Saturday, December 27, 2008

And so that was Christmas

It's such a cliche to say that Christmas can be a frought time, but it really can, can't it? Our Christmas has been relatively calm and enjoyable, but there has still been a lot of emotional intensity to deal with.

It was preceded by the decision to ask Greta Garbo to leave home. The situation has become untenable. I've committed the heinous sin of expecting her to pay board ($60 per week) whilst not granting much in the way of privileges along with that... other than her being able to come and go as she pleases, her doing pretty much zilch in the way of cooking or cleaning or otherwise contributing to the household or being in any way accountable. Yes, she doesn't have a proper bed, she sleeps on a mattress in her sister's room. We had planned on rearranging rooms and putting the loft bed up in there for her - but apparently that's not good enough. She was happy enough to live in a pigsty on a mattress for twice what we are asking beforehand.

It' s just not working, and not just because of her inability to stop berating us over this basic requirement of an adult living in this household. It's that while she is here, she simply can't learn the lessons she needs to. The place for her to fall is too soft. Whilst she complains about it all, she's happy enough to accept it, and not figure out that this is now her life, and it isn't up to us to solve her problems any more. Not only is it not our *problem*, it's not our place - it's actually not doing her any good, letting her stay here and continue in the position she's in. She needs to get out and confront life and learn the lessons it has to teach her, without holding her hand all the way.

It came to a head the other day when she brought the subject up again and then proceded to be ruder than anyone in this house has a right to be, shouting over the top of us, telling us to shut up, and generally being appalling. I gave her one warning that if she didn't stop, she'd be given a month's notice to quit. She didn't stop, so I gave her the news. It all happened quite quickly.

What surprised me was how difficult it wasn't. I feel few regrets other than that I wish I had been more consistent and much firmer over the past year while she transitioned from "high school student" to "independent adult". Where I must accept fault is in overcompensating for my fear of failure of being a Good Enough Mother. I've said, "I will not do this for you," and then I have gone and done it.

And in the meantime, this kiddult has left a pile of her dirty clothes in the laundry for nearly two weeks.

Christmas was a series of compromises, in many ways. While it was enjoyable to spend the last two days with the inlaws once Beloved had finished his church duties, it is always hard to leave behind the things that have always marked out Christmas as something special for me. Doing it in a different place, eating differently, doing things at different times, in different ways... it was hard. I decided to cope by looking at Christmas as a season that will continue for the next twelve days, and to celebrate the things that were missing through that time. Things like the food we didn't have - jaffa cakes and trifle and nuts, we can do that along the way. Looking at Christmas lights - well, they're still up! They're still pretty! I might even see if I can buy a turkey on special at the sales tomorrow, just so that I can have turkey leftovers for days.

Beloved has also messed me about a bit with our planned holidays - things that I thought were going to happen are now not going to happen. Things that I wasn't anticipating are happening - like extended stays of his family and mine - while I am on my brief and desperately needed holiday, so I've had to rearrange my mind. I've come to realise that I can adapt better than I used to be able to - I just have to find strategies to think about things differently. There are aspects of my character that are still very difficult to deal with, but last night proved a shining example of why they aren't all bad.

I couldn't sleep last night - the noise from the inlaws' neighbours was atrocious. As the night wore on, the volume just grew and grew. I went to bed early-ish and fell asleep reasonably quickly, despite it all, but awoke at 11.30pm to screaming coming from next door. The room was hot and sticky and I could literally feel my blood pressure rising as my pulse started whooshing in my ears. Frustrated and angry I poked Beloved and said, "Is anyone going to ask them to shut up?" "I don't know," grumbled Beloved, who, from the sound of his raucous snoring was not being particularly disturbed.

"I guess it's up to the pregnant woman to get up and do something about it, then," I snarled. I stomped out of the house and up their drive way. "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I shouted at them. I had to shout several times from only a few feet away before they could even hear me. "I have a house full of kids and a pregnant woman who can't sleep. Do you think you could shut up??!!!" The adult in the equation poked his head out and told them they'd better pipe down - they were squirting each other with a hose and screaming, whilst the stereo boomed out of the windows. At nearly midnight!

So my irritability is a bad thing... but if it weren't for my occasional bouts of high dudgeon, sometimes things just wouldn't get done. The kids think it is hysterically funny when I put on my scary lady face and get angry at people (who deserve it), but I sincerely believe that if you aren't prepared to do something about whatever is pissing you off, whether it's changing the way you think about it or doing something active about stopping the behaviour, then you lose your right to complain. There comes a point where lack of action signals self-abuse, and my sympathy begins to wane.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


This week, Greta Garbo has been fuming at the expectation that now she is in employment, she is required to pay board - $60 per week. That is the rate we decided on with dd2, and it seems reasonable. Even if she chooses to eat elsewhere 90% of the time, it seems important that adults pay their way, simply on principle. It's a lesson we all need to learn. And it's not like we aren't forgoing a significant amount of income in order to live where we do. She has a warm spot, amenities, and security. To me, that's worth $60. She wouldn't get it anywhere else on the continent for $60 a week. She's not speaking to us. We are apparently grotesque in the unreasonableness department.

Today I read the blog of a Melbourne family who lost their son too young, far too young, tragically young, to cancer. He had everything going for him, and was grabbing life by the throat when cancer grabbed him.

I want to grab my daughter, and shake some perspective into her.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Oh, the irony

I'm about to post two contradictory things, one little item on "emotional vampires," and a bit of a vent.

I read this online today and I could name at least two people who fit the description with whom I spend a lot of time.

How Energy Vampires Drain Your Positive Energy

Energy vampires drain positive energy in many ways, such as:

  • Intruding on your life, ignoring boundaries and privacy (energy vampires don't think of you).
  • Making big deals out of nothing. Energy vampires are often called "drama queens" because they can easily turn a broken nail into a Shakespearean tragedy. Negative energy spreads from everyday events.
  • Complaining constantly about their partners, jobs, children, bad luck, and illnesses. Energy vampires like to vent.
  • Criticizing your hair, appearance, job, children, partner, friends, and pets (energy vampires aren't positive).
  • Not taking "no" for an answer. Energy vampires don't consider your needs.
  • Being unrelentingly negative. Their negative energy is unrelentless, and energy vampires drain your positive energy by encouraging you to be negative, too.
  • Blaming everyone else for their problems (energy vampires don't take responsibility).
I need to learn to set boundaries and refuse to get dragged into it, I really do.


Last week, we found out we were having a boy baby. It sounds so prosaic! And yet it was so emotional, and all the more so for the fact that it was so very unexpected. I still haven't unraveled all of the issues contained in this delightful surprise.

One thing I will have to contend with however is the startling revelation (startling to me anyway as the feminist mother of five daughters) that the pressure on boys to be Boys™ is even stronger than it is for girls (to be Girls™, that is). Generally, whenever it was apparent the progeny was carrying two x chromosomes, the generalisations were along the lines of "Your poor Beloved," or "You'll never be alone, will you?" The most I can retort to those is, really, "He doesn't realise how hard done by he is yet," and, "Oh, bugger."

What has come out of the blue closet has been, well, revelatory.

Apparently, this child with the y chromosome will have to "stick together" with Beloved. I wonder why - are the girls and I suddenly going to surround them and throw stones whilst chanting "boy! germs! boy! germs!"?

Apparently, boys love their mummies. (Except for the ones that don't, but maybe I only meet them when they are adults.) I'm in for some monumental loving then, because as far as I can tell, girls love their mummies, and their daddies, too.

Beloved will find himself bonding closer with this baby. Is it possible to be closer than he is with Miss Four-Going-On-Forty, for whom he has been the primary carer for the past four and a half years? Is that such a superficial thing that the presence of testicles on the next child will allow a bond so much stronger?

Boys like cars, and building things. Which is good, because at least half of my girls do too, and I've got boxes of cars, trains and legos that they still love to play with. And while he's at it, he can play cricket with Stompy, and test out all the electrical circuitry on her home made gadgets, and discuss how cool arthropods and spiders are. All whilst getting absolutely filthy.

And, apparently, boys love blue. Girls love pink, sure, but in the clothing aisle, their wider tastes are reflected in the green, red, orange, purple, black, white, yellow and every other imaginable colour (even blue) clothing provided for them. In the boys' aisle, there is every shade of blue. Or, perhaps, blue mixed with some brown check. Or a bit of green. But don't forget the blue. Dark blue, especially. Because, as we've seen above, you need practical colours that Boys™ can get dirty.

I may be completely naive. After all, I haven't had an opportunity to observe any differences with this baby yet. It may be that he turns out to be a complete Boy™. Or, like many boys I know, he may be useless with his hands and love reading. Hate football, but be into fabrics and other creative pursuits. He may be quiet and contemplative. He may be anything at all.

What I'd like, world, is for you to just back off and give him the chance to be what it is he's meant to be. Thanks.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Poor David had to work on his day off today - to be accredited to do RE, for goodness' sake. So he dropped me off at work on his way there, and picked me up on his way back. Because we were in a hurry this morning (I was up all night with a horrible headache and managed to keep him up too) the house was in a dreadful mess when we left, and I had resigned myself to having to sort it all out when I got home.

To my surprise, when I got home, El Presidente had done all the breakfast dishes, folded up a ton of washing, and even cleaned up in the littlies' bedroom. I was so relieved I cried.

Greta Garbo was languishing on her bed (or more accurately her mattress - we have not authorised a proper bed yet since she returned home from moving out... something to do with consequences, not wanting to mess everyone around, little stuff like that).

Stompy was having the queen of all sulks this morning because she had to go to the school holiday program for the curriculum day. In the end she got to make lemon slice (minus the lemon juice "because kids don't like lemons") with icing that she coloured blood-red, so it wasn't a dead loss. And they rigged a trap that tipped tanbark chips all over people at the tug of a rope. Great stuff.

The Diva is off with her friend who is more of a conjoined twin, really! She has a better social life than I do.

Miss Four-Going-On-Forty is reading herself a book in bed, much to the astonishment of El Presidente.

Work was rough today, not because the work itself was rough but because in the aftermath of the headache and no sleep, I felt incredibly unwell by the middle of the day. Not eating probably doesn't help but i just don't like to eat at the moment. Not even a family sized block of Club Peppermint Dark Chocolate can tempt me past a few squares. Everything gives me indigestion.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lady in waiting

Half way there, just about. Nineteen weeks today.

What am I waiting for? Not just the baby. Waiting for maternity leave (I put up the advertisement for my job last week) so that I can just be "mum" for a while. Oh how I am looking forward to that!

Waiting for the eldest daughter to leave home. Not in a gleeful way - I just don't think it's working out at the moment, sadly enough. We have as many bad and snarky days as good and helpful ones, and I can't see that anyone is particularly at fault. It's just not working out very well. Her needs and desires don't particularly coincide with the way we run our home, and it leads to tension.

Waiting for dd2 to start school next year. I so want this to work out for her. She's come a long way.

Waiting for Clare to start school. Not sure if she is ready. She's so jolly bright, and such a little madam. Perhaps school will reduce the madamness!

Waiting to find the kernel of whatever it is in me that my therapist wants me to find so that I can look after it. Waiting maybe for God to show me that this bit is the bit made in God's image. Waiting for directions on the next step, I guess.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The most tiresome old saw of all...

"Why have children if you aren't going to look after them?"

It's such an easily dismantled judgement against working parents that I am stunned it still gets airplay. As the letter writers to the Age quite succinctly managed to articulate yesterday, there are any number of reasons why parents use child care and there can be few people, even childless people, who really don't get the complexity behind individual family situations.

But it's worth looking at the question minus the judgement and ignorance, because even our righteously outraged responses belie our need to justify our parenting choices, our shopping list of acceptable reasons for using what we seem to be subconsciously tagging as a sub-optimal choice.

The best way for me to talk about why I had children if I was going to "get someone else to bring them up" (that's a fallacy for another post, all on its own) is to talk about my own story.

When I had my first child at the age of twenty, I very much was of Ms Hutchison's bewildered point of view - how could anyone give birth and then surrender care of that infant? Then after another child appeared soon after, my marriage broke down, and I was suffering a severe post natal depression with two children under two. I found myself using family daycare two days a week, because my mental health demanded it. All of a sudden, I understood that sacrificing two days a week did not mean sacrificing my status as mother. (I suggest that most mothers of teenagers wish it were so easy to let oneself off the hook!)

Why did I have those two children? Like many young mothers, there was no reason that I had them other than that a sperm met an egg, and I gestated. Twice. There was no relationship between my reasoning to have them (what little reasoning there was, and I fully own the deficit) and my subsequent decision to use daycare. We functioned as a unit, and there was a need, and as the only responsible parent in the picture, I met the need as best I could.

I know women - stay at home mothers and working-out-of-home mothers alike who have had children for a variety of reasons. Holding their marriage together. A daughter fantasy. A son dream. A desire to heal a fractured childhood. An inability to feel purpose without a foetus on board. An insufficiency of love. Hormones. Intense maternal instinct. A great love of children, babies, laughs, learning to walk and read, the soft skin on a toddler's belly when you push your lips against it and blow raspberries and the ripples of giggles that flow through them to your kiss.

Why have children if.... you are going to shout at them when they are naughty? Choose public schooling? Not give them siblings? Vaccinate them? Not vaccinate them? Not breastfeed them? Pass on family illnesses? These are our assumptions, our judgements, our retaliations against why we think people ought to have children, but how many of us had children "just so we could do everything right"? Is that anyone's motivation for having a child?

It's not mine, and never has been. These are judgements we make after our children are a fact, after they've burrowed into our hearts and we are already caught up on the balancing beam of meeting their needs, assuaging our love, and defending it all against the challenges of a world that insists on throwing us parents off kilter at every turn.

Fast forward twenty years.

Here I am. Without intending it, a sperm met and egg, and I am gestating. I wasn't thrilled about it to begin with, but like many relationships, it's growing on me. At nearly five months, I can feel my little precious baby wriggling around from time to time, reminding me that it's there.

Will I use daycare? Probably, at some point. I'm planning on returning to work after taking a year off to be "just mum". But my income is necessary for the other five children to have the chances they deserve in life, and the world benefits in some small way from the work I do. And my husband and I will go on juggling what we have been juggling for some time while he does the "mum stuff" and I come home from work and ask what's for tea.

So why have this baby? Because I love it. Because it's growing in me, and it's my baby, and will be my toddler and my grown daughter or son. And the fact that it will be in the world and loved is enough reason to have it.

I hope that answers your question, Ms Hutchison.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tempus fugit and all that.

I need to journal.

I'm an attention seeker.

It's time to blog again.

There are so many things different at the moment. There are these ebbs and flows not just in my life but all around me, and it feels like I'm just coming out of a cloud and noticing it all.

There's so much space around me. Space coming up with maternity leave, space at work with having moved off a big project at last, space at home as I begin to get well and can get on top of things a little. Emotional space, psychological space... it all feels a little liberating and a little frightening. I suspect that when I have explored that space, things will appear to have a very different shape, and I'll be moving differently in the space.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Daily Hack

One of the things I am very good at (if I do say so myself) is coming up with workarounds: solutions to complex problems when the resources are not at hand to Buy Something To Fix It. Sometimes I manage a hack for daily life - commonly I manage hacks for getting around technology. Sometimes I achieve those by cobbling together other people's hacks!

Today's Daily Hack:

Removing unwanted stationery from Entourage email
A co-worker sends through very garish pretty stationery with her email. Unfortunately, it slows down my mail client, Entourage. I don't want to make all my emails default plain text, as I receive a lot of complex html emails that I actually want to see. I didn't want to set the rule to simply remove attachments, because sometimes she will send me things that I actually need.

So I downloaded the remove attachments script from this site. With this script, I can now create a rule that when an email comes in from her, the script will remove attachments, save them in the saved attachments folder, and the same script will allow me, if it is apparent there was supposed to be something other than eyeball-piercing lime green pyjama stripes, to allow the attachments folder and view whatever she sent me.

I spent maybe an hour figuring it out - but I'd spend easily that much time waiting for her emails to open, minus the sense of satisfaction!

Come, meet my body.

My body is sitting at my desk, wearing size fourteen trousers (that's a twelve to you Americans) and a blue satin top which is showing the bulge of the bit of body that won't fit inside the size fourteen trousers. It has just avoided walking up the three flights of stairs, and has instead very lazily taken the lift.

There could be little better summation of this body of mine, to be honest. It is about to ingest leftover pasta from last night, a matter of expediency over health. Isn't everything? It's more expedient to eat the block of peppermint chocolate than work on the relaxation excercises. It is more expedient to sit on the train out of the wind than battle through a stiff north-westerly.

My body is nearly thirty nine years old. For the first sixteen years or so of its life, it was tiny, scrawny even, and insignificant. It was good for little except to draw the attention of bullies, both outside and within the family, my father taunting me as mercilessly as the vile schoolyard variety.

When I hit sixteen, my body suddenly discovered it was meant to belong to a woman, and took on womanly attributes that attracted a different sort of attention. Now, not only could other people abuse my physicality, I had the means with which to abuse myself.

For three years I had the ultimate weapon against myself - a gorgeous figure that attracted just the right kind of bully.

When I was nineteen, my body did what the doctors told me it couldn't do, and it got pregnant. The changes were as rapid and disconcerting as the whole of adolescence, wrapped up in less than a year. "Scrawny" was a thing of the past. After a first trimester of severe nausea and vomiting that saw me plummet to 48kg, I made up for lost time, regaining the weight and then some, clocking in at the end at a whopping 94kg. Motherhood had indeed made me - I was literally twice the woman I was before.

I imagined much of it would be syphoned off post partum in the form of excess fluid from the pre-eclampsia. I had no idea how transfigured I was, EEE bra notwithstanding, until I returned home from hospital with a baby and a wardrobe three or four sizes too small. The fact that looked back at me was tired, and old, and fat. Nothing hung right. Nothing sat right. As I began to exercise, up at 5am to do Aerobics Aus style while the baby coo-ed on the floor next to me, the weight came off but the weight of the world, the weight of motherhood, the weight of depression, dragged at me and my appendages, adding wrinkles, sagging and fatigue.

Soon enough I was pregnant again, and the transformation was less dramatic but equally exhausting. And terminal for my marriage, I thought. My husband left me emotionally for another woman before I was eight months pregnant, and physically left me five weeks after our second baby girl was born. I was no longer the woman he married. I blamed my weight. Then I found out that the woman he left me for was larger still, so presumably it was only my being that was lacking, not my figure.

So, I went on my divorce diet. It's amazing what your husband leaving you can do for your figure. What with not eating for six months, I lost 30kg and what remained of my confidence, which may have been an extra ounce or two.

I've gone up and down many times since then, in varying degrees of acceptance. I am proud, now, of what my body has done. What I want is to accept that my body, my physical self, is not just a container or a tool for self-derogation or punishment or comfort, but is actually part of me. It's as much a part of me as my reason, my love and my pain, and it deserves to be nurtured as such. My reflection deserves to be celebrated for what it shows me - which is, me.

So I'll eat my pasta, and enjoy the taste of the garlic and cheese on my tongue, and think about stretching out in the cool breeze outside, and accepting that as being as much a part of my day as the laugh I will have later with my coworkers. And when I laugh, it will be as much about the tongue and stomach and lungs as it is about heart and humour. And I'll think not about the weight of it, but about the lightness of laughing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What's this - I'm a person?

What a bizarre evening.

I came home from work, and got changed. While I was getting changed, nobody came in and hassled me about the colour of my knickers or asked me why I wear a bra or why my tummy jiggles.

I looked in the cupboard, and decided that a tin of cream of chicken and mushroom soup sounded very nice for dinner, and that I would go up to the shop and get something disgusting for dessert, and a magazine to read after tea. I didn't argue with anyone, nor did I have to negotiate the flavour of soup, figure out whether I'd have to buy two packets of something disgusting for dessert, or put three pairs of socks (if I could find them) on three pairs of feet and drag them up to the shop.

When I walked up to the shop, I didn't have to hold someone's hand while she balance on the brick wall, or call to racing children to come back before they got run over. I didn't have to listen to three different conversations at one time and make sense of them all.

I went around the supermarket and picked what I wanted off the shelves. I didn't have to say "no". Not even once. Well, only to myself. But not at the chocolate shelf. And when I picked up the block of chocolate, I didn't have to promise to share it with anyone.

When I got home, I cooked the soup, and served it up, and nobody told me that someone else had more than them, or that they didn't like those bread rolls, or ask if they could have it in a pink bowl and tell me NO I WANT THE PINK SPOON TOO!

I sat down and ate my dinner without interruption, and then I watched the show I want, and then I cleaned up and pulled a blanket over myself and now I am sitting here making a blog entry, and I am not having to promise to read a story in a minute and please will you brush your teeth.

One night. One night of the life I never really lived - coming home from work, on my own, doing my own thing. Quiet. On my own. I haven't spoken a word for two hours.

It's wonderful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

All the credit, none of the blame

I wonder if that should be my new mantra ;)

I'm in a glowing phase with the children at the moment. The teens and I are reaping the rewards of being so honest and accountable to one another for the past few years. Greta Garbo is working two jobs to save up for her university course. We seem to have overcome the teething problems of her new independence. She seems happy with the few requirements of her, and we're happy to be flexible.

I have been forced to come up with a different nickname for my second daughter. I think I may call her El Presidente. She brought home a nomination form today for a Young Women's Leadership Forum. Only twenty girls or so will be selected from this state, and the school is putting her name forward. She's working hard, both at school, and at her part time job. She's also working hard at being a wonderful, giving member of the family. I barely need to lock my bedroom door any more.

The little ones are charming as little ones often are. They've been blessed with their father's natural sense of equilibrium, and we rarely have any issues. Stompy, the ten year old, is doing her maths homework right now. The Diva is in bed, having just had a raucous night at Cubs. Miss Three-Going-On-Thirty told me she loved me.

I feel proud.

I was always keen to hear reasons why I shouldn't take too much blame for the problems we've had. So it seems a little hypocritical to claim any credit for any of it. I'm not sure there's much credit to be had. We provide a calm-ish, happy-ish, stable-ish home. We give them what they need, we talk with them, we respect them.

But I think the biggest thing we've given them in the last year or so is a great deal of our own self-confidence. I was interested to read an article suggesting that this indeed had a huge impact in how one parents. After I had my mini-breakdown last year, which was truly a crisis of confidence, I was able to reconstruct in a way what I did feel confident about, and able to tackle issues with a greater clarity. That has certainly assisted both me and the children. We had to address exactly what is was we were believing in, trying to model, and what we wanted and were willing to accept. Articulating that clearly to the children, and seeking support from other friendly and encouraging adults to validate that these were indeed reasonable values and expectations, was a great confidence booster as well.

Here are some of the things that have helped me build my confidence:

Talk honestly to other parents.
None of us like to admit we aren't coping, but once we hint that may be the case, it's common for other parents to admit their own failings. Hearing other parents who to you seem like wonderful examples admit their own frailty, and seeing that their children have grown into great young people, does wonders to convince you that you're probably not as vile as you think you are. And if your realisation is that actually, you might be doing a bit worse than you'd like, that kind of honesty from others and yourself can open your eyes to the assistance you might need.

Talk honestly with your children.
If you are feeling uncertain about how a particular issue is panning out, invite them to share their thoughts on it. Chances are they aren't happy either, and they may well have some wisdom or suggestions to share that may help you find a different perspective. Be prepared to listen unjudgementally to what they are telling you. Sometimes what they say can be hard to hear, unfair, and even cruel, but again, if you've got that information, then you can do something with it!

Articulate your expectations - and be prepared to explain them.
It's not a unique piece of wisdom to say that the days of "because I told you so" are well past for most young people today. They are used to a culture that adores them and treats them as if they are much older, and regardless of how hard you try, unquestioning obedience isn't a likely outcome for any modern parent of teens. Sometimes they'll ask questions that make you realise that the real reason behind your expectation is "because I don't trust you," or "because I feel like I'm not in control any more" or "because if you don't I feel like I've lost authority". These are understandable fears and anxieties... but that's your problem, not your teen's, and it probably means it's not a reasonable expectation.

Consider your expectations carefully, and explain them explicitly. Teens can be very literal, legalistic, and narrow minded. If you just say "chores" then it's not narrow enough for them. If you give them a list of the exact chores you want them to do, then the next time you ask them to do something not on the list they will huff at you, "But you didn't put that one on! I've done what you expected me to do! Why should I do anything else?" And they've got a point. Perhaps you can be as explicit as possible, and give yourself some riders and loopholes. Over issues like chores, where these arguments are common, it's worth writing them down.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's hard to be a parent to a child who's never there.

Last night was a difficult night to sleep. Steamy, sticky. I was overtired and stressed by a challenging work situation. Miss Three-Going-On-Thirty decided she wanted to sleep with me, then not with me, then with me again, until Beloved lurched under his own personal thundercloud to the couch to sleep.

We all finally, gratefully, slid into something approaching restful sleep when I was suddenly jolted back to uncomfortable consciousness. Slap, slap, slap. Drip, drip, drip. Light was streaming in through the door. I moaned and looked at the clock - 12.30am. What the?

I staggered down the hall way, and bashed on the bathroom door.

"What on earth are you doing?"

"I'm having a shower, mum." I swear, I could hear her eyes roll from the other side of the door.

Greta Garbo, almost eighteen, is her own woman now. She's left school, she's got a job, she's looking forward to university, and she can come and go as she pleases. Completely obligation free, mind you, and any attempt to assert boundaries at this tricky phase (ie, the one where we don't actually have to put up with crap if we don't want to) result in accusations of emotional blackmail and hoisting "the sword of Damocles over my head". I swear she said that. Or maybe I'm trying to make myself feel better that she may be intensely irritating at times but at least she's literate.

What we don't seem to be able to come to an agreement on is what are reasonable boundaries, and how much she should be able to exert her independence at the expense of other people.

"You won't let me have a shower in the morning, so I'm having one now!" she shouted at me, each syllable waking an extra individual. Calculations of how many minutes I would have to spend settling each child, and how many minutes that would leave before I'd have to get up for work flew in a panic through my mind, as the taps poured on.

We don't allow the two big girls to have showers early in the morning. That may sound draconian, but we have seven people living in a house and one bathroom, and two parents needing to get three children ready for school and to get themselves ready for work in the morning, leisurely teenage showers are not a luxury we can afford. For those two, oh woe, the shower is off limits from 10.30pm until 8.30am. There are many, many hours within which to ablute.

I want to explain this to Greta Garbo, but unfortunately she's not here. She's never here, or when she is, I'm not. My only mode of communication is via unanswered text messages (she never takes my calls) or hastily written notes on the back of Miss Three-Going-On-Thirty's artwork from daycare. There is no chance to repair to the rhythms of a relationship of give and take - the nitty gritty necessary to making the household run must be thrashed out in the ten minutes or so our paths cross. The less we see each other, the bigger the barriers become. And it's frustrating.

At the moment, it's also impossible to take her out for a coffee and talk about things like adults. Becuause any attempt to put my case is met with the sarcasm, raised eyebrow and ever-escalating hyperbole as she demonstrates that for her, being adult means never having to sit and listen to something you might find vaguely challenging.

I love her to bits. But something's going to have to give. I look forward to writing a serene and self-congratulatory post about how I managed to completely solve the dilemma in between making school lunches and breakfast on a Wednesday morning whilst simultaneously signing readers, filling in excursion forms and approving homework.

I'm a superwoman, after all. Shower schedules shouldn't be beyond me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Not it all, at all

I was tempted to join a conversation on a message board about women "having it all". Can women "have it all"? After giving some responses, I decided it was worthy of a blog post.

The posing of the question itself is interesting. The idea of women wanting to "have it all" has been a bit of a strawman argument. Few women expect to be able to have "it all". Most women know that if you make decision A, it might have some negative implications about decision B. If you choose to have a baby, you're going to need to take some time off work, for a little bit, or a longer bit, depending. Most women know that if they go back to work, they aren't going to have as much time with their kids, and they are going to have to forego some of their income in childcare costs if they don't have a partner who can be at home to care for the child. The question is loaded - it implies selfishness, a desire to have something more than the average common-sense filled individual might aspire to. It speaks of unattainable acquisitiveness, a greed-is-good mentality.

So what is this "all" that women want? I don't think that women want it "all" if "all" means being able to stay at home with their children and simultaneously work. What human being realistically expects that? By "having it all", when you look at it a little bit deeper, what we are actually saying is, "the opportunity to make a choice to partition one's life between work and raising children in a way that doesn't disproportionately discriminate against me just because I'm the person who birthed them." Why is it asking such a huge thing, why is it asking to "have it all" to expect a reasonable opportunity to raise children and maintain a career? Women are stereotypically lauded for being great multi-taskers - surely we're more than fit for that?

To a certain extent I see men being victimised by the idea that parenting falls rightly to the woman. Beloved has been actively discriminated against in his workplace because he puts a great emphasis on being a parent as well as being a worker. Were he to buy into the stereotype of being a workaholic, he would bypass that, of course and no-one would raise an eyebrow, apart fro his wife and children. I don't get that luxury. I have encountered negative attitudes in the workplace from both sides: both from sides. I have encountered negativity on the instances where I have tried to accommodate the needs of my family, perhaps working from home while a child is sick or leaving early for a school appointment. I have also encountered negative attitudes that I am at work at all - that my children are in daycare, that Beloved and I take turns in caring for the children when they are ill. My virtue as a human being is somehow suspect because I want "it all" - that is, I want only to not have roadblocks put in my way of doing what I do quite well already, working at a job whilst raising children.

These are the roadblocks I want removed:

  • Being overlooked for projects or assignments because it "wouldn't be fair on your family".
  • Being asked in job interviews whether I'd be able to manage balancing my family and work life.
  • The lack of paid parental leave for whichever parent wishes to spend some time with a very young child.
  • Having eyebrows raised at "unrealistic" expectations of "having it all" by people in senior positions who will make decisions about your employment.
  • The assumption that making a workplace friendly for working parents who might need flexibility or space for expressing breastmilk is a huge imposition on that workplace.

  • Much of the developed world has caught up with this, of course. Australia and America remain the two countries in the developed world who have failed to come to grips with paid parental leave. Most Australians at least support the idea, but it isn't likely to happen any time soon. To some extent the market will take care of some of the needs of parents, particularly for highly skilled employees, but this is small comfort for those in jobs where there is little bargaining power and they are more or less easily replaced. Given the preponderance of women in roles that are typically casual - hospitality, retail - the provision of these opportunities will remain slim.

    When all women are asking for is the opportunity to determine how they will run their families while they decide to continue a career (or not), it seems like wanting to have "it all" isn't asking for very much at all, really.