Women’s work

So, we’re back in the school holidays.

Today, the kids are out — originally planned so that I can work — but as it turns out instead I will use to the time to get some things done that I need to do without the children around. (Others can achieve some of these with their children around: people, I commend you. It is not the case chez Particulars …) Writing a quick blog is my special treat so that I don’t go completely mad.

So far today I have done laundry. I have visited my mother and gone to the supermarket for her (she fell at the weekend, and can barely walk at the moment); and then she asked me to fix her printer. The driver had vanished off her laptop — the printer and the laptop are both 1,000 years old and are VERY SLOW and every time I am asked to fix whatever the latest issue is, I tell her that if it were me I would just start over with new kit. But my mum doesn’t think she should buy new ones (even though she can afford it) because they are only eight years old. AAAARRRGH! But it’s ME that gets to spend five hours trying to fix stuff. Anyway. Sorted the computer issue out, but all that took two and a half hours out of my day (and the kids are “only” out for 7 hours today).

Then food: we have a glut of veggies in our garden so I took our glut and turned it into a meal for tonight and some meals for the freezer. I find this quite satisfying and reasonably productive and relaxing, so a good thing. Courgettes and spring onions become ta-da: courgette, chicken and tarragon pie filling. Yum — and at least we have a decent dinner done for tonight. Still, takes time.

Then I decided to tackle the craft cupboard. OMG. Paper proliferates in this house at a rate of knots, and then there are the pipe cleaners, stickers, workbooks, pens, glue sticks, bits of fabric, things I don’t even know what they are … we have had some birthdays recently and I have been busy so it’s really rather scarey in the craft area. I am, as I write, half-way through (I hope).

Spending a day like this doesn’t make me feel good, though, because I feel that I never get enough done. I forget how long all each of these things take: and if I don’t do them at all (my sister’s strategy) it drives me up the wall. So by the end of today I will have done some worthwhile things — looked after my mother, cooked some decent food, created some order in the dining room: but there will still be loads I haven’t done — and — here’s the kicker — I will feel as though I haven’t done anything worthwhile. The things I have done are all “women’s work” and are not valued (in terms of their contribution to our quality of life) or accurately represented in terms of our cultural understanding of how long they take.

I wonder how I would feel about it if I were a single parent. A healthy dose of resentment ends up being directed at Mr P when I spend time doing this stuff. I resent it. I resent it. I resent that Mr P will NEVER get it. He just does not get what I do with my time, why I get tired and arsey. And it makes me angry that we are both intelligent relatively enlightened people and STILL this is an issue in our lives. Mostly in my life.

Sigh. We are going on holiday next week (guess who has done all the work for the holiday?) and hopefully some rest and time away from our house will make me less cross about it all.

Anyway, enough for now. The pile of shite in the dining room will not tidy itself.



The power of the written word

So today is the first day of lent, and I suppose I should be thinking about my “no chocolate and no alcohol” thing, but — let’s be honest here — the first day of something is hardly the challenging one.

Instead, I am marvelling slightly at the change in my children since I instigated their household chores. Yesterday was hectic (what day isn’t?!). But, unprompted, Meerkat cleaned all the bathrooms BY HERSELF (she needed help with opening the toilet cleaner but otherwise truly by herself); Frog and Mouse made their packed lunches (Meerkat isn’t having a packed lunch today) and tidied up after themselves, and although Frog needed a lot of chivvying, he did all of his kitchen duties unaided.

My children do not usually seem so biddable; but we currently have lists stuck to the walls all over the house, listing what needs to happen (what is involved in kitchen duty, cleaning the bathroom, what needs to go in a lunchbox, what needs to happen every day (putting PJs in the wash etc)). I do feel somewhat of an idiot when other people come to the house with lists of everything all over the wall but — people, take note — this has made a HUGE difference to my kids. They just look at the list, ask what’s next, and get on with it.


I’m not sure how long this is going to last, to be honest, but I’m enjoying it while I can. I have noticed before that Frog, in particular, is much more likely to abide by a rule / do a chore if it is written down.

I need to consider what else I should be writing on lists and pinning to the wall …!

They think it’s a hard knock life

In January, I read a fab book called Children Who Do Too Little. It was, and here I am using Gru’s voice, a “lightbulb” moment. Since my brain started to recover from having children (Frog, now 8; Meerkat, now 6 and Mouse, also 6) I have been battling with the issue of Wifework and how that sits with my beliefs about the world and feminism. (I still haven’t read the book. It’s on my list.) I had NO IDEA before I had children. I thought that feminism was something that was important 20 years ago (or more) but that in today’s society it was no longer relevant. Ha ha. If only I’d known. Then I had three children in quick succession, gave up work (because I wanted to and was able to) and took on the mantle of being a full time mother and running a house for five of us. Wow. I felt like I’d died. I remember distinctly going out to lunch en famille when the girls were still in high chairs (we were on holiday) and looking at other women, particularly mothers, trying to work out if they still actually existed as people. I concluded that a few of them — and all of those had only one child — probably still had remnants of themselves, but most of the others just didn’t. They ceased to exist and became a human-shaped long to-do list in order to keep body and soul together. You could see it in their faces. In my face. When people asked me how I was, I felt I couldn’t answer that question because I didn’t know who “I” was anymore.

Time passes, routines settle in, and you live your own new normal. I my case, I did everything because I felt I had to do everything (my partner was working more than full-time hours; my children couldn’t do anything because they were, at that stage, just blobs).

And I read stuff. At this stage, books were too difficult, so I was reading blogs and bits and bobs I found in my precious moments of internet surfing. And it struck me that mothers have such a different life experience from other people. Politics and politicians were all irrelevant to me: people making decisions about this country and my life were so far removed from my life experience that they did not represent me in any way at all (even women politicians — how many of those are mothers? I know why, of course.) I was, very much, down among the women. And it also struck me how universal my daily battles were: the glass left on top of the dishwasher; laundry on the floor not in the basket; being asked what was for dinner; feeling like no-one knew (other than other people doing the same thing) just how HARD this all was. Running a house for five people and feeding five people and keeping all the balls in the air is HARD. The work required has a kind of relentless, unforgiving, suffocating quality. Then, two years ago, I started working (=paid / professional work) again (not full time). I loved it. Work was EASY compared to running a house. (And allegedly, what I do is not all that easy.) It put what I was doing at home into a new context.

Then, last month, I read Children Who Do Too Little. Amazing. Her basic premise is that everyone in the house should equally share the work that needs doing. (There’s a lot more in there that is useful and thought provoking, particularly about what work children can and should be doing.) It’s so bloody simple that I felt like slapping myself for not working it out toute seule. So, because there is no time like the present, and my work was unusually quiet at the end of January, I sat down and worked out the work I would like to share out, and that I felt my children were able to do. (They had been doing some, but I wanted to ramp it up.) Everyone in the family will do one day of “kitchen” duty, which required cleaning up after every meal; everyone would do one day of “bathroom” duty which required giving each bathroom a once-over (we have three). Then there were laundry duties, bin duties etc. Mr Particular and I are also in the rota. Surprisingly, everyone was quite up for it, and off we went. It felt right. I felt virtuous.

Mr Particular has been working away from home this week (WHY DID I START THIS ON A WEEK HE WAS AWAY?!). Last night I finished work at 6pm and then walked into a long list of things that still needed doing; and needed doing with my help. I felt like crying. I took remedial action: we decided bathrooms didn’t need doing after all and Frog could switch that to Sunday, because he still needed to tidy up the family room (which looked like the children had taken all of our board games (we have hundreds) and emptied all of them all over the floor and then built towers with the boxes); I needed to clear the kitchen (I was on kitchen duty); I needed to wash Meerkat’s hair with special shampoo (she has skin issues and we are trying something new so can’t do it on her own, even though caring for her own hair is her (new) job); the children all needed to make their own packed lunches (new job); I hadn’t prepared anything for my own dinner … and so last night I was wondering what on earth I had done to myself. The children were all tired and not in the mood; I was tired and not in the mood. By the time they were in bed (later than normal) I reflected perhaps I had bitten off more than I can chew.

This morning, I still think it’s the right thing to do; and we will battle on. It hurts, but it’s right. It takes up more time and energy and effort than I think I have, but it’s still the right thing to do — and it will (please) get easier. Frog does make his packed lunch with little input from me, and that’s a good thing, even if it does take him half an hour. I need to work out the schedule a bit better: on the days I work til 6pm, we need to do it differently. If Mr Particular is away, until the children really can do it all without supervision or chivvying (ha ha see what I did there? I’m such an optimist), I need to take that into account on the rota.

And so we’ll see. I’m still pretty convinced this is the answer, though.