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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Free time comes with a price

Over time I've pretty much become an old pro at cutting off emotionally from home life in order to get through the day at work. As I close the front door (sometimes against screams of protest from Ava) I've come to harden myself, take a deep breath and set off into my day. It's more or less an unconscious effort. If I'm honest, I'm so busy most days that I spend very little time really thinking about the children. They are an essential part of me and in that sense they are always with me, like a part of my soul, but I don't spend time in the office wistfully wishing I could be with them or worrying unduly about them. Their pictures smile out at me from my desk and I glance at them now and again but generally not with anxiety or concern or even sadness at being apart from them. Maybe that sounds cold-hearted but it is the reality of how I cope, day to day.
What I find much more difficult is the days of the week that I don't work, and even the parts of the day around my office hours. This time is firmly set aside in my mind as 'family time' - and I've noticed increasingly that I find it extremely anxiety-inducing to be apart from any of the children during this dedicated kid time. In the mornings as I take a shower or make toast for the children in the kitchen I have come to resent every minute not spent in their company; I rush through tasks to speed my return to them; I have to resist the urge to keep them up later than their allotted bedtime just so that I can cuddle each of them for a few more minutes; and God forbid that I should use 'family time' to go have a haircut or a manicure. That would be sacrilege indeed.
On Saturday, this anxiety reached new proportions. Eden was performing in her end of term ballet show, which clashed with Ava's nap and was simply not a suitable form of entertainment for Nathan (or rather, he was not a suitable form of audience for it, being unable to sit on a chair for more than a microsecond or go without making loud raspberry noises for even less time than that). I was simply going to have to leave the two little ones at home while I went to see Eden in her show. Right after the ballet show there was an Easter fayre at a local school and it made more sense for me to go straight on to that with Eden, leaving the other two at home. But that would mean I was going to leave Nathan and Ava with Paul for two or three hours *on a Saturday*. Shock, horror. No, really. Back and forth I went with Paul on the logistics of whether I should risk taking Nathan to the ballet performance - and if not whether I should come back for him and Ava before going on to the fayre - or whether I should not take Eden to the fayre, possibly risking upsetting Eden but allowing me to get back to Nathan and Ava earlier than I would otherwise.... I stopped mid-flow, noticing suddenly that Paul was looking at me askance. Actually, that is putting it rather too kindly. He was looking at me as if I was a batty old fool and clearly wondering where his usually calm and unruffled wife had disappeared to and wishing I would stop burbling on like a nutcase about something so trivial.
"Of course you should just go, see Eden in her ballet performance. And why not take her to the fair afterwards? I'll look after the other two. What are you worrying about?" he asked, in a reversal of our usual roles (he is usually the one to fuss, me the one to offer calm, logical solutions).
Of course he was right. And of course that's what I did. Friends I met at the fayre reminded me how good it was for Eden to get a bit of one-on-one time with me without the endless interruptions of the little ones. But it didn't stop me feeling an underlying sense of guilt all the time I was apart from them and it didn't stop me driving home with an enormous sense of urgency to be with them again. Why can't I simply relax? What is my problem? As a friend commented later on, "I know, you just can't help it. It's rubbish, isn't it?"


beta mum said...

I go to work, take minimum lunch break (half an hour is clocked off our flexitime anyway) rush home, resenting every moment spent in traffic as dead time - not work and not home.
And then I argue with the children about why they've left their shoes, coats and book bags on the hall floor; moan at them about not eating their food, and ban them from their Nintendos for being rude.
And then it's their bedtime.
Is it worth it?

Working Mum said...

It's all part of being a beta mum! But don't forget the arguing and moaning is actually you doing your job properly, setting boundaries etc, even though it's not the most palatable part of being a mum ;-)