In the playground recently, whilst waiting for our children, a mummy (hereafter referred to as “Working Mummy”) asked me how my work was going. I explained that I don’t work and she said, “Oh, but you have a babysitter don’t you?”
There was something about her tone that made me respond with a “Since having my fourth baby and moving country, I haven’t gone back to work. My fourth child (did I mention I have four children) is still a baby. When I used to work part time, I was working a full time load in fewer (and longer days) for lesser pay. The family and I are just not ready for that yet.”
She responded with a “Yes, my job was like that but you quickly learn to…” At which point our children came running out and thankfully prevented her from presumably teaching me how to manage my work-life balance. Her son launched himself into her arms and would not stop hugging her. My son, Secundo, has been playing it cool lately and acknowledged me for long enough to hand me his bag – moving me down what felt like a Mummy Hierarchy from “Mummy Who Stays At Home and Still Needs Help” to “Mummy Whose Children Are Not Interested In Her” which I think is somewhere above “Deadbeat Mummy” and “Criminally Negligent Mummy” but apparently still way below “Working Mummy”.
I used to be Working Mummy and my life, like many parents who work part time (or any time) involved:
- carrying trainers in my handbag so I could run to meetings, often sprinting down the corridor past a friend who would hold out a coffee for me to grab as I would rush to the next meeting (this was my own version of the London Marathon);
- drinking too much industrial strength coffee, not having time to wee and subsequently having to drink industrial strength cranberry juice;
- reading and responding to my Blackberry on the toilet;
- eating Mars Bars for lunch because I could chew them faster than Snickers (it’s the nuts that slow you down) between meetings;
- starting work at 7am and leaving work at 5pm sharp (I would just pick up my stuff in the middle of a meeting, give a jaunty, highly caffeinated wave and walk out) so I could see my children, read with them, put them to bed and then log on to work from home; and
- waking up at 5am with a rush of adrenaline remembering all the things I could not possibly do in a 3 – 4 day week.
It also involved picking up the “spillover” on my days “off”.
Last week Working Mummy needed help with a pick up so I offered to bring her son home. When she arrived after work we chatted and I said that I would be happy to help her if she was ever in a bind as we were often home. To which she said, “That’s right, you don’t work do you?”
What happened next wasn’t pretty. I basically name dropped my professional CV in 45 seconds. I used words like human rights, justice and systemic social change, prefacing everything with global and international. I don’t actually know what any of those words mean any more. I just felt – for the first time in 8 years of being a mummy and 13 years of being a lawyer – that I needed to justify my current (non) work choice (and privilege) by setting out the credentials of my past working achievements.
In retrospect, I am ashamed that I needed to boast about a vocation that I have only ever felt fortunate and humble to be a part of. And I wonder why I felt compelled to name drop my professional CV instead of my personal one. My personal CV would cite key competencies such as:
- strong strategic thinker – capable of hiding grated zucchini in any curry (that’s so that Husband eats his vegetables);
- preternatural endurance and stamina – able to withstand considerable whingeing and sleep deprivation before breaking down and crying like a baby;
- physically agile – able to convert my body into a human vibrating baby chair by rhythmically pulsating my one remaining abdominal muscle (I have 4 speeds);
- deeply intuitive (possibly psychic) – able to locate Tercero’s blue Bakugan at any time of the day or night; and
- persuasive communicator – able to mediate irrational arguments, lie to loved ones on my feet and silence small children with a “If you don’t stop fighting I’m going to give that Wii to charity.”
It just didn’t feel like enough but it should be.
Prima recently asked me when I had to go back to work. Secundo, ever logical answered for me and said “When we run out of money.” Prima responded with a “Mummy, I wish you had ten children, so you could never go back to work. You could stay at home with us forever.”
And suddenly, I felt like I’d been promoted.