Last week on a totally average Wednesday at home, I decided to record my daily duties. I rarely sit down when I’m at home during the day and there never seems to be enough hours in the day, so what do I actually do? The day included three loads of laundry (to wash and hang out), four bowls of washing up, an hour of ironing, several trips up and down the stairs and several more to and from the car. I changed the sheets on a wet bed, cursing the drenched duvet, and added both to the still overflowing wash basket. I prepared dinner for the evening and did a fair amount of hoovering. I paid a few bills. I answered a couple of emails and did an online grocery shop, having planned the meals for the remainder of the week and the weekend. All this was sandwiched between the two school runs.
The children then came home. I listened to four different accounts of the school day in varying depths of detail. I refereed warring siblings and consoled hurt feelings. I shouted a fair bit and I required a couple of Paracetamol to get through the early evening. The house still looked a scene of destruction and devastation and I wasn’t feeling (or looking) too dissimilar. “Thank goodness for my Classics degree,” I thought to myself…at no point whatsoever. Rewind 20-odd years and I don’t recall full-time parent appearing on the careers advice list. Lawyer, doctor, soldier or accountant maybe, but ‘stay-at-home Mum’ definitely wasn’t something to aspire to. Yet here I am and to a greater degree, this is actually my ‘career’ of choice.
Parenthood was the next logical step after the Captain and I married. I never had a clear idea of any sort of life plan after #1 arrived and this became even more apparent after the arrival of #2 just 14 months later. Prior to having children, I had a fun and fulfilling job in TV production. I got to go to some fabulous places and had some unforgettable experiences. My role was varied, exciting, stressful and rewarding. It also gave me umpteen sleepless nights. I worked with some brilliant people…and I worked with some total arseholes. My to-do always felt endless and every job needed to be done yesterday. In the height of a production, I would need to stay calm and clear-headed with an ability to think laterally. In retrospect, it was the perfect precursor for parenthood. It required skills of diplomacy and negotiation, plenty of deep breaths and was often a round-the-clock occupation. Dealing with some presenters and senior members of production teams ensured that the handling of a hysterical and unreasonable three year old was a veritable walk in the park.
It was never going to be easy to return to my old work having two children in such close succession and even less so when I fell pregnant with #3. Of course, if I had really wanted it to work, I could have made it happen. Plenty of other people do. I just felt that for me personally, I would have ended up being over-stretched and torn between work and home and something would ultimately collapse; inevitably me. I didn’t want to just have children, I wanted to be a Mummy who was present and I was happy with that. However, there has always been a niggling feeling that I should be doing more; that the continual domestic grind is a waste of years of studying, a fairly decent brain and perhaps a little spark of a creative flair that is wasted on cutting sandwiches into novelty shapes. Whilst some of my contemporaries have been winning awards, publishing novels and climbing to dizzy heights in their careers, I’ve been run ragged around four small people where the greatest achievement feels like getting to the end of a day still standing and smiling. So is it enough to just be Mummy? Or in particular, a stay-at-home Mummy? Should I be doing more? What should I be doing?
I often infuriate the Captain with my propensity for over-volunteering but I know I do this to try and add some variety to the mix. I’m a strong advocate of pulling together with like-minded people to effect change and improvement and I get a real sense of satisfaction when I feel I am helping out. I’ve always been a bit of a keeno and this hasn’t shown any signs of waning. I tick some of my creative boxes by writing when I can, but I know I don’t prioritise this enough to really benefit myself, I am so fortunate to live as I do with my extended family and my Mum and I put the world to rights virtually on a daily basis, which keeps me grounded. But I often question what, if anything, I am achieving.
The answer came a couple of months ago. It was unexpected and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the third anniversary since my lovely, lovely friend Holly died. Holly was initially a friend from work. I shared an office with her when I first moved to Bristol and when I had an annus horribilis back in 2004, she brought me tissues everyday and mopped up my tears. We were both pregnant with our eldest children at the same time in 2008 and we then also became baby buddies. Holly was a very private person and didn’t seem too bothered about what anyone else was doing. She did what was best for her and what was best for her little family. She was kind and thoughtful and generally lovely. Along with many other people, I was devastated when she died and try and keep her memory alive in my own thoughts frequently. She was buried at a woodland site – very natural and low key – just like Holly. However, until now, I found the demarcation of her burial site upsetting. A wooden cross bearing only her surname. She wasn’t just a surname, she was Holly. I consoled myself by thinking that perhaps her family don’t want a specific place to go and mourn her. She is omnipresent. She is present in all the wonderful memories we have of her.
On a cold and damp February afternoon, I went to see Holly, just as I have done every year. However, this year was different. The wooden cross has been replaced with a headstone that couldn’t be more fitting or appropriate, but heart-wrenching and thought-provoking at the same time. It just says Holly’s name, the dates of her lifespan and then, quite simply, “Our Mummy”. Those two little words in this particular context have probably been the single-most powerful, profound thing I have ever read. It has also been life-affirming and life-changing for me. Being Mummy: Is it enough? Of course it is. It is more than enough. For me, it is everything. Whilst it sometimes feels as though I’ve lost a part of myself in the process of becoming a parent, I haven’t really. For my four children, I am whole. I am everything to them and the me now is the only one they’ve ever known: Everything that a Mummy needs to be. The key is not comparing myself to anyone else; it’s focussing on me and my own family. What is right for one person and one set-up may well not be the best for the next. It’s about being non-judgemental and concentrating on what I’m doing and trying my best. Accolades and achievements come in many different forms and for me, life is all about forging and developing relationships and ultimately the happiness of myself and my family. If I feel the need to do more or enrich my life somehow, then that’s fine, but it’s not essential. Thanks to Holly, I have decided that I am successful. I am successful because I have four largely happy, well-adjusted children who love me unconditionally. When Kai, my eldest, wrote me a Mother’s Day poem, he said, “You shine like the stars and you are the best Mum in the Universe. You ride my storms and you listen to me.” And that made me feel like the proudest, most accomplished Mum in the world. Being their Mummy is a privilege and an honour and I’ll take that every day, ad infinitum.
Thinking of you, Hols.x