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.
A Sibling's Perspective
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be our daughter. She has been born into a strange world. All her life she has been aware that she has a brother who is talented in a particular area, and this talent takes up a considerable amount of time and energy - time and energy which should be hers to spend. From as long as she can remember, whole days have been sacrificed to ballet. For two years she had to get up every Saturday and drive him into class - their mother used to work on Saturdays, so we had no alternative. She would then had to pick him up and wait around for several hours until we dropped him into his second class. Even with the bribe of Pizza for lunch, these days were painful, and we realised after a month or so that for her this schedule was untenable. Her entire day revolved around his schedule. We managed to find an alternative so that the only commitment required of her was getting up early and dropping him off on a Saturday morning; and for her that soon became irksome enough. Her Grandparents or her Aunt would come and visit and their visits sometimes also had a ballet-agenda. They often wouldn't be coming just to see her; but to watch her brother dance, and seeing her was just a lucky by-product.
I imagine that now he is away at boarding school, her life is even stranger. She has a brother, but only gets to see him at weekends. During the week he is oddly present and absent simultaneously - his presence can still be felt in how much of our time he consumes. We worry about him; we talk about him; sometimes we rant and we rage. And at a certain time, we stop doing whatever we are doing because we are expecting him to Skype. Those precious fifteen minutes with him mean everything to us; to her they are a something irritating interrupting the evening's flow. Her brother returns at lunchtime on Saturday. He is her favourite playmate - such is their bond that they become inseparable immediately. A side of her lights up with him in a way that we perhaps don't see during the week. She buzzes with stories: the type of chicken she hates was served up at dinner; her class won a prize for good behaviour; a teacher made a throw-away remark which now deserves repetition. We learn more about her during these conversations than at any other time. She seems yielding, expressive and soft. This is when I am at my happiest. Even when stuck driving in impenetrable traffic, or doing the washing up, if I am listening to the children share their perspective of life with one another, I am joyful. In the context of their sibling relationship, she has a place and her identity again makes sense. For her, he has always been present: laughing with her; building worlds on Minecraft together; discussing life's mysteries. She doesn't really know of a world without him ... until now. How can any of this make sense to a six-year-old? I often confess I struggle to reconcile myself with the loss. As you know, I've found it tough, and I'm forty-five. The ground for her must be constantly shifting: a part-time only child whose favourite companion often seems to have better things to do. Her behaviour sometimes indicates that she can't find stable ground. She has a habit of clinging on to people or places - this is the only way she can steady herself.
She has only ever referenced her feelings of loss, once. She was talking about him leaving so early in the morning on Mondays: 'And then he's gone ... while I'm still asleep. I don't even get to see him'. That was all. She is not a child who speaks easily about her feelings.
We have tried to ease the hardship, but I fear that owing to the fact that - like a sparkly black hole - ballet consumes all around it, we have not done enough. I don't think she always feels as looked-after as I would like. We point out how she is unique: she is witty and sharp; she has exceptional powers of observation, and makes searing insights; she appears to be a natural swimmer; she functions at a very high level of energy and charming people has manifested itself as her superpower. She has a tremendous capacity for enthusiasm and she is passionate about several things: sweets, her favourite television shows, kindness to animals, roast potatoes. We try to guarantee that her experience of a life next to the radiance of her ballet brother is not one of an all encompassing dancing shadow. She is too bright and funny.
A couple of weeks ago, she asked if she could try ballet. I took her to a trial class with every intention of making it a weekly commitment if she wished. She emerged from the class indifferent. She'd had a good time, but felt no need to go again. A new ambition has arisen - she has decided she is going to be a gymnast, and represent Britain in the Olympics. She is starting classes soon. I'll let you know.