The fourth time my sleep was disturbed this morning the sun was bright enough for me to know it was after 6am and I decided it was time to face the noisy music. Drag my foot to the carpet, and I step on Weet-Bix. So I make a pathway through the crunchy cereal to the lounge room where my 2 eldest are zombified watching their favourite TV shows. There is an empty box of rolled oats upended on the floor, papers strewn around the place, and my toddler sitting in the kitchen with a gravy powder box on his head. I think – where is the little bag with all the powder in it? A treasure for me to find during the course of my morning I suppose. So before I feed the terrorists I get out my over-used vacuum cleaner which does a poor job sucking up the immediate mess. This is not a good way to start the day but it isn’t that out of the ordinary. My kids are generally good, but they are kids, and a full-time job in which sleep isn’t always a guaranteed benefit.
Whenever people have asked me over the last 6 years if I work or not, I stare at my toes and say meekly no. Well that’s what I did for the first few years, but recently I have held my head high saying yes I do work, but the benefits are terrible, and I don’t even get paid! I have a job that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no sick leave, no holiday pay, no pension and rarely any gratitude. Can you imagine anyone working under these conditions if not for the labour of love? No of course not, it’s ridiculous. I often feel like I am twiddling my thumbs and wasting my career life-span away by staying at home looking after my kids myself instead of going back to work and paying someone else to do so. A lot of women need to go back to work for financial reasons, and a lot of women go back to work for emotional reasons. A girlfriend of mine once said to me that she just needed to be something else other than Mum for at least a few hours a week. I don’t feel that urge, and I’m not sure who or what that makes me. At times like this morning – my cereal rude awakening – I do believe that it would be easier to pack them up and send them to day care and then go to the relatively quiet of an office where people are co-operative, polite, and mostly grateful that you are there. Well of course it would be easier, but I CHOOSE not to do it. Yes we could do with the extra cash, yes I would like to focus on furthering my career, but what’s most important to me is looking after my 5, 3 and 1yo babies and so that is what I do.
My husband works hard, comes home dirty, takes his shoes off and gets to put them up for about 5 minutes. And then he is bombarded with what I get all day long – requests for food and drinks, demands of train-track building, and of course the endless questions. His opinions mean the world to me, and so since the beginning of my non-stop job I have been striving to show him that I do more in the day other than drink tea and watch Oprah. Yes he did mention one day a long time ago that that is what he thought I did all day, and I can’t seem to shake the feeling that he still thinks I have it easy. And as often as he denies it, my Spidey Senses tell me that he does still retain a sprinkling of that opinion, but never allows it to surface – he is no fool. I wish we didn’t have that misunderstanding of each other, and I try so hard to remind myself of how he bursts himself to bring home the proverbial pork. My problem is that I know what it is like to be under pressure as an employee, how crappy days can be just that, and that when you come home all you want to do is just sit and relax and not have to begin your second job. And as much as he tries to understand the difficulties I face day-to-day, until he lives it he will never understand. This is a running argument we have, usually it is ignored with the greatest of ease, but at other times we are just like the kids – I’m so tired, no I’m the tiredest, no way, I am sooo much more tired than you… And on it goes. I do fully know in my heart (because I have never heard anyone actually tell me they have the same argument) that we are not unique in this way and it must be the bane of the fine balance of a good partnership.
Society appears to think much the same as my husband did in the beginning, that there is a lot of tea-drinking and sitting down, enter Peg Bundy and the girls from Desperate Housewives. Maybe not exactly that, but there is little insight into the challenges I face at home like getting through homework every night, trying to scold without losing it about spilled milk (or Ribena), and marking down all future immunisation dates so I don’t forget to go to the doctor when I am supposed to, where I am rewarded with holding down a screaming toddler. Wondering if your child has a speech difficulty or watching them suffer when they are sick are heart-breaking moments which all parents go through and cannot be fully understood until experienced. The self-doubt, the frustrations, the depression that so many unfortunates go through, the general melting of the brain so that it can be remoulded into a more motherly shape, all these highly emotive times when your self is at the bottom of the priorities list. It’s not easy, but it is very worthwhile.
My Grandma was always so proud of me staying home and raising the kids, and said she just couldn’t understand how women could leave their children with strangers and go to work. Well Grandma couldn’t understand the internet either so bless her. And I get the same reaction from my mum’s friends, the baby-boomers, who were probably the last generation of majority ‘house wives’, when working mums were single mums or widowers. It is good to feel the reassurance from these women who have done what I am doing. They tell me that it is the hardest job I will ever do. They praise me for keeping up the traditions of generations of women before me, and as happy as I am to carry the gauntlet, try as I might I cannot shake the feeling that I should be doing more. Talk about a glutton for punishment… not sure exactly how I could possibly fit MORE in! Calm down calm down, I know my grass is greener and I like my job even without a union representative on my side, and I DO see the look I get sometimes from my working-mum peers which is the flip-side to my coin. So what is the right thing to do? Stay at home with your kids until they are all at school, then ease back into working life before your brain is completely turned to mush? Or go back to work as soon as you can after the bubs come along and struggle to find a balance between the two hats?
The answer of course lies within. And I for one know that I am doing the right thing for ME. But I still would like a job title that sounds less slippers-y and more action-y. I find it very degrading filling out forms which ask about occupation. We travel a lot, and about 2 years ago I had had enough of writing either nil or home duties or stay-at-home mum in that stupid little box. I mean, why do they care anyway? So I have started writing occupations more suitable to my current career – Dispute negotiator, Domestic Engineer (not Goddess because am not one), Population Guidance Counsellor, Hygiene Controller, Educator, Nurse, Enforcer, and my personal favourite – Supermum. I am one, we all are, whether or not there is something more interesting to write in that box, we all have such huge jobs to attend to, that never, ever (ever!) should we be meek and look at our toes and mumble those humiliating words stay-at-home-mum like it’s a bad thing. Because it’s a beautiful thing that is becoming less and less celebrated. Stand up! Shout the words! I DON’T LEAVE THE HOUSE TO WORK, I DON’T GET PAID, AND I AM PROUD OF IT!!!
Emma Eastman 2012