as he studied the menu, and searched her brain for something neutral to say. Her mind went blank, so she turned to her own menu, although her eyes refused to focus on the words.
“So, you’re playing Auntie for a fortnight? You’re a sucker for punishment.”
Conor’s tone was less than friendly, but Claire seized on the opening. “Yes, apparently my brother and his wife have separated and the boys are being shuffled from parent to parent during the long vacation. Needless to say my brother isn’t equipped to deal with his chunk of childcare.”
“Why do you say it like that?” Conor looked up, one eyebrow raised.
“Well, looking after kids isn’t really every man’s cup of tea.”
“Depends on the man,” he said, then dropped his head again. Claire sat staring, trying to figure out the meaning behind his words. Really, he was even more of an enigma that Josh, when he’d been harbouring his big secret.
“Do you have kids?” The words were out before she could stop them.
Conor froze, his head still lowered, then shrugged. “Not that I’m aware of.”
The waiter chose that moment to approach with his pad open, and Claire resisted the urge to embrace him for his impeccable timing.