Milestone update

Tonight I was making dinner and Mr Daddy was emptying the bins, and the little dude was running around the lounge in circles holding a balloon in each hand and saying over and over “dwo badoons!” Mr Daddy looked at me and said “I think he’s passed peak needing us.”

Barely 30 seconds later, the little dude came up to me and said “want beanudt budder dtoast”. I said “remember what you say when you’re asking for something?” and he said “bease and danku mummy beanudt budder dtoast, bease!”. 

When they’re tiny, they can’t do anything for themselves but they sleep a lot and can be left on a rug or a bouncy seat and semi-ignored for brief periods. The little dude is finally coming out the other side of a very long phase in which he required constant supervision. I couldn’t leave him even for a minute. When I was alone in the house and needed to go to the toilet, I’d put him in the empty bath with some toys so that he could be contained and watched. He’s suddenly taken one of those developmental leaps, and is so much more sensible and physically capable and independent than he was even a month ago. Last week, we had one morning when we slept through our alarm and we woke up to find him happily playing on the floor of his bedroom with his toys. What?! Crazy! 

Rethinking the Work-Life Equation

Fairly good piece. One slightly critical comment though. While I agree that work/life issues aren’t just about families, I’m a bit wary of completely taking family out of the equation. Before I had a kid, my spare time involved a fair bit of voluntary work with a criminal justice reform organisation, and long distance off-road running. Those were both time-intensive activities that could totally be used as examples of why people with no dependants still value workplace flexibility and don’t want to have to work long hours. But having a toddler is a whole different ballgame. There is no spare time.

Rethinking the Work-Life Equation

The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden

Gates’s letter is here.

A few observations:

  • The technological advances point is really important. I am still totally in awe of the dishwasher we now have. Before we try and reinvent a cheaper wheel though, let’s remember that if poor people had more money they’d be able to access more of the existing technology.
  • Part of recognising the uneven distribution of chores includes recognising how much skill is involved in doing chores efficiently. Men often seem to dismiss this – at least, most of the men I know count chores in terms of how much time is spent, not in terms of what gets done in that time. My husband gives the little dude his bath every night, and in that time, I tidy the little dude’s bedroom, get him his cup of milk for the bath, clear the lounge and set out his nappy and pajamas and story books and stuffed toys on the couch, put a load of washing on, clear the kitchen bench, check my work emails to see if there’s anything I need to respond to before bed, and get the ingredients out for dinner and start prepping until I hear the call “Mummy! Ready dedt out!” There’s mental effort in getting things done in the shortest possible time, like remembering to turn the oven on to heat up before I get the little dude out of the bath. Also, I do chores while looking after the little dude – which my husband almost never does. Emptying the dishawasher while the little dude semi-competently feeds himself porridge in the morning. Taking the washing off the line while he plays in the garden. Tidying a toy away when he loses interest. Etc. 
  • I have mixed feelings about this point: “it’s obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies around the world. The fact that they can’t holds their families and communities back.” I could pick up more paid work if my husband did more chores, but, it would be low on my priorities list. I work 0.7FTE and I think I get about 85% of a fulltime load done in that time. I just don’t have the lulls that I used to have. I was 0.6FTE when I first went back to work and found I couldn’t quite get the job done in the hours I was paid for, but since picking up the extra few hours, I feel like it’s fairly close to the ideal balance. To my mind, the key goal is to adjust working expectations so that they accommodate equal sharing of unpaid labour and allow for leisure time. Expectations of “full time” should match the a number of hours that can be comfortably worked by two parents while also remaining involved at home and having some time here and there to, y’know, chill out. 
  • Related – the gender chores split necessarily raises the question of “outsourcing”. This transforms unpaid work into paid work, in that it puts a price on something that wasn’t being counted before, but it doesn’t actually add anything to the economy. 

The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden

Fleeting thoughts

I remember when the little dude was around 7 months old, feeling like I was still waiting for my family to happen.

Does that sound bizarre? I mentioned it to my mum and dad at the time and they looked nonplussed. I tried to explain that I’d imagined myself as the mother of an older child, or more than one child, not of a single baby. They stared blankly. No, they don’t remember feeling like that with me when I was a baby. No, they weren’t sure even what I meant really. Of course children start as babies. They were busy being parents to a baby.

Maybe they never felt like that, but maybe they forgot. I’ll probably forget that feeling by the time the little dude is my age. I only barely remember it now! It goes without saying now that this is my family. Ah, my boy is so delightful at the moment and we have our nice little routines and everything is running smoothly. When the little dude was in the bath last night I started vaguely thinking about the new baby and how the new baby would fit into our life, and I realised that I almost never think about the bit when the baby arrives and I stop being pregnant. I’m only thinking ahead as far as “feet get even more swollen and varicose vein gets even more painful and afternoons with the little dude become even more dependant on youtube videos to see me through to the arrival of husband to do active play” (this means thinking ahead as far as the next day). The new baby is peripheral. There’s neither eager anticipation nor trepidation about the disruption, it’s as though some part of my mind has decided that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and there’s no point spending energy considering what might be. There are a few things in a list on my phone that we need to get done before the baby arrives – sort baby clothes, install car seat, buy some fenugreek, stock up on giant sanitary pads, etc – but that’s about the extent of the forward thinking.

This pregnancy has been very similar to my first, but has felt so different. The newness isn’t there, and that makes it a totally disimilar experience. Lying on my back, I notice my belly is lopsided, the baby is skewed on one side, and I remember that with the little dude. I remember that exactly. Sometimes I feel like I’m not pregnant with another baby, I’m glimpsing back at when I was pregnant with the little dude, a brief opportunity to revisit from the vantage of knowing what comes next. 

I was thinking about this in relation to the back catalogue of this blog. I haven’t gone back and looked at it for ages. While I’m writing, it’s an outlet, but once I finish a piece it’s a message in a bottle to other mums. One of the reasons I like to record my impressions of the early years for anyone to read on the internet is that there are so many thoughts bouncing around in my head, but they don’t seem to stay there for very long. Life moves on way too fast. Writing it down is like trying to get a photo of the scenery on the bank of a river while white water rafting. 

I know writing it as I go conveys more than a retrospective remembrance ever could. This always hits me when I talk to mothers of older kids – they retain the major impressions and a few details, and things come back when something jolts their memory, but it’s all so long ago. I think it’s important to put these thoughts out there, because while my experience of motherhood is among the most privileged in the history of the world, motherhood generally remains a silenced experience. It’s often presented through a male interpretive lens, and women also often present their experiences of motherhood in a way that generously accommodates male power (acculturation or self preservation?). For example, someone saying how lucky she is that her husband earns enough for her to stay home with the kids. And while that might be a genuine acknowledgement of privilege, it’s also as interesting statement. Maybe he’s lucky that you enable him to build his career? Maybe society is lucky that there are women willing to do crucial unpaid work? Maybe the kids are lucky that you’re there for them? Etc. 

It’s interesting too when friends talk about the content of these blogs being very personal. It is personal in a way, but also, what does that mean? We have only our own experiences, our own stories. Women’s stories of pregnancy and birth and childcare are no more personal than any other stories. If anything, they must surely be more universal. Every person who ever lived started out being carried in a pregnant belly. We were all birthed, we all began our existence as tiny bundles of needs.