There is a world of difference between knowing that something will happen and it actually happening.
I’ve known since I went back to work that my working full time would mean that I would miss parts of our children’s childhood. I knew it, and I tried to make my peace with it, because frankly there isn’t an option that doesn’t involve one of their parents missing things and even then I’ve been to every parent’s evening, every school meeting, seen the school play and made a termly appearance at Pip and Elma’s playgroup. I’d done it. For most of the whole first year of school and work I’d been there for everything that mattered.
And then came sports day. On a Thursday morning. It sounded like a lovely morning; all the families come to school to support and cheer on the little ones and then everyone has a picnic on the school playing fields afterwards. Lovely, except that if I want to travel in the summer, if I want to have time in September to settle them back to school, if I want time off at Christmas then I don’t have enough annual leave to take a couple of Thursday mornings, and the pressures of the job meant that I really needed to be in the office those days anyway. So to work I went.
All through the morning little videos arrived from H; Kitty winning the welly wanging (no surprise as she looked at least a foot taller than her fellow Reception competitors) and racing in the relay collection race and a very careful egg and spoon. She came home covered in stickers (both for placing and just for taking part) and full of beans to tell me all about it and I’ve heard so much and seen so much that it feels almost as if I was there, but not quite.
A week later it was Elma and Pip’s last playgroup of term. She moves up into the preschool Nursery group for three mornings a week next term and so her last day was a special moving up playgroup. She has the sweetest card and a little present from her playgroup leader and even H admitted feeling a little emotional reading it to her – and he’ll be going to playgroup with Pip for at least another year to come. I heard all about it when she got home, and she’s told us ever since that she’s a big nursery girl now, and it’s utterly adorable, and so lovely that she’s so excited about it and I wish I’d been there to celebrate with her.
The truth is that neither of the girls minded that I wasn’t there, or even really expected it. They’ve grasped that Mama has to go to work and that in the loosest possible terms, working means having nice things (although Kitty did once suggest that I should stop work and we could live off the Nectar card – I think she may have misplaced confidence in how far those points will go). They’re proud of me and I’m proud to be a role model for them, to show them that making the right decisions for your family doesn’t always have to mean following a stereotype, and no one ever turns around in adulthood and says “well my childhood was lovely but my Mum didn’t come to watch me win welly wanging when I was five and that was the beginning of the end, my life was ruined”.
So why the guilt? I’d love to blame the supermum paradox, the chapter and verse from the great unnamed “They” who say that it’s all very well being a successful professional woman with career, but only if I can also run my household, raise my children and not miss a single minute of their lives; I can have my feminist badge and attack glass ceilings all I like, but I’m only valid when I’ve got the adult equivalent of a Brownie hospitality and childcare badge first.
And I don’t wish to diminish the existence of the stereotype, far from it, it’s a very real thing and is a preconception that so many of us try to fight, mothers and fathers both. But the truth is that in feeling guilt at having missed Kitty’s first sports day, or Elma’s last playgroup, it’s not just succumbing to media guilt trap, I’m complicit in the stereotype, because actually, I would like to be supermum.
I’d love to be able to do a whole day’s good clever work, and then come home and be brim full of energy to devote to my children and my husband, to clap my hands Mary Poppins style to clean the house so that H can rest while I snuggle up to read bedtime stories with a freshly washed and pyjamed little trio, to spend so much quality time with all of them that they’re bored of me. To make cakes, and amazing lunches, and go on adventures, and still have time for me to read and write and knit and sew and fill up my cup. Who wouldn’t.
If that were possible, if it were in any way actually doable, it would be awesome, a totally fulfilling and regret-free life. But it can’t. Something will always have to give. And so this week I’ve taken a deep breath, cuddled my little ones close, listened to every story of their days, watched every video, and admired every sticker.
And it’s not simply good enough; it’s actually good. I’m doing every little thing to balance the competing interests in my world, and in my head I know I’m nailing it. Now if someone could just pass that message along to my heart.
With pictures from a lovely afternoon at the cricket where I was there for every minute!
Joining Katie at Mummy Daddy Me for The Ordinary Moments