Yesterday evening I asked my partner if he would mind me taking Saturday “off” from caring for the kids. He said “no, I wouldn’t mind” but in a way that obviously meant “yes, I would” (that’s the thing with men. Say one thing but mean another. Luckily I was able to overcome my stubborn female rationality and use a bit of male intuition to work it all out). So anyhow, I said “you mean you would mind”. and he said “yes”. So that, it seemed, was that, and we went back to watching Russel Howard’s Good News in complete and utter silence.
This morning, however, I was still cross about it so I got all shouty. I mean, really, really shouty. Not at him – he’d already left for his training – but at our kids, just because they were there. And because I am really, really fed up. I just want a day off, that’s all. Who have I become? Shirley sodding Valentine? Well, no, actually. Shirley Valentine, well, she had it easy.
Somehow I have managed to fuck up so spectacularly that I’m in a situation where I’m now the main earner and the main carer in our household. Hooray for me! Of course, it’s more complicated than that. It hasn’t always been like this and it won’t always be in future. But that’s how it is now. It makes for a great anti-feminist morality take: “Ha ha! Look at you with your big ideas! Betcha didn’t realise that having it all meant doing it all!” etc. etc. Yeah, it’s all fucking hilarious. But in terms of personal family decisions, it has nothing to do with gender stereotypes. Even so, on a wider scale the stereotypes really don’t help.
Being female and all, I’m not even meant to say anything about the work-life balance, at least not if I don’t want to be accused of being an archetypal moaning, self-absorbed, middle-class Polly Filla. I’d be accused of this despite the fact that:
- no, I don’t believe I’m the first woman ever to have kids
- no, I don’t think my situation compares to that of someone who’s terminally ill or who’s children have died or who is, in any other way, having an all-round shitter time than me
- no, I am not called Allison Pearson or Rachel Cusk
Indeed, when it comes to point 3, I’m a bit sick of a select number of writers being decreed the authorities on what my experience is and where the boundaries of my “moaning rights” should be set (“you’re fed up? Rachel Cusk was fed up in 2002! Surely that’s the final word in mummies being fed up!”).
It would be different if moaning about other aspects of life were treated in the same way as moaning about motherhood. Can you imagine, for instance, what would happen if a journalist who’d recently gone from being a freelance to working in an office were permitted to write about “office work” in the way that some new parent journalists write about having kids?
Well, it’s been two days since I earned my “office worker” stripes and let me tell you, it’s nothing like they say in the training manuals! It’s about time someone blew the lid on what it’s really like. For instance, office chairs – sometimes they’re swivelly, and some of them have wheels! Yet no one ever tells you that! Then there’s Office Outlook – some offices don’t have the most recent version yet everyone just accepts it. It’s not the “done thing” to complain. And as for the coffee machines, well, that’s one of those things upon which we office workers will never agree …
etc. etc. etc.
And thereafter, once this column had been published and then made into a book and then serialised as a column again, whenever anyone else who worked in an office fancied discussing their working life – say, to bitch about a colleague, or express concern about an overdue project – they’d be told “oh, for chrissakes! We’ve already read about that shit in Allison Cusk’s “Office Politics” column for The Times. Surely what she says offers the final word on anything and everything to do with your life and that of every other office drone? So shut the fuck up, will ya?” Of course, none of this is going to happen. Alas, for mummies and motherhood, it’s happened already.
As for me, well, I am going to “do a Shirley Valentine”. Tonight, when my partner gets home, I’ll have pinned a photo of that bit in town near Boots and Lush onto the kichen cupboards. And when my partner asks “what’s that?”, I will say, very dramatically and in as good a Liverpudlian accent as I can muster, “it’s a place. A place where I’m goin’ to”. Then he’ll throw his egg and chips across the room but I shall stand strong for the sake of my dream. Except I won’t because I already texted him this morning to say “you’re having the kids on Sat, no questions”. Plus one or two swearwords, cos I was still in a shouty mood. Ah well. Modern motherhood – it’s not all candy floss and cuddles. It’s time someone blew the lid on this.
ANNOYING POSTSCRIPT: My partner rang me late this afternoon. On our land line. Turns out he’s lost his phone so hasn’t yet seen my text. Also turns out he’s spoken to his training supervisor, re-arranged his responsibilities and will be working like mad this week so that I can have a day off. After all, he wants me to know just how much he appreciates me. Bugger. Bugger, bugger, bugger. Unless I can find that phone, I’ll be in the wrong. And that’s hardly fair, is it?