Believe it or not the photo, above, from my marathon radio day yesterday is the best of the three I had to choose from. I asked my eldest daughter, ‘which is the least awful?’ and, after much grimacing and squinting, as though choosing between three turds, she chose this one. She was right. In the other two I look like a criminal in a line-up, wearing headphones. At least in this one I only look like an idiot wearing headphones.
Yesterday was a long, tiring and intense day, but, curiously, it was also one of the most relaxing and enjoyable I’ve had for some time. In fact, the most uplifting day since the last time I left my isolated desk and the chaos of family life, and took a plunge into the sea of grey and grimness that is the pre-sunrise commuter train, and spent a whole day ‘at work’ in London.
And this gets me thinking.
How can I find sitting on an airless train by 6am, spending the commute preparing notes for the day’s work ahead, working all day and then getting home at 5pm to pick up three kids and make dinner, less tiring than I used to find staying at home all day long looking after two pre-schoolers and a broken dishwasher? How can fourteen radio interviews, requiring preparation, complete concentration, quick-thinking and not a single mess-up, a lunch-break full of work calls to agents and editors, the fight to find a seat on the commute home and then a list of emails as long as my arm to catch up on possibly be less exhausting than taking a child to the park, feeding him lunch and playing with him all day?
The answer is obvious: because however stressful and long my day was yesterday, I didn’t once have a small child hanging off my trouser-leg; I didn’t have to ask twenty times for a cappuccino – the barista gave it to me after the first ask; I drank it while working but without being interrupted six times to break up a fight over Lego; when I needed the loo, I went to the loo – on my own; when I was talking to someone, I was able to concentrate on what they were saying and not interrupt the flow every eight seconds to remove a marble from a child’s mouth and then try to recall what I was saying; when I was reading my notes, nobody stabbed me in the ankle with a Playmobil pirate ship; when it was time to go outside I stood up, put on my coat, grabbed my phone and walked out – without having to unfold a buggy, take a child to the toilet, fight to get their gloves on or bring fifty items of emergency childcare kit with me; when I ate lunch, I didn’t have to pick half of it up off the floor.
Put simply, I was able to focus on one thing at a time, and do a good job. It didn’t matter that there were many, many things to think about: I could at least address them without my brain being constantly shattered into a million pieces. I could at least finish a sentence. I could concentrate; think; FOCUS.
And not only that – at the end of the day I got a thank you, a massive sense of achievement and boost to my self-confidence…and money. I had done something well, been appreciated, and been paid for it – and no coffee ever tastes as good as one you’ve paid for yourself, I can tell you.
Childcare is one of the least valued forms of work I can think of. If any hot-shot lawyer, banker, marketing thingy or executive whatnot got even a quarter of the amount of shit – literally – that parents get, they’d walk out immediately or call for industrial action. Looking after kids gets no thanks, no pay, no promotions, no bonuses, no work ‘do’s or water-cooler moments and – my biggest gripe – no office Xmas party!
Instead we get a mouthful of abuse from stroppy offspring and boobs that, according to my son, ‘hide under your armpits’ when you lie down. Thanks darlin’.
I know that office work is hard, and draining and tiring and stressful and pressurised and dull, dull, dull at times. Believe me, I do know that. But having been a stay-at-home mum for years before returning to work, I can assure you that nomatter how hard the work, how wanky the employer or how pointless the hours and hours of pathetic meetings, nothing is as mentally exhausting and emotionally draining as having your train of thought interrupted every few seconds, trying to get a toddler to sit in a buggy without kicking you in the face or giving himself whiplash or finding yourself exactly back at square one at the end of every day – and getting no thanks or pay for all the work you are doing.
This rainy morning on the school run I walked past a mum trying to get her three kids out of the car and onto the pavement without any of them stepping in a puddle the size of the Atlantic, dropping their school bag in it, or pushing each other into it. It was 8.50am, and the poor woman looked ready to collapse from the stress…and there were still another unpaid, thankless ten gruelling hours to go until she would read them a bedtime story, try for an hour to get them to go to sleep and then start clearning up the kitchen.
Mums and Dads who are at home looking after kids, I salute you!! I praise you, I thank you and I admire you!! You are doing the most important job there is. No, really. You are raising and educating the future inhabitants of this world, and there is no more vital task. It’s shameful and inexcusable that childcare is given so little value in our society. Looking after kids is seen by many as some kind of cushy extended holiday, clogging up the world’s cafes with chattering women and the screaming of babies.
But it is – obviously! – so much more than that, and perhaps if motherhood and fatherhood were appreciated and valued a little more, respected and viewed as an occupation – a job, like any other – rather than a self-indulgent past-time or a pain in the world’s arse , fewer parents out there would make such an almighty mess-up of it, or find it so hard and unrewarding. But rewarding it is. Do it well and, though it might not feel like it when you get whacked in the face by a plastic digger for the fifth time in an hour, or have to get up three times every night, you’ll be handsomely rewarded…eventually.
And remember – they ARE worth it. Even the really bloody annoying ones.