Stealing time

by little red pen

A terrible morning today. We were running late, which is not unusual. I had two children to drop off and Ian had left for work at 6, and it was all going well — I’d got up early and kept moving — but then suddenly there was no time left, and I couldn’t get the Rabbit to lie down for his nappy, so he screamed and I shouted and wrestled it on, and through it all thought this is not how I want to parent, I want to give him time, but I have to get to work, I don’t know how to do this.

And then he cried when I left him; all I could do was hold him tight, then put him down and say goodbye. All this for two hours of work time, sitting in a café transferring a two-column document into a table so that I could proofread and format it. So not exciting work, and not world-changing either, but I have to say it was blissful just being there in my own head, with someone bringing me a coffee, and being able to think, uninterrupted, about alignment and spacing and fonts.

But I couldn’t work out where it came from, all of a sudden, that frustration.

Well, what I can say is that I had many dreams and ambitions as a girl, as a teenager, hell, right up until the moment I gave birth. And in none of them was parenting my primary occupation. No, I was going to be Dian Fossey, Hemingway, a dancer, an ice-skater. Torvill, until I watched a documentary and realised that Christopher Dean seemed kind of difficult to work with. I was even going to be, god bless me, Spivak. Nothing very realistic, as dreams aren’t, but the common threads were clear; I was going to write, move, think. And sit in a jungle. Or something.

I wasn’t anti-children, I was quite keen to have them —  it was simply that I didn’t imagine myself looking after them for long stretches of each day. A gap in my imagination perhaps, an inability to factor in the obvious things. And it’s not a bad life at all; in fact, often enough, it’s full, happy, satisfying, warm, all of that. It’s just that mothering wasn’t quite on my horizon, or was there but only obliquely, hazy, and then suddenly it was the whole landscape, around me like a desert.

But that’s not what I meant to talk about. What I meant to talk about was work and what a salve it is for those of us who spend a lot of time with little ones. As I sink into a task, letting the outside world fade away, arrowing my focus in on a bit of text or a formatting puzzle or the vagaries of grammar, as I fill my mind with words and ideas, I feel calmed, at ease. It’s a long way from parenting, with its constant questions, chores, cuddles, planning, tidying, juggling. What’s frustrating is not having enough of this work time, always feeling guilty about it, having to set up a whole house of cards just to steal the time for a morning of work. Feeling like I’m always stealing time from someone — my children or my partner or myself. But this has all been said before.

And to be serious, I know that these little griefs and angers are ridiculous. The sorts of problems that people have when they’re not really having problems. I have children and a partner (all lovely, all well), I’m doing some work (very pleasant), I have good friends and a solid family around me. But I wonder what it means when I can be so close to having it all and yet feel so compromised, so torn. I wonder what it means when the choices my partner has to make about work and family are so very different from mine. I wonder what it means when so many of my friends, my colleagues, receptionists, the random women who phone from call centres to sell me something talk about the joy of work, the peace of focused, productive time.