An ex-pupil of mine got in touch with me today on Facebook, a lovely lad I taught some A-level English to. Good understanding of poetic form and character, lovely handwriting. He’s now living in New York working for Prada. Seriously. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to get news like this and not just because I am able to in some way take credit despite having no more contribution to his life success than a solid understanding of the double time structure in Othello and the importance of Iambic pentameter. Which on reflection probably wasn’t that much of a contribution. But to know that someone you have been connected to has achieved a level of happiness and success, that they are really fulfilled is exceptionally pleasing. Plus it is just supercool to say you know someone who works for Prada. People might think I am cool. Well they might.
After chatting with my ex-student I was thinking about times gone by and times right now. I was reflecting on a pretty sucky day where things had jangled, there were dischords, there was, not to put too fine a point on it, bottom leakage all over the house. I handled this with some fortitude and some shouting, it was just one of those days. As I contemplated this young man’s success I considered, not for the first time, that I don’t think I feel about this stuff the way I’m supposed to feel. I have a sense that I am supposed to see my life differently than I actually do.
Now this may well be an example of me making things up for the sake of having something interesting to think about, it wouldn’t be the first time I had created a thesis of life based on not much evidence (my belief that electricity has a plan for example). But with this one I think I am on solid ground. When I look at popular culture I don’t see myself. I see mums, stay at home mums, working mums, kidnapped mums, frustrated mums etc etc but I don’t see my life.
I am a qualified, ex-professional who is now at home with young children. We have the classic ‘mum losing her temper’ moments that we are all familiar with in real life and in popular culture, we have the perfect moments where we sit and read and paint together, more often seen in advertising or on music videos, but what seems most pervasive is the attitude that being a mum isn’t enough. I feel as though, when I hear the news of a friend leading a glamorous life in a big city, I am supposed to look around and find my life wanting. I’m supposed to have the ‘I used to have a corner office you know’ kind of conversations. I’m supposed to envy women who go to work every day, wear make up and have money for posh shoes and smart coats not covered in bottom juice. But I don’t. And I find myself wondering at my own contentedness. Where is my role in society, who am I in the world?
I don’t ‘work’ so I’m not contributing to the economy, I don’t send my kids to school so I am not participating in the community in the way many mums do. I’m not on any committees, I don’t do charity work. But nor am I resentful of my friends who do work (despite the fact that I’d like them to be around so I could see them more), I have no negative feelings about women working or wanting to work. I have been a working mother myself, I taught at a college for 2 years before I had Neirin; we did daycare, we did labeling everything and filling in forms about foods and vaccinations, likes and dislikes.
But then I sat in the office with my boss, talking about returning and Neirin was playing on the floor. She was reluctant to give me the hours I needed and was telling me all this stuff about what had gone on in the 9 months since I’d been gone. And I thought “I don’t give a s**t”. And that was it. Years of training and work, years of loving what I did and caring about it. Suddenly it just wasn’t there for me anymore, that ‘thing’ was gone. That simple.
I may not love every moment of every day but honestly, who does? I remember plenty of frustrations, bad days, crazy bosses, boring tasks. And great stuff, moments of laughter, fun, energy and feeling a connection to these amazing people who are just beginning their lives, who are just beginning to realise who they are and what they could be. But the thing is I have that now.
All the stuff I loved about my job I have in the moments of greatness with my kids. All the stuff that drives me crazy is a bit different but I remember that there will always be ups and downs, good and bad; that’s life. I choose to do what I do, it’s not because there were no options, my religion prescribes it, my family demand it, there is no good daycare or because I couldn’t ‘cut it’. I was good at my job but I’m good at this too. And this lets me be with two people who 1) drive me mental and 2) fill my heart with incredible joy and make me feel that somehow I was chosen to do something amazing, to be their mum.
And I think about my mum and what I remember from being young. I remember making lavender bags and painting eggs at Easter, being forced to eat mashed potato (still hate it) and being told off for reading under the covers. Home knitted jumpers and a large collection of nighties. And I remember my mum just being around, just being there. I’m not perfect, I’m often not patient or even great company but I am here and I am trying.
When I look around the depictions I see of mums are often frustrated, angry, fed up and dreaming of ‘more’. That’s ok, that is how it is for some but there are a lot of us, not wandering through a Swiss meadow of perfection in eternal sunshine, but doing our best and who want this. So when I hear about what others are doing I find it interesting, exciting, lovely. I love hearing stories from my friends about what they are up to, whether they are at home, working full time, whatever. But when it comes right down to it for good or bad, bottom juice or no, this is where I want, with all my heart, to be.