Monday, 28 September 2009

The Thing About Mothers

Here’s a thing: why do we never ask even our closest friends whether their mothers worked? One friend’s mother – Mother Marjorie as we know her – is the wellspring of constant motherly wisdom to all of her daughter’s friends, not to mention the source of rallying pre-party expressions such as ‘tut tut, eleven o’clock and not a sausage pricked!’

It’s a weird thing, but I have no idea whether most of my friends’ mothers ever went out to work (apart from those I grew up with). We just don't ask our friends what their mothers did in the way we might enquire about their fathers – to them and to us the role of mother always seems enough. Simply by existing, our mothers matter to us. Simply by being, we are of mind-blowing importance to our children.

The problem for women today is that we’re educated for the workplace, not for motherhood. Motherhood flies in the face of all we have learned, because it is not about doing, but about being; it is not another project, but a whole way of life. Annoyingly, it’s a way of life that totally undermines and overturns all our former values and assumptions.

Motherhood is a great leveller, but it’s also full of different possibilities. Feminism might have given us choices, but it failed to solve the contradictions they posed. I’m fairly sure feminism would work better if it were designed for men. Men wouldn’t attempt all this multi-tasking and run themselves ragged trying to ‘have it all’. No, men would make a simple choice about whether to outsource the parenting role or the bread-winning role and respect each other’s different decisions. They certainly wouldn’t spend endless amounts of emotional energy on the feelings of guilt and envy and incompetence that mothers do.

In an incomparable expression of writerly genius, Helen Simpson once wrote of 'the deep romance and boredom' of motherhood. Having a child is like having the most intense, addictive, emotionally turbulent love affair of your life. And it's also like having a job where the rewards are great, but the day to day work is as tedious as hell. A bit like banking perhaps (one does get the occasional bonus even when times are hard).

So it’s no wonder that motherhood often doesn’t seem enough to us when we are faced with the mind-numbing tedium of it. But as mothers, we owe ourselves a daily reminder that we are insurmountably important, that our role is totally unique and impossible to delegate, and that even if we’re one day forgotten for everything else we’ve done, we’ll still be remembered for being someone’s mum. To our children at least, that is enough.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Thing About Accountants

Work has been much on my mind of late. Guilt at not doing enough of it probably. But I’ve also been having some career counselling, which must be a real drag for my counsellor, given that I arrived at our first appointment great with child and clearly no intention of getting a proper job. It turns out to be brilliant therapy though (a bit like the Priory, only without the pills). Someone is being paid to work out what makes me tick, and then explain me to myself so that I can live happily ever after.

Most people moan a fair bit about their job, while being oddly compelled to continue doing it. It’s an odd thing that most of us choose our career path pretty blindly and then stick to it. The other odd thing is how I have come to be friends with no less than thirteen qualified accountants (and I’m excluding all the ones I’ve worked with, however nice they’ve been).

Thirteen? This clearly exceeds the point of usefulness. But the unequivocal if surprising fact of the matter is that they are really good fun to be with. And the reason they’re such fun is this: they never talk about their work. They know it’s bloody boring so they don’t mention it.

Accountants kind of mess up our current thinking about work. We live in an age where we define ourselves in large part by our work choice, which is why when people meet you for the first time it usually only takes them 60 seconds to establish what you ‘do’.

If you meet someone who doesn’t ask you that question, I’d bet there’s a 90% chance you’re talking to an accountant. By and large, accountants do not work for the thrill of the challenge, or to create something of their own making, or to leave a legacy, or for the glamour of it, or in pursuit of a higher cause. Work for them is not an end in itself, but simply a job that needs to be done, which pays well, in order to make the most of time not spent at work. They take their sense of self not from their work but the things that happen outside it. Paradoxically, accountants value ‘lifestyle’ above all.

So, respect to my opposite-brained, bean-counting friends. They manipulate their excel spreadsheets with a dexterity not short of artistic genius, without cherishing the conventional modern belief that YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO. The rest of us, slavishly in search of self-fulfilment, might do well to consider this once in a while: if life is one big balance sheet, is work really an asset?

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Antidote

Much good cheer to impart – at last I’ve had an utterly divine, entirely successful holiday. All thanks to G for introducing me to the remedy for the Impossibility of Holidaying. Namely, the 24-hour Holiday. There is only one rule: you must be child free for the entire duration.

It’s pure genius. Basically you are so extra specially grateful for the chance to escape for a non work-related purpose, that you get 67 times more excited than you would about a normal holiday. And because being left to your own devices is such a rarity, the day seems like an entire week. So by my calculations it is 67x7 = 469 times more fun than a day spent on any other kind of holiday.

Leaving the Impster in the care of my mother, K and I escaped as early as we could like two overly excitable teenagers playing truant. We spent a day of generous indulgence at the Champneys Forest Mere Spa, and then the night at the deliciously romantic West Stoke House, before returning the next morning to resume normal parental duties (me) and to fly to Buenos Aires for a few days (K).

Strictly speaking, it was a 27-hour holiday. That I pushed the limits of my mother’s babysitting patience no further, is doubtless an indication that she finally possesses a very serious deterrent against any wild or delinquent behaviour. She only needs to withdraw her babysitting services to ground me for life. So here is the new improved me – spirits soared, opulently satisfied, full of gratitude and goodwill to all mothers, stealthily plotting my next great escape.