/karen/

Time and what to do with it

Wednesday, 21 March, 2012

So at the end of my last post, I mentioned being on the cusp of change. It's a couple of weeks later and the road ahead seems a little clearer before, however I find myself processing and wrestling with a lot of stuff that's happened recently.

Firstly, I had been making preparations over the last four to five months for the possibility of returning to work. That included things like enrolling Astrid in occasional childcare; following the requirements outlined by my chosen childcentre (e.g. I spent several days putting Astrid's name on all her clothes); researching stuff like transport and the childcare rebate; putting certain plans on hold (e.g. booking holidays) until I knew what was happening, writing application letters, and so on. I knew that returning to work would be hard because all of a sudden I would be juggling three “areas” of life (if I can put it that way)—parenting, work and creativity—instead of just two. But I felt like I was preparing for that. In a way I was looking forward to understanding what life is like for the working mother. I also felt like that working part-time would help make things more sustainable for me (I mentioned in an earlier post how I felt like I wasn't coping but I don't think I explained why—maybe because I couldn't quite explain it to myself. I'll give it a go later.)

However, things haven't worked out: I don't have a job. Or rather, I don't have the job I wanted, as I wasn't just going for any job. (I have grown picky in my old age! *wink*) And because I don't have a job (and am not studying or training), I can't get the childcare rebate. When the door to that option closed firmly once and for all, it did feel a bit devastating—I guess because I am (as always) slightly sleep deprived, but also because of how long the whole process has been taking and because one possible future I had envisaged suddenly turned into vapour in my hands. The possibility closed: no longer would I have the opportunity to work in that place with those people and do that work; no longer would I have the chance to dwell in my own head child-free during long commutes; no longer would I get to grow and develop in my skills and character in that way. And so on.

So now I think, perhaps, I'm mourning that. Part of me knows that it's just a job and that it's no big deal, but part of me feels like it has to grapple with that loss in some way (what did Anne M Smollon call it? Oh right: intraphysic loss. [However, reading over that post makes me realise that material loss, relationship loss, role loss and systemic loss are also relevant here.])

Relationship loss brings me to the second thing that's been happening lately: good friends are moving away. They're all going on to wonderful things—things that I am excited about for them (some are going to Mongolia to be missionaries). But of course it's still sad because we won't get to see each other face to face as much as we did. (Social media is not the same—particularly if there is inequality of use.) In this situation, mourning is slightly odd: you don't want it to detract from all the good things that come with them moving (and it doesn't), but at the same time, your sadness lingers and isn't readily understood except by those closest to you who understand what those relationships meant to you. Compare it, for example, to death: if a friend of yours died, there would be a funeral and probably a reception afterwards, a public outpouring of grief, flowers, condolence cards, and so on. When your good friends move away, there may be events to mark that occasion (public and private; and perhaps quite a few public ones if you're in ministry—commissioning services and the like), but there isn't that public recognition of loss (at least not to the same degree). There are no condolence cards (not for either of you). There is no common outpouring of grief.

Hmm, that sounds awfully melodramatic! Here's the short version: I am sad because I miss my friends. Let's move on.

The third thing is me trying to work out what to do with this year, given that what I wanted from the work option didn't eventuate. For me, one of the hardest parts of motherhood is trying to work out the right balance of things so that life is sustainable. If I can divide my life into the following categories (and obviously the division is not that neat in some areas)—

—what kind of balance do I need to maintain so that I don't get to the end of my week and crash spectacularly the way I have been doing these past six months? When I was working, it seemed easier because the structure of work lent itself to nice divisions: clock on at 7:30 am (self-imposed), lunch break for an hour at around 1 pm, clock off at 4 pm, and do that for three to four days a week, fitting in household chores around that, then resting mostly on weekends or in the evenings. As a mum, my days have structure (up at around 7 am, do housework and tend to my child until her afternoon nap, which is currently shrinking to one and a half hours, then more of the same until bedtime at around 7 pm [though some household tasks have to be completed when she is asleep], and do that seven days a week except for rest periods). But the structure of my days doesn't quite lend itself to the sort of division I had before; it seems like to get the balance right, I have to carve out time from one thing and allocate it to another. Furthermore, any non-Astrid time I have is reliant on someone else; the default is currently that she stays with me unless I arrange otherwise, and the problem is the burden (and sometimes guilt) of arranging otherwise.

I realise that I can only answer that question. I have vague ideas of what would work for me (e.g. finding the equivalent of a weekend within a parenting week—two whole days made up of the sum of a few hours here and there in the evenings plus Tuesday afternoons when my in-laws come to babysit plus Friday afternoons when my mother and Peter babysits, plus any other time I can negotiate with Ben). However, I still struggle with figuring out how much is enough and how much is me running from the responsibilities of parenthood (as I am sometimes tempted to do).

I struggle with stay-at-home motherhood because

I thought that if I got the job I wanted, I could split it across four days so that I spent half the day with Astrid and half the day in the office while she went to childcare. I thought perhaps that that would make things sustainable for me (in terms of having a bit more introvert time and non-Astrid time to recharge my batteries) while at the same time ensuring that she didn't miss out on the daily love and care I give her.

When the job was no longer an option, I then turned to Plan B, which was always to write. (No, I didn't pin everything on the job.) If I wanted to work, there are indeed other jobs and other employers who might be flexible enough to let me do the four half-days thing. But I am not sure if I am ready to go through the whole process of adapting to a new workplace, new people and new ways of working. As I said, I've also grown rather picky in my old age. I've always known what I want to do in terms of career (I've known since I was nine, I think), so why not pursue it now? I never have—not seriously anyway (though if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have always written; every year closes with me having produced something). I thought perhaps I could make it work according to the four half-days model I want: in-laws babysitting on Tuesday afternoons, occasional childcare on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, and going to my mum's on Friday afternoons. I would treat the writing like a job (except I am my own boss). I might not get any writing done on all four half-days (and it's likely that I will probably have to use one of them for housework/admin/Kinds of Blue admin/rest in order to keep things sustainable). But I feel that it's important to try. What did Clare Bowditch say when faced with a similar choice to me? “What sort of example would I be setting for my children if I didn't try?” (Rachel Power, The Divided Heart, Red Dog, Fitzroy, 2008, p. 40.)

I felt better once I had made a decision about what to do this year (and it may change next year). But at the same time, I felt scared—scared because no one I know has ever done this (and I don't know what I'm doing; I studied creative writing at Uni, yes, but it didn't equip me for dealing with the publishing industry. [I often think about what one reader wrote to Neil Gaiman concerning the value of writing classes because it is so true of my degree!]), and I felt scared because it might not work. But what's the worst that can happen? I won't get published and won't be able to ever make a living from writing in the future. Well, at least I tried; there's no guarantee that if I was ever published commercially (as opposed to just self-published), I'd ever make a living anyway. People do, but it takes a lot of hard work. I am in a very good position at the moment: I don't need a job. I don't need to work. I can afford to take a risk (which at the moment, isn't really a risk; there's just the financial burden of childcare, but I have some money saved up to deal with that, and I have parental help). Part of me feels guilty about all of this—that I have an opportunity here that others don't have. But really, I should just be thankful to God that I've got the opportunity at all. And I know that the added benefit of developing my skills as a writer and having a go at putting stuff out there will also nurture me, so it is not completely about career and making a living.

Still, I fear other people's responses to me going ahead with this. I know it's stupid. I think I just need to be resigned to the fact that there will always be people who won't understand, who won't be supportive, who don't know that I write, who think writing is stupid and unnecessary, who will have opinions on what other things I ought to be doing with my time and money, who remain ignorant of the reality of my circumstances, and so on. Neil Gaiman linked to this post the other day on Twitter (it's a letter from a writer to her friends and family telling them how they can support her as a writer), and since reading it, I find myself thinking of it and the road ahead often.

Anyway, now that I've made a decision, I've started making a list of things I'd like to concentrate on this year. I've started mapping out my time and allocating bits of it to different tasks. And even in the midst of the mourning, the sadness and the flatness at all this stuff going on around me, I've quietly become excited about certain old projects I'd like to revive. (“Bridget James's Diary”, anyone?)

Another thing I did in a fit of madness one night was enter the Sydney Writers Centre Best Australian Blogs 2012 competition. I am laughing at myself because I have not updated the design of this blog in seven years, plus I haven't integrated all the different threads of my social media life (nor will I have time to before the judging starts). But anyway, yay for putting myself out there, right?

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Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.

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Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.

Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.

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