Reading the latest post from The Belle Jar yesterday, and from Miss Fanny P this morning, about how hard it is reconciling being a Mum with being a person, I couldn’t help but pour out a long heartfelt reply of agreement.
I spent the entire summer holiday sleeping in defence against being in a situation I couldn’t change, even though it was a situation of my choosing.
This was my comment on Miss Fanny P’s blog:
“Ah, I can so relate. I spent most of the school holidays ‘napping’ and I thought it was a virus. Only when it went on for two months did I realise it was my body’s way of escaping an unwanted but unavoidable situation.
There was a great post on The Belle Jar yesterday about losing self when you become ‘Mummy’. It’s so true. We make our choices but from a really limited set of options. Hubbie was telling me this weekend that he read some of my old work notes and realised how very good I used to be at my job and it made me so sad, because even though I didn’t quit to become a mum (rather to be an artist, which didn’t work out) I lost all ability to go back as soon as the children got used to having me at home.
If you’re a working mum from the beginning, fine, because that’s the child’s normal. But to take kids at 4 and 5 and say, ‘Mummy’s going to leave you with a childminder at 8am and pick you up at 6pm’, that doesn’t feel fair. So when hubbie says I could go back, start at the bottom rung because of my seven years out (yay!) and the kids will adapt, that doesn’t really feel like a choice.
But I know in my head how lucky I am, and that most working mums wish they could drop their kids at school and go write novels in the coffee shop (because they tell me all the time, like working 30 hours a week to make £20 a month is so great). I yearn to be Amanda Martin, instead of Mummy. Of course I’d feel different if my books actually sold, but still I feel I’m making the best of the crappy options rather than steering my own craft in the river of life. And so, when despair takes hold, I sleep. And sleep. And sleep.”
I meant every word, at 9am this morning, having survived the weekend with chunks of time hiding in bed. But as I left the coffee shop in the sunshine, and walked through shadow-patterned pavements and a summer scented churchyard, stopping to order a balloon for my son’s birthday, I realised the feelings were fading. I smiled, with sun on my face and a blue sky behind the trees above.
Even driving to my Gyn appointment (because that’s what every woman wants on her first day of term-time freedom) listening to Bon Jovi, I realised I’m not unhappy with my lot. Frustrated, yes. Struggling, definitely. But not unhappy. I did make my choices, possibly for the first time. For the first time life didn’t dictate my path, I did.
I’ve been going through my first ever novel this week, with a view to editing it for my next release. Oh my. It’s not a novel it’s a bad biography. My ‘character’ is just me. All her opinions are mine, and boy is she miserable. I wrote the novel between the birth of my first child and my second (and lord I hope it gets better, or it’ll need more than a complete rewrite, it’ll need a miracle!)
I read this section this morning (it’s all this bad, but it just shows how far I’ve come as a writer, that’s what I tell myself).
“That sense of belonging she had assumed she’d find at university continued to elude her. So she had thrown herself into her studies, determined at least to graduate with a high grade and get the perfect job, whatever that was. She had never been clear about that point – still wasn’t really. An accidental career, that’s what her CV should say. She admired friends who had a passion, “I want to be a …” fill in blank. It didn’t matter, Doctor, Dentist, Film Producer, Bin Man. It didn’t matter what someone’s passion was, just that they had one. Hers had been to have a family, to belong somewhere: she had paid a steep price for that knowledge.”
Oh yes, that’s me. It goes on to describe my final year at uni, when my boyfriend snogged someone else on NYE and how I wandered in a fog of despair for months until I suddenly realised I had six weeks to write my dissertation and save my degree. The despair hadn’t been losing the bloke (although I thought so at the time. In hindsight it was a lucky escape), it was losing a vision for the future.
Up until then I’d followed the system. GCSEs, A Levels, University. But I didn’t know what to do once I had to make my own choices. I ended up taking the first job I got, survived four years of mega-stress, broke down and ran away to New Zealand.
I could go on, but really my life summarises into trying to find love, a place to belong and a job where I felt useful and appreciated.
Fast forward a decade or two and I have a gorgeous husband who I love, who loves me and treats me well. I have a place I belong and a job where I am (mostly) useful and appreciated. I am Mummy. I fit. I belong. I have an identity. And, much as I hate to admit it, because I feel it’s only using a tenth of my brain, I’m actually quite good at it.
And I chose it. I wanted babies. They weren’t an accident, they were a choice. Okay I didn’t have a scooby what being a parent meant or how ill-equipped I was to be one, but I’m doing okay.
I’m doing everything I wanted to do. I’m dropping my kids off at school, I’m writing novels and using my creativity. Three days out of seven I have hours of freedom. Right now (having had my gyn appointment and tried to sell a book to the nurse who has known me since I was nine) my ‘office’ is a parked car on a hillside (because the neighbours have builders in!), with a chill autumn wind blowing through the open windows, a clear blue sky overhead and Bon Jovi on the stereo singing a bunch of optimistic songs full of messages of hope and fight (better still, it’s a CD I somehow never listened to and only found this weekend, so it’s full of new stuff!)
Some Bon Jovi wisdom 😉 –
“We weren’t born to follow”
“Back when we were beautiful, before the world got small, before we knew it all. Back when we were innocent, I wonder where it went, let’s go back and find it”.
“Can I be happy now? Can I let my breath out? Let me believe, I’m building a dream, don’t try to drag me down.” Bon Jovi
A decade ago I would have stared at the blue sky out the tinted office windows, before going to some stupid meeting where actually I was mostly unappreciated. In the evening I would have hooked up for a beer with an ex who definitely didn’t appreciate me.
Then I signed up to UDate, met hubbie, and the rest, as they say, is history.
When I’m struggling with my lack of choices, I have to pause and remember how fortunate I am and that it’s all about context. I jokingly said to Miss Fanny P that my life will start when the children leave home and I can set up my Writer’s Retreat in the Welsh hills. But my life is now, I just have to look for it.
“Home is where you are and where I am” (Bon Jovi)
Lately Facebook has become my therapy, strange as that sounds. Between the positivity posts and the Humans of New York UN world tour (seriously, subscribe, it will change your life) I am strangely optimistic. I just need silence and time away from the children’s tantrums and histrionics to remember! 😉
As Bon Jovi says, “You’ve got to learn to love the world you’re living in”
(All lyrics from The Circle album)