Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Incoherent ice-cream fuelled ramblings about mothers' guilt

Ok. Starting again. I am officially working part-time and loving it. My new career as a yoga teacher feels totally brill and meant to be. That is, as long as everyone else is happy. You know what I am talking about ... the night you go out with your friends and have a ball and come home to find the baby has been screaming and you suddenly regret the whole evening and never want to see your evil friends again. Or when you come home blissfully relaxed after spending two indulgent hours reading Hello! Magazine at the hairdresser to find your husband exhausted and cross, the house a mess and the children hungry. Suddenly you hate your new haircut and catching sight of it in the mirror makes you utterly feel self-indulgent and unfit to be a mother and wife. How quickly our feelings of elation can turn into tormenting guilt.

This is what I am going through at the moment. Although, after all my fretting, it turns out that Bella is not the one I need to worry about. Despite my guilt about leaving her so young (if I did not have one more year in Cambodia to do this course and certify I would put the whole thing off until she was two.) she is just as happy as ever, playing with her beloved Sophy and her little friends in the mornings while I work. It helps that I am only out for two hours at a time so I still feed her and put her down for her nap. No, to my surprise, it is Jemima that seems most affected by my new pursuits.

At first I was just impressed by her emotional intelligence and cheekiness. Last Monday morning as I was taking her to school, hurrying her along as I had a class to teach, Jemima pointed out that I am working every day now. When I reminded her that I worked in the mornings only and asked what was it she wanted me to do while she was having fun at school, her response was: “You should wait outside the gate until I have finished”. I laughed (while feeling guilty because really I know I should be spending that time alone with Bella before her big sister comes home).

But, a week later, I realise it is not actually very funny after all. Today I learnt that Jemima’s feelings about my new career are obviously more intense than I thought. She chose not to go to summer school in the morning (“I am so tired of playing!”) and got very upset when I said I had to go out to teach for a couple of hours. And then after lunch she disappeared to the bathroom and refused to let me come in. She left the door open though, but would not tell me what she wanted to do or why I could not come in. I left her for a few minutes and when I returned I found her behind the bathroom door having pooed in her pants. Jemima has been fully potty trained for ages - this was not an accident. At first she cried and pushed me away but after a minute or so of me coaxing her gently she eventually allowed me to wash her off. When I flushed her pants down the loo by mistake we had a moment’s reprieve to laugh about it, but really I found the whole thing quite heart breaking.

As I gave her a bath I asked her:

“Did you just want to know how it would feel or did you do it for another reason?” “Another reason” she replied.
“Did you want me to come and find you and help you or did you want it to be a secret?” “I wanted you to come and find me” she sobbed.
“Has it got anything to do with me working this morning?”

Ouch. How do full-time mothers do it? Ok, this last ten days has been more intense than usual because James has been away so I have had to leave them with baby sitters on Sunday and a couple of evenings when he would normally have them, but honestly I am here for three meals a day, nearly every afternoon, bedtimes, during the night on demand, and yet my nearly four-year-old child is missing me. This is the same child who makes new friends every day and frequently tells me she wants to go and play at X’s house and “You can just me off, you don’t need to stay”. It makes me wonder just how much we teach our children not to need us.

Surely children who have been in nursery from an early age do not express themselves like this? Surely it is only because Jemima has had me to herself for three years, and shared with Bella for nearly four, that she feels so strongly about this. Not just that she misses me, but that it is her right to have me around. The belief that young children need and deserve to be at home, do things in their own time, and have their mothers with them seems to be firmly ingrained in her mind and heart simply by that being her experience so far. Jemima has been reminding me of my duties regularly since I started teaching a month ago. “You don’t play with me enough, Mummy” or “You really do not need to do yoga every day!” or “You never take me to school” (James, does, and I pick her up, except when he is away when I do. To her credit, when I point this out she says “Oh yes, that’s true.”).

Today was the first sign of real distress and it quickly passed when I cancelled all our plans for the afternoon and took her swimming alone while Bella slept. She was so happy. She fell asleep telling Bella and me what a lovely day she had and how much she loved us both. But at the same time she also explained to Bella that she could not be there for her in the mornings because she had to go to school, which was her work, so Bella would have to learn to be without her for a bit. Oh god, is this what I really sound like?

I’m trying to work out whether she is actually missing me or simply picking up the vibes of me having something else big and important in my life, other than her and Bella. She sees me coming home from a class on a bit of a high and while she reaps the benefits of a happy, more energised and playful mother (oh the joys of yoga), does she also detect a new passion in my life?

I ought to say at this point that I miss both of them too. I just cannot imagine how it must feel to walk out of the house in the morning and come home at night in time to put your child in bed. (And then in another bed... sorry, no more co-sleeping rants I promise). Even after two hours away I find myself interrogating Jemima on what she has played, eaten, thought about, how she has felt... And although I know that I would do nearly anything possible to avoid working full-time and leaving them whatever my circumstances, I do feel incredibly grateful that the choice that I have made, to be (now mostly) at home with my kids, has been made so much easier by living here.

I suppose all I can do is try to work more in the evenings and look forward to James’s return and our holiday in England in August. And, along with all mothers worldwide, I shall probably continue to love my new job on a good day and want to give it all up on days like today. Oh goodness. I have finished the ice cream. Something else to feel guilty about.


Krista said...

rings true sister. the guilt we feel as conscientious mothers and wives.

Maaike said...

Love love love your blog Gorgie! Although I can completely understand your guilty feelings, it's also delightful that Jemima is exactly what you had hoped she should be in terms of feeling so connected to you .. you've obviously built her a "beautiful nest" of security over the last four years and this response is kinda normal I think! Ah the challenges and joys of Mummyhood!