I wanted to pick up on something the ace Charlotte Philby from Motherland mentioned in a post a few weeks back: the pressure of ‘creating something for yourself’ outside of parenthood. For all the swathes of mama-run businesses springing up with the nous of a less curmudgeonly Deborah Meaden and with the media flinging about phrases like ‘Instamums’ and ‘Mumpreneurs’, a new level of guilt is, perhaps, slowly rising to the fore like a slug heading perilously close to a salty chip. A guilt pinned to a need to do something – at times, anything – that isn’t ‘just’ parenting.
I only got my pea head around it a few weeks ago when speaking to a really good mate who, in my mind, had the ‘luxury’ of staying at home with her two kids. We’ve been stellar mates for years and it takes something akin to her eating the last Frazzle on a hangover for there to be trouble in the ranks.
But as with the more irretrievable breakdowns, this one was like Japanese water torture; it happened gradually over a year or so. An all-out row about a misjudged Facebook photo upload of her face-planting a Weatherspoon’s bog is manageable, while a trickle of irk here and mild frustration there can slowly build into something that leaves you wondering if you would, in fact, offer up that last Rolo.
The reason? I felt hard done by. (On a side note, I don’t think we as parents get enough empathy – the kid falls over, you’re on it like a bonnet; we take a tumble there is, in fact, tumbleweed – so here’s a gratuitous moment to self: “pooooooor us”).
But I was a bit hacked off. I was hacked off at not having enough cold, hard cash; hacked off at not having enough time with my kid who was, at times, becoming a bit feral; I was hacked off with the guy on the Tube who routinely got his briefcase trapped in the door, leaving me 1 minute 37 seconds behind schedule. I was as hacked off as a 1960s-era hack on Fleet Street realising they’d missed last orders at the bar and there were no dry roasted left.
Needless to say, I was a JOY to be around.
But I never once thought my mate was edging into choppy waters, too. She was the #blessed one – the one who could actually pick her kid up after a fall, instead of relying on someone at Daycare to offer up a limp hug as 24 other children vie for their attention. A glimpse of one of her powder pink Le Creuset pans would, without realising, ebb and flow in my mind – “Bet that wasn’t a TK Maxx knock off”. We’d got to a point where this could be monikered ‘Pan-Gate’. How depressing, how middle class, how childish.
For someone who’s the ‘grown-up’ 24-7, I’d allowed my Cbeebies-addled mind to assume. Assumption is the human equivalent of dry rot – seemingly inconsequential at the time but potentially catastrophic long-term. I’d assumed she ‘had it all’ and wasn’t scrabbling around in the Internet coffers for some loose change with the sole aspiration of having a functioning toilet. (We must always call a spade a spade: one’s Instagram life is 12% reality and 88% Sellotaping over the cracks).
But like a post-toddler party balloon that must be burst to save relentless ‘MINE’ tantrums, we had a hearty natter. Not over dinner, not over something frothy ending in ‘ccino’, just on the ‘ole dog and bone – because if we’d waited to align our procreation-filled diaries, we might have been facing irretrievable breakdown. (It could have gone a bit Heidi ‘n’ Seal.)
As with any relationship – husband / boss/ woefully under-qualified plumber – I’ve learned not to lead with the, ‘you’re being a massive bell-end’ approach. While relieving at the time, you often end up looking like a turbo prune.
Luckily, we were both emotionally aligned and it was agreed gargantuan assumptions had been made on both sides of the maternal fence – a fence that we fast realised divided the working away/staying at home mother troops.
She saw me pioneering this elusive, perfectly balanced world where I had it all; a multi-hued realm embellished with Lady Danger red lipstick and ‘jazzy’ trainers. For all my self-deprecation (which she increasingly assumed was faux), it was a world where Mae and I were merrily trotting around London, only pausing to grab an ‘in-the-moment’ shot of us reclining against a brightly-hued wall.
It was a world that persistently bleated: “C’mon, don’t rest on your laurels, make shit happen – DO something – the Internet is your oyster.” She was beyond happy with her lifestyle as – what the media pegs – a ‘stay at home mum’ until I started tap dancing away to the tune of Build me up Butter Cup. That’s not to say she wasn’t delighted for me and brilliantly supportive (an extra emoji here, a penis meme there – the pillars of modern friendship).
But my choices offered up a seemingly stark contrast to what she was doing – ‘staying’ (or more playing/ washing/ key cutting/ doctoring/ wiping/ nurturing/ stick-back plasticking/ play-doughing/ arch negotiating) at home 24-7. Somehow, she explained, her choices seemed lacklustre; there was suddenly a lurking pressure to do ‘something’ else, too.
The reality is, money is the bitch here. Mullah, or more accurately bricks and mortar, is the cruel mistress that determines how much time you can spend with your kid(s) – what you have to do to bring in the top dollar. But the way I’ve rationalised it after pan-gate, is to redefine wealth as simply ‘choice’.
I had no choice in the 9-5 wheel of misfortune; companies I worked for were inflexible and financially, I had no choice but to chuck cash at that mortgage. I even set up a dog walking service (disastrously-named ‘Doggy Style’) in the vain hope of making a fast buck or two. It was confused canine branding – let’s leave it there.
My choice at the moment is to be poorer but to fight for more time with my kid and to try REALLY hard to get that functioning bog installed.
While I’ve missed key chunks – first steps, first words, the moment she pointed to a bowl of sludge and said ‘cous cous’ (as worrying as the Le Creuset reference) of Mae’s life, I’m pushing on, nay, bulldozing on, because if we are lucky enough to hoof another one out, I’d like to have 34 more minutes a day with that kid.
But if I can’t share the importance of those 34 minutes with a bosom pal; a kindred spirit (someone who has backed-you-onto-a-bog-in-your-wedding-dress kind of mate) then that’s sad times – 1986 film Beaches sad.
Instamum or living in a veritable Instaslum; mumpreneur or giving a Nigella casserole a stir; staying at home or working away, we’re all just Sellotaping/ UHU-super-gluing over the cracks and keeping the small humans alive through that relentless pneumatic eye twitch.
As to my mate; we’re back on track – until she sees I’ve posted this, of course. Then we’re probably back to something akin to Weatherpspoons-gate, which is infinitely better than bourgeois pan-gate and will, most likely, end with me at least getting the last Frazzle.
Photo credit: Miles Aldridge