>> Sunday, 10 August 2008
This morning at breakfast Boy #1 was intrigued to learn that he shares his second name with his beloved older cousin, J. He was even more enthralled to learn that this very same name is also the first name of his paternal grandfather and a maternal great-uncle. The icing on the cake was supplied when he discovered that his younger brother's first name was also passed down from his maternal grandmother and her father, his great-grandfather.
We're not talking of any unusual names here, by the way, and we don't have big hang-ups about our children having to bear 'family names'. But both Husband and I like the idea of 'belonging' to a family, of sharing more with our predecessors than just a tendancy to loud nose-blowing, or an obsession with hoarding useless items of furniture that should have been given to charity long ago. And it helped a lot that the names in question work in both the UK and in the Netherlands. And finally, that they were - more or less - the only ones we could agree on... I mean, Husband profferred Tybault as a realistic choice. You can see what I was up against... So family names it was...
In any case, this discussion on names led to the following conversation.
Me: "So, maybe when you're grown up, if you have children, you could give them a name you like from your family."
Boy #1 (pondering for a moment): "Maybe.... But I won't have children."
Me (oh god, what have I done? Is this my fault? It must be my fault...): "No? Why not?"
Boy #1 (in a laboured way, as if to say; isn't it obvious?): "Well, because I'm going to be a zoo keeper, of course! Like F's daddy!"
Me: "Well, yes, but you could be a zoo keeper and have children too. F's daddy is a zoo keeper, and he has children."
Boy #1: "Not with him, he doesn't. Not at the zoo."
Me (Health and Safety, very good...): "Ah. I see. But you might get married and your wife might want children."
Boy #1: "Well, of course I will get married. J - from nursery - will be my bride (her mummy tells me this is a forgone conclusion too, actually), and she will look after the children."
I was, of course, horrified, not just by his automatic assumption that all mummies stay home and look after the children, but by his use of the incredibly outdated expression 'my bride'. It sounded like something out of a bad black & white horror movie, or 'Mad Men' with it's look at life in unreconstructed pre-feminist America.
Muttering grimly under my breath about how I really need to get back to work to bring my children out of the 1950's and into the 21st century, we had a further discussion about all the different forms of childcare available, and how in some families the daddy stays home, how in others the children go to a creche or a childminder, and how in some a nanny looks after them.
Boy #1 was unmoved. He's still going to be zoo keeper. And gorillas are much more fun than babies.
For some reason what has stayed in my mind about this is not Boy #1's conclusion that because his mummy stays home, then all mummies stay home - he can be forgiven for that, since it's all he knows - but my horror at the prospect.
It seems that I still hadn't quite lost that gut reaction I was afflicted by - as a working woman, pre-children - that staying home to care for your brood is the 'easy' way out. That women who do this are probably just pulling a fast one over their husbands. That the life of a stay-at-home mum consists mainly of sitting around, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and arranging flowers. Interestingly, that is exactly - exactly - the phrasing my father used to use when he was trying to - jokingly -wind up my mother, and interestingly, it's stuck with me as the definition of a stay-at-home mum.
And yet, I know that was not the life my mother lived. And now I am one of those 'stay-at-homes' myself, and I can't remember the last time I 'sat around'. I don't drink coffee, or arrange flowers (why would you, when most of them can be bought pre-arranged these days?), though of course if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that eating chocolate is in fact a major hobby of mine. But overall, I know that staying home with the kids is in no way the 'easy' way out.
Of course there are fun times, and I do get to socialise with mums of my Boy's friends on occassion. I also have my hair cut regularly, get to go the gym 3 times a week, and even - sometimes - go out in the evening with my Husband or friends. But you know what? Working women without children get to do those things too - without the guilt that they should really be home in sack-cloth and ashes - and no-one tells them they have an easy life. Heaven forbid!
Apart from working mums, that is, compared to whom we all have it easy. Having been one myself I know that when you are trying to cram children and a full time job into your life, non-essential projects like self-maintenance and a social life tend to get somewhat disregarded, until your bikini line is down to your knees, your fringe is in your eyes, muscle tone is a distant memory, and your best friends only bother to text in your 'down-time window' between 5.30 and 6pm in the tube on your way home from work... (Is it any wonder I didn't go back after Boy #2 arrived?)
But you know, I made a decision this morning after that conversation. I've finally stopped believing that doing all these things - the gym, the hair cuts, the occassional interaction with grown-ups who want more of you in the way of a civilised conversation than a discussion of whether Bob the Builder prefers Muck or Scoop - should make me feel guilty.
Because I may not be flying off to and leading meetings with international clients, pushing a team of difficult creatives to deliver designs against a deadline, or issuing invoices for millions of dollars, but I do have a job to do. It involves constant laundry, tidying, school runs, nappy changing, bottom wiping, bathing, mediating, negotiation, cajoling, supermarket visits, household admin jobs, diary management, tact and diplomacy, mouse-killing, spider-removing, rubbish bag removing and recycling. And mostly it involves taking responsibility for the greater part of the day for 2 human beings in the making, and trying not to mess up turning them into decent people. And I fail to see how that makes my life an 'easy' one.
So say it loud and proud. I'm a stay at home mum. And I'm worth it.
(I would finish with 'Roaaaarrrr!' but Boy #1, fascinated with the Olympics, has trademarked that word to use when he finishes his 'Liongymnastic Displays' - which is actually what I intended to post about but will save for another time - so will just round off with a gentle 'squeak!' as befits a stay at home mouse like myself...)