The past few weeks I’ve been slammed at work, slammed at home and slammed in general. It reminds me that I do too much, that life is all rush, rush, rush. Busy, I crave; rushed, I loathe. Living a hurried life is not the dream.
Last year I had a major health scare that landed me in hospital for the better part of a week. It was a stress-related condition and the fact that I might be stressed was news to me. “But I’m really not a stressful person,” I bleated at the surgeon.
“Talk me through a typical day in the life,” he requested.
I made it to 9:05 am before he stopped me. “Look, it sounds to me like you are lucky enough to mentally be very good at managing stress,” he said. I confess I beamed; I’ve always been so weirdly proud of my ability to take on a heavy workload, even a crisis, and remain calm and focused. “But,” he added. “That doesn’t mean your body isn’t under constant stress. Mentally you’re sunshine and roses, but physically you are a very stressed person indeed. Anyone trying to do everything you’re trying to do is forcing their body to do more than bodies should. You can’t meditate your way around that, I’m afraid.”
This was more than a wake up call for me. This was a full-on throw a bucket of ice at the sleeping person while the concert band plays Hallelujah moment. I’d just never thought of stress as a physical thing before. I’ve spent my whole life learning to manage it on a mental and emotional level that the reality of stress just passed me straight by: Just because you don’t feel stressed, doesn’t mean you’re not stressed. Our bodies are under pressure when we do too much, no matter how calm we tell ourselves we are.
I’d go so far as to say that if, like me and the next gal, you’re trying to ‘have it all’ you are probably physically stressed – never mind the emotional/ mental side of things. I’m not talking about the ‘have it all, just not all at the same time’ kind of thing, either. Whoever dreamed up that pithy line is clearly not living with a mortgage, a few kids, a ticking clock and, hell yes, a dream. How exactly are we supposed to divvy up our lives so that we can have it all on a non-overlapping time line? Such bollocks. I’m a 1980’s girl and I was raised to believe I could be a working mother and that’s exactly what I became.
So, yeah, let’s talk about the reality of being a working mother.
Being a full-time working woman and a mother is all it really takes to be trying to fit more into a day than we’re physically capable of. I know that now. I believe it is actually impossible to sustain the pace that so many of us are running at just to get from one day to the next. The kids come first, but work is work and it demands and deserves our time whether we like it or not. And so do the kids – they demand and deserve our time too.
That’s a lot of demanding and deserving happening at the same time. Every working mum will be familiar with the push, pull, push, push, push of daily life, but still we give everything we’ve got to work, social, family and home life. I know I need to compromise, I know I need to prioritise, but how and where do I make those changes?
Last week, in the middle of a very, very busy week (as opposed to simply very busy, which is standard), one of the school mums asked me why I volunteer at the school when I am so squeezed for time. “Because I like it,” I said. “And because I think it’s my duty to be involved at my kids’ school. Why should I rely on other people stepping up if I’m not prepared to step up myself?”
I believe this to be wholeheartedly true which is why I’m grateful I like it. I love being around the kids in the classroom; I love helping the school make decisions; I love the school canteen, with it’s ancient ways. You can still buy something for 10c at our canteen and that matters to me. I want to be around that.
The kids do way too many extra-curricular activities – I know this. Fact is, it’s helpful for me that they go to Cubs, Scouts, Junior Rangers, Band, Acrobatics, Parkour, Cheerleading, Bass Lessons, Hip Hop and Jazz. While they’re occupied at classes, I’m able to keep working. I pick them up from school, I drop them at their class, I work. It’s what we do. Our day starts getting the kids ready for school and most nights we’re home by about 6:30 pm and dinner is hopefully half-way made if I’m lucky.
Now, I realise I could subscribe to the ‘breakfast for dinner’ kind of thing. Every now and then I don’t doubt that that should happen – but how often and when did it become acceptable to be so rushed that we don’t even have time to make a proper meal? If I’m doing the scraped-together meal thing more than once a month or so, I know something isn’t working. I genuinely believe that if I don’t have time to put decent food on the table, something is very wrong indeed. It’s a deal-breaker for me. Which is why I work my arse off to make three squares a day from scratch the majority of the time. Food just isn’t something I’m prepared to compromise on.
Which brings me back to the physical stress thing, because it would appear that while I’m busy up there on my high horse, I’m failing to realise that it’s no good offering good food if I’m neglecting the very basics of health. Stress makes you sick; it’s a horrendous killer. If I’m not prepared to compromise on volunteering, ex-curric activities or food preparation, just what exactly am I prepared to compromise on?
I’ve spent the last eight months trying to figure that one out and I still don’t know. I don’t want to give up my job – financially it would change our lives and… I’m good at what I do and I love it, I really do. I work hard, but I barely notice the time passing because I’m engrossd in something I love. The fact that I work from home as well has made me say many times to other mums, “hell, if I can’t make working from home in a job I adore work, what hope is there for anyone else!?”
Working from home allows me to be a stay-at-home mum too. I’m a mum, I’m at home, ergo I’m a stay-at-home mum. Most of the time I’m pretty much in my kids’ lives as much as a stay-at-home mum, and I know that makes me very lucky indeed. I do feel lucky. Even though I’m very, very tired, I can see how lucky I am. Everything I do is made even remotely possible because of the love and support of a good man, who is pioneering the concept of the ‘working father’. So yes, I love everything about my life from top to bottom except… except… except.
Rushing, because it seems to me that that’s what ‘having it all’ and ‘being a modern woman’ feels like. Rush, rush, rush. Never enjoying the moment because the next moment needs planning, strategising, scheduling and worrying over. Having it all is realising that you don’t do ‘me time’ because ‘me time’ is just another thing you need to fit into your over-burdened schedule. The thought of a relaxing hot bath actually makes me feel mildly panicked.
Instead, I take comfort in the moments each and every day where time is forced to slow down and let some air out. I slide around on adrenaline day to day, but many times in those days I find myself noticing the small details, enjoying the ride, even taking my foot off the pedal before the rush starts up again and I feel my calm slipping away from me as the wind pulses me forward. This is what it is then: catching and keeping moments because the minutes, the hours, the days are all too fast.
So, there you have it. No happy solutions, no 10-step plan to come back from the edge. The edge is sharp: modern women are completely, totally stuck having it all, all at the same time, whether we like it or not. That’s all I know, I’ve got nothing in the way of a solution or a new pithy statement to override the stupid ‘not all at the same time’ malarkey. I just wanted to share my view from the corner we have backed ourselves into. It’s pretty dark back here. I can’t see a way out. Can you?