Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Having My Cake.

Yesterday I baked a cake. I also ate a slice of it. A small one as you see.

How many of us have our cakes and may nibble on them?

Years ago I was a young married wife with a nappy-changing habit. I mean, I was always at it. I dragged my baby around with us everywhere. My husband’s colleagues were often single women busy with their careers, as modern liberated women are. They grimaced at me trotting off to the bathroom with a screaming toddler. Went Ewww when I plonked dirty nappies into their gleaming waste bins. It was clear I was doing something they didn’t wish for, for goodness' sakes.

Much has been made of the divide between career women and stay-at-home mums. I belong to the stay-at-home or partially-working team, and yet I've always had grand admiration for (and many friendships with) women who choose to leave their biology aside and make something other than motherhood the centre of their lives. Do we all have to reproduce? I don't think we do. I know that having kids made me into a better person - less rigid, more real, less self-absorbed. I realised I was no longer at the centre of a world I could not control - accidents that might happen, illnesses that might trespass. But that's just me. I've always viewed motherhood less as drudgery than a privileged, almost animal state. A sort of constant readiness and permeation.

Although it is a state I will also be glad to emerge from with my brain intact. Currently going through my fourth teenager-hood, there are only so many hip music movements my poor little kitchen can stand. This year it's dubstep. Save me Scarlatti!

I remember reading one sour article that attempted to pour oil into the fire. The journalist formulated: At the end of the day, they all leave home. Sure. They do leave home. And no judgement should be passed by either party. There are those of us who burn to work, to earn our place, to jostle in society. I know women who bring home the bacon, guilty as hell because they are missing on birthday parties, carefree outings to the park, and yet who are tapped on the shoulder by mothers-in-the-know. One was reprimanded because her daughters were spotted wearing the same shirts two days running! And yet at the local pool I see mothers who plonk themselves on plastic chairs during their kids' swimming lessons, children so cardinally obese and unable to dress themselves without said mothers' scolding and quick hands.

It's not worth the fight. Yes, they do leave (not that any of mine officially have). And while some of us suffer from Empty Nest Syndrome, others are itchy to dust down their career itineraries, and find a different path to self-evaluation, economic independence, moving on.

It can be so exciting. As my wiser-than-me seventeen-year-old daughter told me recently: You've had your marriages, You've had your babies. Now it's time for you, Mum. Your career. Your writing.

My cake.

P.S. Anyone coming to the mumsnet blogfest on 10th November in London I would love to meet up! Send me a line.

P.S. The Barack Obama tablecloth was produced in Ghana for the President’s visit to the African nation in 2009. It was intended to be sewn into a special dress for the occasion, but it was way too beautiful to cut up so I'm afraid we use it as a tablecloth.


  1. I love being a mother. I love working. I loved my degrees. I was a bit bowled over by motherhood - the intensity of loving this wee person who was looking to me for soooo much. I loved carrying my kids with me everywhere I went - and eventually back into Uni - and seeing them nice and happy in the nursery that was perfect for them - or seeing them happy with Mamie and Papa or their Dad. I wanted it all - lots of children and a career as well. And I was lucky to be able to do it.
    I loved the challenge of it all. I loved confounding traditional expectations - bucking the modern trend too, with 5 children. The number of times I heard of my pregnancies 'oh well, you'll need to give up your degree/your job'. Bollocks. I knew I could do it!
    I have lost count of the times I've heard 'oh my god - how did you manage it?' But I loved it all - and because I did love it all, it was easy.
    We can be who we want to be. Do what we want to do. If we want it and love it enough.
    I think I have my cake... Just enough of it anyway...
    Lovely post. Pity I can't make the blogfest Cat - it would've been good to have a laugh in person!
    And yes - that cloth was just too special to be a dress...

    1. You are amazing! And I have no doubt that you are carrying everything through with class as well as much love. Sometimes I wish I'd been less anchored to the roost, but that is the way I let things play, and I've made rather a few mess-ups I've also felt I should pay for (slap-slap, Catholic upbringing). Good on you for not holding back, for wishing for all and struggling for it. I bet your kids love you like crazy.

      Oh yes big pity you can't make it to the blogfest. I guess that means a round of grappa later on? X

  2. Wow -a daughter mature for her years. You should be proud!

    Very thought-provoking post. I love that today's women - obviously of a certain level of means, we shouldn't forget that most women in the world don't have this option - can choose to work or choose to stay at home. I'm sorry to see the many divisions that have broken out over this issue in recent years (fueled on my the media, unfortunately). We have enough pressure coming from outside, so I think we women should support one another, no matter if we're working moms or stay-at-home moms. Vive la différence!

    1. That is so true - that we forget most women in the world have so few choices. And attitudes often set against them. Did you see the Australian PM's speech about misogyny with regard to the Opposition Leader (sitting smugly in silence)? Really upsetting stuff. We think certain battles have been won but it is shocking what Gillard has had to put up with.

      Je suis tout à fait d'accord - Vive la différence!

  3. I don't think I ever had a choice. Not really. Early on, my husband approached me with an idea. We'd split the work week. That way we'd both experience being a stay at home parent as well as keeping our brain alive in the real world. I couldn't even entertain the idea. I was unable to physically let go of my child. I have never felt more like an animal than I did when my babies were small.

    1. I hear you. I kept working when my first was born, but I was a wreck. I'd go home with milk lakes on my shirt and smell like bad yoghurt. Then the roadblocks started - we were in Mogadishu - and I was terrified most of the time. Anything that was animal was amplified in those years, and continued after the others births. I always enjoyed part-time working, and then went full-time for several years but it was a wild situation. Just wild. I don't think I organise myself very well and despite women being championed as multi-taskers, I don't think I have that gift. Now I am just rolling rolling rolling.

  4. The same shirt! Two days in a row! The nerve.

    Really, what is wrong with people who comment on bullshit like this? Of course I know some of these women --- I'm guessing we all do --- and I never know what to say when something this ridiculous pops out.

    But I digress..... or do I?

    When I was a kid, I desperately wanted a mom that stayed home. Every friend I had with a mom at home, desperately wished their moms were at work. Greener grass and all that..... The truth is that my mom would have had no idea what to do if she'd stayed home. She never had that desire. Even when she got older and started not feeling well, she continued to run the farm, work at her factory job, and even went back to Dental Assistant school. No staying home for my mother. But boy was she ever happy when I finally quit my job and stayed home with my teenagers.

    Funny, nobody ever really has these talks about the men-folk. Hmmmmmm.

  5. Mmm the menfolk. Though amongst friends and in my family we have some generous cooks and house dads, we all know this is not the general rule. And when rules are cast aside, well, I can't help but mention the outburst of Australian PM Julia Gillard this week, a woman who has put up with taunts about her 'childlessness' (her own business, but she has been labelled 'barren' more than once), the lack of a ring band on her fourth finger (she has been ribbed as to why her bloke won't 'make an honest woman of her') and general misogynist political bitchiness. Have a look. It's not funny at all.

  6. As a woman who did not give birth, I can't tell you the number of comments and advice I've gotten about my choices. And I have friends who've heard worse than me about their choices to either not have kids or not get married. "Who's going to take care of you when you're old?" seems to be the most-asked question, followed closely by, "I'm so sad for you, you'll be so lonely in your old age."

    1. I see so much of this around me, and have just read an article where the Australian PM describes her astonishment at being described as 'barren' because the fruit bowl in her kitchen was empty! It really astonishes me, the venomous tone people adopt. I always think it must reflect some inner poison lurking about inside of them!!

    2. Hope you don't mind me nosing in here... (but I am brass-necked and going to do it anyway!).
      I cannot stand the holier than thou born-again parents... those who would impose their choices on others...vicious stuff.
      I had five - but more because I was too lazy to choose not to have any than because I went out of my way to have them.
      I spend my life fending off those who think my 'choice' (to have lots) is somehow a statement about them choosing to have one or two or none. It's not. It's just life. My life. I've lost count of the amount of daft comments: 'wow, didn't you have tv in your house?' or 'are you Catholic? You must be.' or 'gosh an earth mother' or 'like sex do you?' or... and then the confessions: 'I really wanted more but (supply variety of reasons/excuses'. And as soon as people learn I am a mother of five I lose my name and working identity and become ' This is our mother of five'... ARGH!!
      Judgemental folks are the bane of our lifes I think... (she said, judgementally!)

    3. My husband and I are childless by choice and I'm already tired of hearing people push us to have kids. What is it in people that makes them all anxious if *I* don't have a kid?? I hope to adopt in the future, by the way, but this is never good enough for the people pestering me. It's so disturbing. I never ask anyone whether or when they plan or hope to have kids, not even my siblings. There are some things that are just none of my business until they choose to make an announcement or bring it up.

    4. Yvonne you are always welcome here! Pull up a chair and I'll pour you a whisky.. Yes I've also heard so many opinions about my brood, including how to dress them in winter and in summer because of course in Australia we don't wear clothes we all have kangaroo fur. I've also been told when I should stop having them (at two, it's a nice number) and don't even get me started on what I've been advised as to what should or shouldn't enter a child's mouth. Oh Lord here in Italy this is sacred territory. I also try to dodge being defined as mother-of-four. Argh again. And I think the reason why I had so many was because I am also lazy and I think I was working backwards through my priorities and thought I might as well. Now that doesn't sound very motherly!

    5. I agree Laura, I hate it when people fill an empty space in the air by making these highly personal suggestions. Or simply asking you outright! To have a child or not, it's nobody's business. I've also been drawn to adoption, especially having seen many orphanages and schools and hard-luck kids in East and West Africa. But I've spent so much time on my lot I think I'd like to reclaim some time. Sometimes I don't realise how thinly spread I am!

      Your book has finally reached the top of my TBR pile and I was peeking inside today. I am looking forward to savouring it.

  7. We might leave physically, but dear heavens we never leave the ties of love, strength, support, and mutual admiration that can never, at least in my case, be severed. There is cake at both ends, and then the best cake of all - the one parents and children get to share later, over coffee, as independent individuals who truly like each other as people.

    (I wish I could have written that more eloquently.)

    1. You are right, this cake is certainly delicious. Family ties that work, binds that have been relaxed, expectations that have eased, goals that have been reached or skimmed or shared even. It should all turn out this way. And when it does it is the best.

      (And you are always eloquent - especially in your chocolate haiku form)