Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The work of being me

This piece appeared in Zadok Perspectives No. 110 (Autumn 2011).


At the end of last year I was constantly sick and felt run down, even exhausted. Yet other friends were juggling kids and paid employment; and here was I, a stay at home mum, so wrecked I fell asleep at nine o'clock every night. I finally had a big cry with my husband. I told him I felt like a complete failure: unlike so many other mums, I didn't even work, and yet I was so tired my bones ached.

He looked at me bewildered. He pointed out that I did at least a day's volunteer work every week. On top of that, I juggled three blogs and wrote more than a hundred posts for them in a year; I published ten articles in newspapers or journals; I drafted another half dozen articles that had been rejected and were sitting in the back of the filing cabinet; I gave a lecture, wrote a paper and tutored a subject at uni; and I was raising three kids, two of them pre-school. Put like that, I guess I did a bit of work. Perhaps it was okay to be tired.

Even so, at some level I felt like it wasn't. After all, it wasn't 'real' work. I enjoy fooling around with words; I enjoy reading with refugee kids; I enjoy preparing resources for churches; I enjoy tutoring uni students; and for the most part, I even enjoy my own children! And I've always loved doing the laundry. But when I enjoy it all so much, it's hard to feel that doing these things is anything more than a hausfrau fooling around.

Yet it is work that needs to be done. Someone has to do the washing, or we won't have anything to wear; someone has to raise our kids. Someone has to read with refugees, teach students and engage the church. Someone has to tell stories about this crazy sad and wonderful world. In a small way, I have been invited to be that someone.

When I put these activities together, however, they're not neatly encapsulated in a role like 'doctor' or 'lawyer' or even 'writer' or 'housewife'. Instead, they reflect a whole life, sparkling with love and play and work all mixed up together. This whole life is not a job; instead, it's no more and no less than just being me, responding to the invitations set before me: a process I might identify as following God's call. So although the things I do are clearly tiring, it is difficult to name them as work.

Sadly, too, just being me doesn't pay the bills. And so the other reason that all this industry doesn't feel like much is that it was, for the most part, unpaid. I earned a little from tutoring, a little from published articles, a little from click throughs from my blogs to an online bookseller – all up, about half a mortgage payment. Hardly enough to break out the champers, or feed and clothe three kids.

Living without making a significant financial contribution to the household is an ongoing exercise in trust, and at times I feel like a freeloader. Sure, my husband and I negotiated this position; it makes perfect sense for him to be in paid employment, and for me to run the household. But every now and then, I panic. I want to earn my own money, show him my worth, and stop being dependent. In our society, the money we earn is a quantifiable achievement, and the thing that so often honours our ability, training and hard work. I feel like I am missing out.

I find myself browsing blogs on how to make my own blogs pay; or thinking about articles that might sell for cash. When I'm really down, I even contemplate being a secretary again.

– and then I wake up to myself. I'm not going to put tummy slimming ads on my food blog, or gaudy advertisements next to a post on grief. That's far more humiliating than being financially dependent on someone who respects me for who I am, not what I earn.

There's a lesson in that. My husband knows my worth and values what I do; my friends and community don't judge me for the lack of a weekly pay packet – so why judge myself? While my activities may sometimes feel pointless for their lack of coherence or direction, they also feel right. Could I ignore the money, and think about the blessings of living out this call instead?

When I stop for a moment and reflect, I soon realise how great they are. After all, how privileged I am to be able to share books with young refugees. How fortunate I am to be able to tell stories, and to have found a medium to share them. How honoured I am to be asked to guide students in their studies. How fun it is to dream up activities and watch the church kids run with them. How delightful it is to cook for my family and friends. And how lucky I am to love doing laundry, and to have a family that generates so much of it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Thursday ritual

My husband is in charge on Thursday afternoons. He comes home early from work; collects the kids from school, always remembering a snack; takes them to the park of their choice for a long play; then brings them home and cooks dinner. Later, he reads them stories and puts them to bed.

Because I can't keep my mouth shut, can't stop myself from taking over the kids and the cooking and the shouting if I'm at home, I agree to be banished from the house. I head to a local bar, buy a glass of wine, and settle down at 'my' table to read or write. Later, perhaps, I might meet a friend and grab a bite to eat; then it's off to choir to sing my heart out and sit round gossiping with a group of mums. It's a highlight of my week, the evening I look forward to from sometime early Wednesday. Sure, most weeks sparkle with small good things; but this ritual feeds my soul. And what is good for my soul is good for my kids; without it, I have a tendency to become tyrannical.

What intrigues me is how easily I will jeopardize, even cancel, it. Last week, there was no choir; instead, our choir director held a concert of her piano students, which include my daughter. Meanwhile, my husband had not been able to be home for dinner yet that week. Because there was no choir and my husband hadn't been home, I thought I should stick around; even so, my husband urged me to go out, then meet us at the concert. But I decided that would be selfish; that we needed to eat as a family; and that I should stay.

When my husband and the kids surged in the door from school, at least one person looked disappointed that I had crashed their only weeknight together. I began to worry about dinner and what we would eat even as my husband heated pasta water. One kid shouted, another shrieked, I yelled, and my husband looked at me. 'Maybe,' I said, 'maybe, I really should go out? Would you mind?'.

'Go!' he urged me, 'please go!' and gave me a big hug. So finally, an hour later than usual, I pulled on my boots, packed my bag, and toddled off, wittering and apologising all the way – and feeling so selfish. Extraordinary, really, given that I had done the whole kiddie food – story – bed routine three nights in a row, and would do it again on Friday; Fridays are always a late night for him.

I have internalized so many ideas of what makes a good mother; one of them is about being present. A good mother doesn't go out for no reason; and she certainly doesn't squander money on wine in bars and a meal out! And yet, is this really true? Surely after seven years I have learned by now that without this sort of activity I become lonely, bored, ground down and angry; going out gives me the fillip I need to enjoy my children and to want to be with them most of the time.

My life revolves around laundry and floors, playgrounds and dishes; my Thursday ritual gives me a bit of structure, a bit of adult input. I get to walk at my speed, chat with adults or sit quietly. It's the only meal I eat in complete dignity, with no need to discipline anyone, no complaints about the food, and nobody's crusts ending up on my plate. Even without choir, just two hours alone out of the house far from the jobs that perpetually nag me is profoundly life-giving.

I may not be able to claim it for myself every week, but I give thanks for a husband who is wiser than me, who can gently nudge me towards the front door. 'Go!' he urges, 'Go!'. Obedient wife that I am, I nod my head, pull on my shoes and pack my bag; and dutifully I walk right out that door.

Photograph shows my middle daughter 'flying' to Mousehole in Cornwall - it's how I feel when I leave the house on Thursdays!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...