In the toilets at work there is an unforgiving mirror.
It is in this mirror that I see the cold, hard evidence that life is starting to take its toll.
I sometimes use it to pull out that evidence-the grey hairs I seem to have suddenly acquired-when no one else is around.
Being a working parent is hard. There are days when I feel like those greys are multiplying and not even the strongest dye could mask them. There are days when I leave home in the morning to screams and tears; to a tiny child lifting up his arms as I turn to leave, too young to understand the need for his mother to earn a living. Those are the days when I thank my lucky stars for the presence of my mother to comfort him, and carry to work with me the sinking feeling that nothing I ever do is good enough.
But there are also days that are not like that. Days when I have a good day at work, when I feel as though I’ve made a difference to a child’s future, even if that child isn’t my own. When I thank my lucky stars that I get to teach other people’s children, albeit in different skills to those I teach my own. After all, at 21 months he’s not quite there yet with Kant’s categorical imperative, although I’m working on it.
There are other things I’m working on too. I’m working on managing my time better, at responding to emails whilst feeding a toddler, at knocking out the bare bones of this blog post on the ten minute commute from work to home, and I’m working on not feeling the guilt quite so much.
We’re all just trying our best.
Would I still work, if I had the choice not to? I can’t answer that question. I worked hard for my career, invested in it, and continue to do so. But if that mythical husband had appeared, swept me off my feet as they do in all good fairy tales, and promised to take care of me forever, to return home on the dot each night at seven and whisk the baby from my arms, as I collapsed, just as exhausted as I am now, onto the sofa each night, would I turn it down?
Or would we find another way through; would I work, while my husband stayed at home, or would I, like most of the other working parents I know, put my career on the back burner for a few years and go part time, even though so often that solution seems to feel like the worst of both worlds.
The question doesn’t matter, of course. The option was never there, and for that perhaps I should be grateful. I always needed that extra injection of motivation, the extra incentive to get out of bed in the morning and into work, and now I have it. This little boy, for whom I would go to the ends of the earth.
I’m grateful too, for my mother, who has dutifully sacrificed the last few years of her own career to allow me to pursue mine, so that the childcare bills are somewhat eased. So that I don’t have to go to work every day thinking of that time I had a conversation, at work (where else?) with a nursery manager who confessed that she thought babies at nursery were “institutionalised.” I was five months pregnant and terrified. How would I manage? I cried tears of despair to women I worked with. How had they done it? How would I manage? I was a fool to think I could do it; be the career woman, the single mother, the one who almost left it too late, and then panicked and had a baby alone. Could I really do it? They took me aside, these women, and told me I could; that everything would be fine, as it was for them before me.
As it will be for generations still to come.
I may not always be there at home for my son, every minute of every day, watching his milestones twenty four hours a day and knowing every tiny aspect of his developing personality the way I did on maternity leave, but I am dealing the hand that life has dealt, and doing so the best I can.
Just the same as everyone else.
If you like my posts, or even if you don’t and think I am banging on about an age-old dilemma that has afflicted working mothers since the actual dawn of time, and which, pre-Internet, didn’t seem to require such navel-gazing introspection, as we were all far too busy with more important matters like making sure our offspring weren’t getting their heads trapped in the mangle, or being eaten by a sabre toothed tiger, please consider voting for me in the Mum and Working Awards.