Two Short Blogs About Work
How Do They Manage?
I've returned to work. I'm making up the slight deficit caused by not really working for a year - I now accept everything that I'm offered. So, although self-employed, I appear to once again to be working full time. We get emails from the ballet school. 'Children's belongings can be picked up before half-term at 4pm if parents wish'. I snuffle with mild indignation. Four o'clock in the afternoon? Who can get there at that time ... on a week day! Not all of us can just take time of work. Then I remember that, until recently, with very little rearranging of my non-existent schedule, I could have easily got there at 4pm. But now, balancing work with our child's ballet commitments seems a delicate operation. I have to get used to being 'normal' again; no more leaving early to beat the rush hour. I'm there, with everyone else, sitting in traffic jams cursing the problems of urbanisation. I don't have the imagination to understand that by using my car, I am the one causing the problems. Nor do the other drivers on the road. So, I'm always in danger of doing the wrong thing - either turning down much needed work, or leaving my child waiting. Not having this worry was lovely while it lasted. But now it is over. I don't know how other parents manage.
2. Dilemma's Horns
We have two children, and this term, for the first time, their half-term holidays took place in different weeks. Their mother skipping her work for a week would involve work a loss of clientele. I'm in a different position; if I keep my diary free for a week, there is always work that I can pick up later - no damage is done. This has led to an awkward choice.
The financial implications suggest that I am going to be the one who covers the half term. This makes sense. However, I cannot afford to stay off work for both weeks that would unfurl, if I were to look after both children. I'm going to have to make a choice - stay with the one who is away at boarding school, or look after the one I see every day? In fact there was no choice. It felt like I was making a choice, but really there was none. I was going to have to pick the six year old; she has the greater needs. This means leaving our twelve-year-old son, who lives away from home, to fend for himself.
The week of our son's half term, I felt wretched. We don't get to spend much time with him during term time, and having him at home while I was at work felt torturous. We managed to arrange things so that he was never alone for longer than about 3 hours. His mum would pop back from work, or we'd arrange a bit of child-care for part of the day. It felt like a rite of passage. He is no longer a child needing constant care or surveillance; he is beginning to metamorphose to a young adult. And for the first time ever, we made him responsible for walking the dog ... alone. He is standing at a threshold - we can help him open the door and let him to look forward and backward. He needs to decide for himself when he wants to cross it. A week without his parents breathing down his neck presented itself as an opportunity to dip a toe into a more independent way of living. I had anticipated this moment in our lives being a source of pain, but it isn't. Rather than mourn for dependent child that I am losing; I am deeply in love with the young man who is emerging. On the final day of the week, Fate presented us a with a gift. A client cancelled. We spent the day together, and the time seemed even more precious because we hadn't ever imagined that we would have it in the first place.
The week with the six-year old was joyful. As our son is egressing the chrysalis of childhood, so is our daughter transforming. Although wilful (not necessarily a bad thing), she is witty, insightful and honest. We had a week of dog-walking, swimming, cake and cafes. Conversation brings out the best in her, and we had a time of luxurious limitless talking. I had been dreading these separate half-terms and the dilemma resulting. On this occasion, for once, it all felt right.
High Hopes for Half-term part two
Any plans were quickly dashed. The five-year-old got a stomach bug. It was just like The Exorcist. Every two hours, for two days, her eyes rolled back and she vomited. It was relentless, and very unfair. Following these two days of demonic possession, she was in great pain with stomach ache for another day. It was a relief, on the fourth day, when she asked for something to eat. I have never before made marmite on toast with such joy in my heart. As annoying and awful as this was; it meant that we could not do anything for four days. So, my desire for time to give the hard-drive a chance to 'defragment' was fulfilled. Our son became as house-bound as the rest of us, and this brought some benefits. It was the utter antithesis of his time at ballet school, and he seemed to bask in luxury: solitude, timelessness and autonomous activity. He seemed driven in filling this time with the things that normally have to be rushed. His resolve to keep himself busy was admirable. Time was not squandered. The regime and the routine of Ballet School has turned him into an impressive forger of his own destiny. I admire his will and determination to be constructive and creative with his time. I can happily procrastinate for weeks over the smallest of tasks: accounts; catching up with emails; cleaning the garden of dog poo. It seems that his behaviour is symptomatic of not having enough time; and mine is the result of having too much.
Complicated Lego plans were studied and impressive vehicles constructed; novels were devoured; topics were researched on Wikipedia; television was watched. He approaches card magic in the same way he approaches ballet: technique, technique, technique, and then apply some imagination. He can do stuff with cards which genuinely amazes most adults. No need to compromise your expectation because he is only eleven; he can hustle and dupe like a Las Vegas pro. In Ballet, he aspires to be Steven McRae. In card magic he idolises Ricky Jay. These master practitioners from different environs have more in common than just surnames that rhyme. They both amaze and confound their audience; both understand the importance of great story-telling and the art of showmanship; they are both virtuoso in their craft; and they both offer inspiration to an eleven-year-old boy. And all this bustle and activity - Lego, card shuffling, researching, TV - is happening against the background noise of a five-year-old retching and the sound of sick hitting the bottom of a plastic bucket.
She recovered. Five days of the holidays were spent as I had hoped: friends came over to play; grandparents were visited; we went on day trips in the rain; we slumped behind 3D glasses in the cinema. We all slept in, and had late breakfasts. We chatted and joked. The sound I yearned to hear reached me in the kitchen as I washed salad and trimmed beans - a brother and a sister laughing effortlessly because of their own inventiveness as they play.
By the time this post has received 'authorization' and become public, our Monday morning ritual will have been completed and he will be gone for another week. The normality of our family life will have been stolen from us. It is now for me to feel a sickness; lurking ... somewhere ... deep inside.
Next Time, I embark on a flight of fancy.