MY two separate sides crashed together during a radio interview last week. In my very best “phone voice” (louder, an octave higher and filled with witty – maybe just silly – repartee) I discussed my book, my work, my ambition, how far I’d come since I left my family home.
And then my daughter woke up.
She couldn’t find me. Of course she couldn’t, I was hiding in the carport hoping to get through a 15-minute phone call without tears or demands for yoghurt or my son’s shouts that my daughter had “JUST DONE A POO ON THE GRASS, MUM!”
I could hear her coming and somehow, while my brain was racing with thoughts like ”do I lock myself in the granny flat? Will I get reception if I run down the street a little? Is that abandonment?”, I managed to keep speaking about my book in that same “isn’t it wonderful” voice.
She found me and her cries intensified, leaving me completely satisfied that I had caused her much distress for a quick bit of publicity.
I apologised to the interviewer, probably laughed, plonked her on the couch and ripped open a packet of Tiny Teddies, all the while thinking “fuck my life”.
And that’s really unfair, isn’t it?
I’ve written a book – an actual, 70-odd-thousand word book, self-published it, had it picked up by a distributor and even managed to talk on local radio about it. How lucky am I? I mean, it was bloody hard work too, but I’m still very lucky. Why can’t I roll about in that happy moment?
If I have chosen to work from home, shouldn’t I embrace the chaos it creates rather than squashing it? Why can’t I laugh honestly and point out all these wonderful imperfections? After all, I chose this. Not my children. I chose to make my parenting a statement – “I can do it all with my kids, they’re that important to me”.
Instead I’m freaking out, smiling between gritted teeth and hoping the words tripping delightedly from my tongue are not the same colour as my frustrated, bleak thoughts. Desperately hoping I don’t sound like the dithering SAHM that I can sometimes be.
…Even more desperately hoping that my work ethic and cranky pants don’t leave little pin-pricks of scars that a psychologist will one day point out on my children’s souls.
Every day I must decide whether I want to stay on this punishing treadmill or don an apron and get serious about being a mother. Would that make me a better mother? Or infinitely worse?
But instead of deciding once and for all, I inch through every day, surreptitiously moving the goal posts a bit further back and wondering about it all again tomorrow.
The idea that I won’t surrender my own goals is now more a sad fact, than a celebration. It’s not easy and the kids don’t love wandering shopping malls as I sign books for people that mean nothing to them.
My son hates my books the same way I used to hate the smell of beer on my mother who worked as a barmaid.
I can’t really know if my children will come to appreciate having me for a mother or whether they’ll instead search for people who would make that sacrifice.
As I’m writing this, I’ve been asked to “take my fairy dress off”, ”come and see the pink thing on my bike”, “read me the Christmas story”, ”put my fairy dress on” and listened to my son’s beatboxing and I’m trying so hard to give them the attention they deserve. To not get angry as my words, wading through muddy PND run-off and dripping down to my fingertips, flinch back to the dark recesses of my brain.
You can listen to the interview if you like. It’s almost all there. He left in my daughter’s cries and my apparent delight. He took out the Tiny Teddies. And I’m glad for that. Even though I was exasperated, he saw the life in that moment. Appreciated the exchange from worker to mother.
But there’s one shuddering breath in that interview that says it all.
In that one breath I can hear all my anxieties, all my frustrations, all the FMLs unvetted… I’ll let you see if you can hear it too.