Monday, September 04, 2006
SHOULD WE REALLY HAVE BURNED OUR BRAS?
Ok those who know me may not recommend I do this for real, it'd be too unsightly after all those babies and they weren't unobtrusive to start with ;-) but metaphorically speaking, did we really think things through and plan them out properly in the 60s when I was a mere 2 year old bra-burner? Ok some coutries may have got it right, if they have I'd like to hear about it, or at least better than us but we in the UK still haven't got the work/life/kids balance right.
Today I had to take Léon to nursery for the first time for him to get to know the women and other kids he's going to have to spend 5 hours with daily from the end of this month onwards. Five hours a day away from his mum and he isn't a year old yet :-( And yet that in itself is an improvement.
When Marcel and Charlotte were little we were told to hand them over at 29 weeks or lose our jobs. Why 29 weeks? - a strange figure derived arbitrarily, I guess. At 29 weeks Marcel was barely on food, he couldn't sit or crawl or walk or talk - he wanted to hug his mum and drink from her breasts, he didn't want to do finger-painting with a bunch of strangers. When Marcel was 29 weeks old part time work wasn't something you could ask for or if it was it was so hidden in the small print that no one had yet found it. So I left my 29 week old baby and I went and wrote a German-English dictionary 35 hours a week and I drove 5 hours a week to and from work so I spent 40 hours a week away from my precious boy.
Marcel didn't sleep well - he first slept through the night at 15 months. So from 29 weeks I worked those hours and I drove those hours without having slept at night. I sat in the office to keep my job with my breasts aching to feed him, my body longing to sleep and my heart quietly breaking.
But I didn't learn my lesson, because I did it all again 2 years later! And this time I went back and wrote French dictionary while the same pattern set in. But this was crazier still - I was paying out £900 a month to have someone play with my babies while I wandered about like a zombie who hadn't slept in 3 years with aching boobs. And there's that unwritten law that you have to look ok, even when you haven't slept, even when you are worried sick because your kid is home sick and you've been up all night, even when you don't know where to take your sick kid while you go in to the office, or when you use up all your holidays at short notice because your child gets chicken pox and then you can't go away for a much needed rest in the summer.
And then someone suggested part time. That seemed like a reasonable compromise. I started working a 23 hour week instead of 35 but I had moved further away so I was driving 10, so I was still away 33 hours a week and earning even less.
I know it was my choice to have kids but neither the full time or part time scenario really works. It doesn't work because they are ill sometimes, they do cry all night when they are teething etc
So now the magic number is 52 - you have to go back to work after 52 weeks off. Fortunately, as you all remember, I had Léon in the office before I went on maternity leave ;-) so I get to stay off till he is 52 weeks old but that doesn't make it easier than with the others - I still want to stay home and hug and feed and nurture my tiny man. The last month off isn't nice, you get up every morning with a brick weighing down your heart like a prisoner on death row.
Now I am not advocating staying home till my kids go to uni - both they and I would go mad but I think 2 or 3 when they enjoy interacting with little friends and playing would be a better age to go to nursery than giving up babies - I mean we should hand over toddlers not babies. As for fulltime work with a baby - I have done than and what you miss out on is so phenomenal that I can't begin to explain. Getting home at 6 every day and spending just 2 hours a day with these precious people simply means you miss out on the most special times you can never regain.
I for one wish we'd simply gently singed our bras rather than fully burning them back in the 60s.