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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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staying at home

The Home Straight (and a bit of a RAWR at the end)

Okay, here’s a scary thought: in less than 7 weeks, we will be moving to our new house.

The one that currently has no floor or window coverings, no tiles, no kitchen, no laundry, no toilets and bathrooms, no appliances, no internal paint, no lights, no powerpoints, no garage door…

Yah.

It’s full steam ahead here on our planet. It’s a little insane. Was supposed to take Arddun to a play date with Eli and his nan, the lovely Marg, this morning. Ended up half an hour late after an impromptu phone introduction to the new foreman, who will be taking the build to the home straight. And then after lunch, I got word that I needed to sign, scan and email designs and quotes back by this afternoon, so I ended up at Dave and Marg’s house to frantically do that. All while the kids sprawled on the rug to watch Tweety and Sylvester, while Marg worked on redirecting Atticus from chewing on her furniture like a beaver.

And you know what? Lately, that’s a pretty typical day for us.

Atticus and Arddun often get complimented on their ability to sit still and entertain themselves in relative good humour for extended periods of time. And it’s only because they’ve had so much practice. I try to schedule a fun activity or destination for them to look forward to, in between the trips to the new house and any number of tradies in Mitchell/Fyshwick/Hume. But then one afternoon, I turned the car into the kitchen place and Arddun started crying. And that’s when I knew we were ALL over it slightly.

I’ve been nagging myself now and then to put all this down in the blog, so I can look back on this busy time and remember what it’s been like. And it hasn’t been all House, House, House; there are still play dates, and ballet classes, and school, and birthday parties, and church, and cuddle time, and playground time, and baking time, and art-and-craft time, and all those big and little things that make up our days rearing very young children. But we do pack a lot of things in our day, because this new-house project adds about 30% more activity to our week, on average.

Because it’s not just the actual ordering of stuff, and the liaising with the builders. It’s the thinking. It’s the planning. It’s the researching. It’s the agonising. It’s changing your mind, and then dealing with the knock-on effects. It’s preparing a sensible work statement, and gathering quotes. It’s chasing people up. It’s running over the detail because you’ve learnt not to take anyone’s designs at face value. It’s looking at your budget, and seeing what you can get away with. It’s figuring out how to do it on the cheap (read: by yourself) when you can’t afford a one-stop-shop solution. It’s talking to the tradies, and then talking down their prices.

All that. All while jiggling my son to sleep in the Ergo. All while watching my daughter from the corner of my eye as she draws in the sand on the yet-to-be-concreted driveway.

I remember reading an article recently about women returning to work after “maternity leave” or after years “at home”. And how we – because this will include me – tend to leave out their at-home years from the official, printed chronology of their job history. As if it’s a slightly embarrassing, self-indulgent, self-sabotaging “career gap”.

How ridiculous. Ladies, let’s stop this.

Because “maternity leave” is not a holiday. And “stay-at-home mum” is mostly an oxymoron. Aside from the fact that most full-time mothers I know are out of the house doing stuff with their kids, the whole birthing-a-human-and-then-sustaining-it-for-life schtick IS WORK. And full-time care-giving is a real vocation. It might even be the one true career, in this age of chronic and systemic job-hopping.

It takes energy, forethought, deftness of mind, feet and hands. It hones negotiation smarts and wicked time management skills. It teaches patience, sharpens attention to detail, deepens pools of compassion, widens horizons. It distills character and priorities.

And then when you add other major projects in the mix – like selling and building houses, like nursing a sick child or relation, like organising school and church fetes and fundraisers – you have other skills and experience that are worth recording and talking about.

So don’t let anyone — least of all your inner I-am-fat voice — tell you that your time as a stay-at-home mum was a professional gap in your CV. You’ve just developed a whole new skillset on a very steep learning curve, most likely while still sleep-deprived. And if you’re breastfeeding, probably without much coffee either. You rock.

Preparing the other me

I haven’t been blogging very much lately, although many biggish things have happened. We flew to Brisbane. We flew to Singapore. We had in-laws come over. My mother’s been well. (Hooray!) We’ve been sick. (Boo.)

We ran out and bought a new car so now I need to go back to work.

The last bit isn’t entirely fair, and isn’t entirely accurate. The new car is one of many reasons I need to go back to work. The new car is one of many reasons I even want to go back to work. But I’m still building up to it.

Lately, I’ve been racking my brains to remember what my mindset had been before I had Arddun. To remember the version of motherhood I’d believed myself capable of, Before Child. And it’s blowing my mind how differently I feel now. I remember warning Tony over and over. About how I’m not one of those women who could do the whole barefoot-and-pregnant schtick. About how all the women in my family for at least three generations have been working mums. They’d gone out. Earned the bread and butter. I’ll be like that too, I had told him. In my blood. Can’t help it. I reminded my husband, over and over, how I suffer dreadfully from cabin fever. How being a homebody would destroy me. I pictured a life of spilt dinners, soiled rags, Teletubbies and tedium. And I shuddered at the loss of independence. The seeming lack of mental stimulation. The irretrievable disappearance of personal identity.

And in part, some of those “losses” have happened these last 16 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. Or at least bits of me have eroded, faded, or given way to something new. Part of me is infinitely mushier. I used to look at babies and think, “Squished little thing.” And now I peer into the prams of total strangers and sigh adoringly at their precious gifts from God.

Part of me is harder. I understand more. I feel like I have more to lose. I know I have a new great purpose.

And yes, part of me has been put away for now. The self-absorbed me, and I don’t mean that I’m less selfish now because I am still incredibly selfish at times. But I’m talking about that sense of separateness and individualism that free adults enjoy. You lose some of that when you become a wife because your life is entwined inextricably with another’s. But I found I lost a lot of that when Arddun was so very tiny and so very helpless. She came from my body, but I largely became hers.

And so for over a  year, I’ve been very happy to lose myself in Arddun and to lose myself in my family. I feel like I’ve poured myself out, which probably accounts for the constant gooey, liquid feeling I carry around inside of me. I’ve been on a high – I am still on a high.

But now my family might need me in other ways, and so I am at a crossroad. Because I’ve had to re-evaluate what I think motherhood should look like and for 16 months, I’ve been hoping the answer is something like “Stay at home forever! Or at least for 5 years! Have 2 babies! Maybe have an accidental third!”

But the other voices in my head are starting to say things like, “You can’t have your cake and eat it. Money doesn’t grow on trees. You have family you love outside of Tony and Arddun. Your world is shrinking and you’re getting insular. What about your other God-given talents? You have to stop being so selfish.”

What a twisted world we live in.

I look at my friends who’ve chosen to stay at home for their children, and I love and admire them greatly. I acknowledge their sacrifice and selflessness, I applaud their resourcefulness and economy, I love their happy products – their beautiful, Godly children. Their humble, cheerful homes. Their sense of peace and calm. And rather erroneously – even sinfully – I think I’ve been ascribing a higher value to their family choice than the choice of many other beautiful mothers who have gone back to work.

I mean, everyone says that the best job in the world is being a mother, right? So isn’t the best job in the world that of a full-time mother? And therefore, shouldn’t it follow that working mothers are not the best mothers? Isn’t that how the equation works?

That’s the guilt talking. That’s been the guilt talking for 16 months. And it’s been hard, hard work trying to look at it any other way. And then I feel HUGE guilt for inadvertently passing judgement on the many other mothers who have chosen to go back to work.

Because that’s the rub, isn’t it. Whatever parenting choices you make already passes judgement on the other options you rejected.

Very long story short, I’m preparing to re-enter the Corporate World. Which means I’m waiting for childcare to get back to me, which means I’ve talked to my boss, which means I’ve been tuning my brain to think corporatey things and I’ve been spending my evenings writing more corporatey gook. I’ve started working out clothes Arddun can wear to childcare, and ordered name labels to paste on everything she owns. And it’s been hard. Honestly? Part of me is heartbroken I’m even doing this but as the days wear on, I’ve also been getting strangely excited.

Because it feels good to embrace parts of my old self again. To flex those muscles and air out dusty rooms in the corners of my mind. Coupled with my new priorities, I feel a lot more purpose-driven about where I need to be, and where I don’t want to be. And so I’ve taken steps to shift the course of my professionally development. Just one or two inches to the left or the right. Which is more than what I’ve done for my career in the last 5 years.

The lovely thing is that I’m surrounded by many mothers who have already rejoined the corporate world. Who have already gone through the heartrending bit. Who’ve cried in a lonely toilet cubicle when they missed their child’s milestone for the first time. Who are currently managing the whole part-time work schtick really, really well. They have been such an edification.

“I am a better mum for it,” at least two have assured me repeatedly, and I believe them. I don’t think they’re just saying it to make themselves feel better. “I appreciate my child more. Every moment really counts. I’m a better time manager. My priorities are crystal clear now. And the house is a mess but I don’t care.”

And so I’m on my way.

On a completely separate note – the car we’re in the process of buying? Reverse parallel parks itself. PHWOOARRR!

Justify my love

Now that almost everyone is back at WORK-work (as opposed to stay-at-home-with-baby-full-time work), I’ve likewise switched gears. Or at least my conscience has. The honeymoon period is definitely over, and my child is not a newborn. She’s not even really a baby. And so it feels like a very lame excuse to play the New Mommy card when I try to explain (to myself) why I’m not doing more.

I’ve had a chat to other mothers, and it’s a small relief to find I’m not alone. Somehow, staying at home in this day and age feels too much like a luxury, and so we guiltily cram as many chores as we can into precious little time. The 45 minutes Arddun plays by herself in the cot is spent washing dishes, cleaning her eating station, tidying the kitchen, putting a load of laundry on, emptying the dishwasher, wiping down the stove. An additional fifteen minutes is spent distracting her with TV while I run to the bathroom and try to have a quick shower. (This does not work, by the way. I can hear her complaints when I turn off the taps and I know that she’s been yelling for a time like a caged baby baboon while Playschool is blaring in the background.)

And yet, while I’m towelling off and grimacing about her wails, I’m also wiping down the bathroom sink, bench top and bathtub.

Because we women multi-task. We do not compartmentalise, we connect. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. I find myself cleaning up as I go along, and constantly daunted that I can never get enough done. And when we’re finally back to the job of caring for the child, we read to them, we sing to them, we play hide-and-seek, we cook Jamie Oliveresque baby meals. We take them to the doctor’s, the library, the mall, the playground, the park, the supermarket, other mother’s houses. We take them to baby swimming classes and Gymbaroo classes and Giggle & Wiggle at the local library – even though the librarians cannot sing. All the while kicking ourselves for not stimulating them enough, and secretly wondering if a childcare environment wouldn’t be a better alternative for socialisation and quality early childhood education.

At least, that’s my perversity.

In great contrast, our men – when left in the sole charge of the offspring – are perfectly capable of letting the kid crawl around the house on its own while they enrich their souls and minds on the Xbox. They have absolutely no qualms about doing something they REALLY enjoy while “watching the kid”. Because it’s a weekend. And they’ve worked all week.

And Tony still does the laundry. And he still does his ironing. And he still takes out the garbage, and does the gardening. It’s not like he doesn’t help out – he does. Heaps. But it’s just… different. He has a list. He ticks the items off. He reaches the end of the list. He sits down, and he plays Battlefield 3.

I have a list. It grows by 5 items for every 2 that I tick off. And while I’m ticking the items off, I worry that I’m not making the most of my time with Arddun.

I really get it now. I really understand what they’ve been saying, when they say that motherhood is a full-time job. It is. It never stops. It is unrelenting, and there are no weekends because there are no imaginary lines. And I’ll tell you why there are no imaginary lines. It’s because Mothers are Women. And Women mostly don’t know when – or how – to switch off.

I was reading Kate’s blog post yesterday, and how she’s loving the age of 2 because suddenly, it’s not that full on. The tykes, they’re more independent then. They can communicate a little clearer, they can play independently for longer. And I love my little girl. But she’s not a big napper, so she’s awake a lot of the time and always getting into scrapes and gosh I’m tired. My house was a mess when I was a white collar worker, because I was hardly at home. And now it’s a mess when I’m a SAHM, because we’re always at home.

And I feel like I accomplish precious little. Always.

Will the voices in my head please pop a Valium and drop off?

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