Daily Archives: Saturday 23 February 2008

Guest post: Turn and face the strain

I’m delighted to have a guest post from Julie Fairey.

Like my gracious host Deborah, I too am living in a strange land these days, although I’ve managed this move without any actual physical relocation.

My days and nights used to be mine to command. Now I live at the beck and call of a tyrant, one who insists on using a foreign language that I am slow to learn. Wriggly has redefined how I see myself, and my relationships with others*. His tyranny extends to determining when I sleep and when I wake, even sometimes when I can eat, and the dictates of the Holidays Act and other relevant labour legislation simply do not apply in this area of employment. I’d like to think that one day I’ll benefit from Wriggly’s nepotism, seeing as how he is my son, although that slim hope of advantage seems a long way off at 3.13am.

On the whole I think I like this new life – certainly I am rather enamoured of the cause of all this change despite his obsession with sleep deprivation as a form of torture. I’m still working on getting that first genuine smile, but even without that I’m finding motherhood a rewarding experience.

The challenges of protecting and sustaining this new life have (so far) been very stimulating. I have always liked problem solving and planning, and dealing with Wriggly’s dictatorial nature has me thinking outside the square as never before. There’s a strange fulfillment in working out why he’s crying, and thus making a small baby happy, if even for a few moments. I’ll be back to paid work later in the year, but for now I’m mostly happy working out how to do things with only one free hand (or even on occasion no free hands) and getting a sense of satisfaction from managing a trip to the shops and back without assistance.

I’m also rediscovering the houseproud Julie who was buried under the stress of working a difficult job with longer than normal hours. I’d put housework in the Someone Else’s Problem** basket, we’d eat out whenever there wasn’t time or energy to cook, and generally I accepted that my home was going to have to be dustier and more cluttered than I really wanted. Now I can take control of all that for myself, at least as Wriggly’s demands allow.

But inevitably concerns of a feminist nature rear their heads, when one partner in a relationship is staying home to maintain the lives of three people and the other is out in the world earning the moolah to fund that life. Both are important, indeed vital, roles, but how to share them with some form of equity? Particularly when both members of this partnership have been living all our lives in a society which still tends to divide this stuff up along gender lines. If I hear one more person tell me “well that’s just the way it is” or “all women/men are like that” I may very well scream so loudly that Wriggly is shocked into silence for a good five minutes.

For now I am largely shelving my parity worries, as I focus on learning all the new skills that are suddenly necessary. Sooner or later the fair division of labour will have to be faced though, because already I feel my world has become somewhat smaller. Without the wonders of the interweb I suspect I’d have little to offer in the way of conversation except to comment on the bodily functions of babies. Even with the ability to read all about The World Out There online I find I generally end up talking about Wriggly sooner or later in every interaction.

And if I’m totally honest I do feel that I’ve gone from one stressful job to another, with little time off from the strain. While the core competencies of the two roles are significantly different, they have one key area of overlap – I find that the people I deal with most are constantly wanting something from me and often their desires are difficult to satisfy. As with my previous day job as a unionist, the best way to resolve the demands is usually to turn and face the strain as soon as possible. But that’s not always what I want to do.

I’ll keep navigating through this new land, for the rest of my life, and as the time served as a parent starts to mount up no doubt I will come to terms with how to embrace my new role without losing my old self. For now I’ll take my kicks from Wriggly’s gurgles and gurning, and accept that my payment will be in the currency of cuddles for some time to come.

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* Eg, my parents are no longer my folks, they are Wriggly’s Nana and Grandad. Even the cat has a new moniker – Big Sister.
** Specifically the cleaners’ problem.