Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England. This week: stay-at-home parenting
Today I went to a lunch meeting of a local charity group that I am involved in. The first person to see me asks how the kids are. 'Demons', I reply, which is true, but I then silently reprimand myself for being too English and too sarcastic, as ever, when what I really meant to say was 'they are still the most beautiful creatures ever to have set foot on the planet, quite possibly the cleverest, and I literally grew them myself'.
There is a new potential member, and she is standing awkwardly on the sidelines. I’ll call her Helen, because that’s her name. I go over and introduce myself. She has already heard that I have kids, and asks me what I do for a living, so she gets a rough idea of what I’m about. She has recently retired and moved to the area. Before the meal is served she gets round to telling me that her daughter-in-law also works three days a week, as a nurse, and that this makes Helen really angry. She doesn’t need to work, they could live on Helen’s son’s salary, and three days a week the poor children have to go to after school club!
Selfish, apparently, that she NURSES ILL PEOPLE part time rather than staying at home and waiting for her children to get home from school. I won’t go over the usual feminist points in detail as we have heard them so often- why can’t Helen’s son leave early to pick the kids up? Why shouldn’t they have a better standard of living by bringing in two wages, which will surely benefit the kids in other ways? What if Helen’s daughter-in-law just wants to contribute to the economy, further her career, or NURSE ILL PEOPLE? Who bets Helen would accuse her daughter-in-law of being lazy if she was just waiting all day at home for her kids to get in?
No- what really bothered me was she was literally saying all this to my face. To the person who she had just met, the person who had made an effort to befriend her.
I calmly say that I have always been lucky to have grandparents helping with childcare. 'Well', she says 'when I retired I could have moved to be closer to my grandchildren, but they live in the countryside and I would have felt quite isolated'. I think a blood vessel in my head is going to burst.
'Maybe that’s one of the reasons your daughter-in-law went back to work', I say, 'it can be quite isolating having young children'.
She looks baffled. 'I never felt isolated when I had babies', she says. Good for you, Helen. I’m really pleased for you. Don’t call your daughter-in-law selfish, please.
I start talking to the others at the table, trying to make them laugh about how my husband was going into school to help with sewing this afternoon. 'I said to him "it says on the form they will be doing running stitch, do you know what that even is?"'
Even with my presence, the average age of the group is 107, and one man shouts at me 'I used to get that when I went jogging'. I wish I had popped my bodger in my handbag before I left my desk so that I could end it all now, but it got worse. (As a reminder, a bodger is the spiky metal prong one uses to make a hole in a letter before putting it on the correspondence pin. My secretary regularly takes mine away from me).
Helen pipes up 'Your husband is going into school to help with sewing?'
'Yes', I reply, 'he was working at home and said he could do it in his lunch break'.
Helen’s eyebrows retract into her hairline and her lips purse. It takes me a minute before I realise that, of course, I should be at home, ready and willing to go and help the children with sewing! That poor, poor man, having to get up from his desk, walk across the road to the school, spend an extra hour with his daughter and get an insight into her school day before wandering back and continuing to work peacefully! Clearly, he is some kind of saint.
When I get home the saint and the children have managed to make dinner and we sit down together. 'What are you staring at?' asks DALC2, and I remember my mum doing exactly the same thing, not exactly daydreaming but going into a trance whilst my brain organises my thoughts from the day and prepares for tomorrow. DALC2 doesn’t do this, DALC2 constantly lives in the moment. How amazing, to just think about what you are doing and not the 23,000 things you have to remember to do later on. Much to my surprise, DALC1 decides to really live for the moment and calls out 'Alexa, buy me new shoes!'
Our mouths all drop to the floor as Alexa replies 'Buying "New Shoes: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Sexual Abuse and Living Your Dreams" by Rebecca Mitchell, say "yes" to confirm the purchase' to which my demonic child of course replies 'yes!' before I have the chance to throw myself across the dining table, tackle her and put my hand over her mouth. I take back what I said about them, they are demons, and I might see if I can increase my hours.