After yesterday’s rant…

Feeling much better today. Partly because I realised that given we’re back on two incomes in a few short weeks I can give myself more leeway with the outings and treats budget. Today we did the library sing along session then had a fluffy and hot chocolate respectively. Tomorrow, Chipmunks. Living the high life! 

(“We mixtz chips and muntz and dat’s how we make Tipmuntz!”)

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Thoughts on going back to work soon

The baby started crawling last week. Aannnnnnnndddd he’s OFF!

Eight months is a great age.

As soon as they start crawling there’s the shock of seeing the kid they will become. Babies grow up so fast! Isn’t it amazing, this time last year I was pregnant with him and had no idea who he was, dream baby, the unknown sibling. Now, he’s this total personality! He’s such a cool baby. He’s SO HAPPY. He meets the world with joy, just smiles and laughs and chills out. Though, now he’s crawling, there’s another side of him emerging, he’s going to want to get into everything – like his big brother.

The past month, it feels as though bub has picked up his invitation to join the party. Look at you, not a little baby anymore! Sitting in your high chair concentrating on picking up those pieces of avocado. Feeding yourself! You are halfway to toddler, my bubba!

I remember the little dude at that age. It was about the time I started to want to go back to work, and also, it was when I started to really properly enjoy him. I felt sad the phase would pass so quickly, he was so much fun, he was so FUNNY, his bubbly laugh and the way he wanted to play games with me. But, I was eager to rebalance my life. Being at home alone with him all week was driving me round the bend. We have a lovely photo of the first week back at work, I got a haircut in my lunch break and then met up with my husband (who was home that week with the little dude), and we took a photo. I look so happy in that shot. Phew, made it through the year!

Right on cue, that EXACT SAME FEELING now. Oh kids you are so cute, oh kids I really need to not be with you all day because the overexposure is robbing me of the joy in your company. 

Before I had kids, I didn’t understand the mums who said “going back to paid work made me a better mother”. Now I’m totally on board with the sentiment. Ok, so it’s part-time, which is a really big caveat, and I’m not sure how I’d feel if it were longer hours. I loved our afternoons, picking him up with enough time for a trip to the park on the way home, enough time to go to Te Papa on a rainy day. It truly was the best of both worlds. You might notice, reading these blogs, that 2015 has a markedly more up-beat feel than the two rounds of maternity leave either side.

It’s such a dirty little secret of parents with jobs we enjoy, the little sly in-joke oh, I love being back at the office, are you serious, the kids all the time?!?!  We know we’re not representative of all caregivers, but still – the Monday morning relief! Someone I used to work with said he loved hiring parents because on Monday mornings they were fresh and bright and eager. I wrote him off as a bit strange at the time. Then when I was on maternity leave with the little dude, in that summer holiday before I went back to work, people would ask me how I was feeling about going back and I found myself GUSHING about how excited I was. LUNCH BREAKS, FOLKS! LUNCH BREAKS!!!

And not just the lunch breaks. The ability to finish measurable tasks. Being out of the house unencumbered. I’m lucky I like my work, I loved switching off the mum brain and switching on the legal brain. I loved having adult conversation unrelated to chores or children on a daily basis! I loved the whole shtick, put the work clothes on – look at me, not in old maternity leggings, not in sneakers! I loved picking him up from creche knowing that he’d done cool activities and had a cooked lunch and none of it was my responsibility. Here I am gushing again.

I also like that going back to work makes other people value my time more. It’s bullshit this is true, but it is true.

I like that it gives me a focus outside of home and kids, so I don’t end up directing my intellectual energies at making the chores more efficient. ‘Cause that’s a bit of a downer, really.

Mostly though, going back to the office meant that suddenly life with the little dude became pretty solidly enjoyable time spent with my rascally giggle bundle, something I treasured, something that made me smile through the day at work and grin ear to ear when I picked him up – not endless groundhog-day slog, like it feels when I’m at home full-time.

And, I became more peaceable in the frustrating moments. I wasn’t overloaded with the constant need for attention all the time. I could enjoy mornings more, enjoy evenings more. I didn’t mind so much when he needed extra attention before bed, I had it to give.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been more short-fused with the little dude and less playful. There are still plenty of good times – the swings, especially, now that I can push them both side by side. It’s not really the lack of good times that bothers me. It’s how irritable I am the rest of the time, how thin-skinned to the realities of toddler wrangling, how impatient I’ve been lately. I’ve had time away from them every weekend for a few weeks, but it’s not enough. I’m emotionally fatigued from eight months of long days, eight months of tested patience. It’s a horrible feeling because I don’t trust my reactions to the little dude when I feel like this. I have to consciously review them, and that’s another layer of emotional work, and I’m just too over it to know whether I’m pitching things right. I’m self-aware enough to recognise, last week when I was yelling at him for flinging nappy balm everywhere all through the clean washing, that he’s just two and two year olds are just like this, and getting shitty doesn’t help. But it’s so hard not to snap at the provoking behaviours.

Because fucksake.

I mean c’mon.

Five bloody minutes unsupervised is too much to ask apparently.

He’s been jumping on the baby and STOP JUMPING ON YOUR BROTHER, HE DOESN’T LIKE IT, THAT HURTS HIM.

GET OFF HIM RIGHT NOW.

THAT’S IT, YOU WILL STAY IN YOUR ROOM BY YOURSELF UNTIL YOU’RE READY TO BE GENTLE.

Every time I snap, I feel like it’s points deducted from the day and we need to try and redeem it, and at the end of the day I’m just sinking down with the weight of the clamouring, always clamouring, and ARGHHHH just LEAVE ME ALONE. Today was meant to be a creche day but, long story short, he didn’t end up going. I think he saw it as ok, he cutely sang me a lullaby when I said I was tired, right before pulling my hair and jumping on the bed. Grroooooaaaaannnn.

I want to enjoy the next three weeks because I’m going back to work right before Christmas and it’s so soon! But honestly I just think, shit, tomorrow I have to do it all again and I have no faith in my own fortitude for the day at the moment.

It’d be different perhaps if there were more people around during the day to spend time with, people who don’t have their own children to wrangle, but there’s no-one.

Anyway, nice to be clear on it eh? Different strokes and all that, if some people don’t want to do paid work outside the home when kids are little, good on them. But wow I’m going to DANCE into the office on 15 December. If you see a woman grinning ear to ear like she just won the lottery waltzing down Lambton Quay that morning, it’ll be me.

Our favourite kids TV shows

The little dude loves watching videos. He gets 30 minutes in the afternoon when bub is asleep, my downtime, and then whatever else I feel like allowing depending on weather, my tiredness levels, etc.

When selecting videos, my criteria are simple:

  • Am I able to watch this without being irritated?
  • Does he enjoy it?

Here are our favourites shows:

1) Puffin Rock

Puffin Rock sets a new standard in kids entertainment. Puffin Rock is everything you could possibly want in a children’s show. It is charming. It is beautifully animated. The storylines are simple and pleasant. It has nice little asides to adults, but done in a very subtle way (“puffins and seagulls don’t quite see eye to eye”). Puffin Rock is my favourite.

2) Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom

This has been the little dude’s top pick for a while. I give it big points for narrative pacing and interest, and good comedy value for adults. It could definitely be better on gender – it’s a mystery how there are so many more girl fairies than boy fairies and more boy elves than girl elves, when most species have fairly even ratios. But I like the boy/girl friendship pairing of Ben and Holly and the child-friendly introduction into fantasy lore.

3) Mouk

Mouk and his friend Chavapa are slightly indeterminate humanoid animals with massively oversized heads. They are backpacking around the world on their bikes. One gets rather the uncomfortable feeling they’re trust fund kids seeking cultural enrichment without leaving their upper middle class bubble. But if you compartmentalise that adult critique, it is a pretty cool show. Though I don’t know how they manage to avoid overbalancing on their bikes, given the size of their heads. 

4. Peppa Pig

Sticking with humanoid animals, we come to Peppa, the little pig changing our expectations about bossy girls. Peppa has been a favourite for a while. I’m impressed by the level of character development they manage in a show compiled of five minute episodes, and I have a real soft spot for Pedro Pony. My husband likes it because Mummy Pig is patient with Daddy Pig’s foibles.

5. Sarah and Duck

Sarah is a little girl who lives alone with her pet duck. It’s a bit strange, and the premise is absurd, and it has a slight air of melancholy (where are the parents? Is a duck her only friend?). But if you want your kids to watch off-beat film festival movies with you when they’re teenagers, this is probably good training material?

Making a fuss

I don’t know about your two year old, but my two year old makes fusses. Ridiculous fusses. Here are some recent triggers for major upsets:

  • A friend left Tiny Town without saying goodbye.
  • I turned the dishwasher on without inviting him to push the button.
  • Another child picked up his hat and gave it to him when he dropped it (he wanted to pick it up himself).
  • The iceblock broke in half.
  • Someone else flushed the toilet when he wanted to do it himself.
  • I told him he wasn’t allowed to sniff people’s bottoms because other people don’t like it and we need to respect everyone’s boundaries over their own bodies.
  • The baby was on my knee when he wanted to be on my knee and for the baby to be on the floor.
  • His dad waved goodbye from outside but he wasn’t right up next to the window.

And each time, the fuss is… hilarious. It’s so hard not to laugh at the disproportionate response. Screaming, hysterical, because another kid picked his hat up and handed it to him in an obviously helpful way?! Oh, come on!

The knee-jerk response, other than laughing, is to tell him not to fuss.

But then.

I’ve been seeing a lot of people immediately try and damp down concerns over Donald Trump’s election, minimising the risks of a registry of Muslim citizens and other travesties.

Don’t make a fuss.

And we just had earthquakes, and several buildings are cordoned off, and there is discussion about whether to red-zone the CBD and do more checks, and some people want life to go back to normal straight away, but the advice from Geonet is that there is a 93% likelihood of another quake between 6 and 6.9 in the next month. Today we got the camping stoves out to assemble our quake supplies in one place, and I was talking to my husband about this and he said maybe I was fussing a little bit.

Don’t make a fuss.

And also my 11 year old nephew had a scary encounter with stranger in a van on his way home from the park last week, but he sprinted away and the van stopped following him. The following day, there was this news item (worst nightmare scenario for any parent). The timing doesn’t seem right for it to be the same guy, but the van sounds similar and it was in a same part of town. There is the terrifying possibility that it was the same man, and the other young boy was in the van when the driver approached my nephew. The guy hasn’t been apprehended yet.

On Wednesday I lost it at an unfortunate phone operator who was not to blame for the incompetence of her organisation or the BLOODY HOUR I’d been on hold. I apologised at the end of my rant, and felt so silly and sheepish, and awful for the person on the receiving end who was just the lightening rod for a whole lot of unrelated stress about constant aftershocks, and totally shouldn’t have to deal with irate customers raving about abysmal customer service while their kids yell in the background. Sigh. The little dude was aghast “no gwumpy talking on da phone Mummy! I not yike it when you do dat gwumpy talking!”

So I explained to him that even grown-ups get frustrated sometimes, but that mummy had an over-reaction, and shouldn’t have been grumpy at the person on the phone, that wasn’t very considerate or thoughtful. I thought about it in relation to him making a fuss about things, and felt a bit more empathetic to those little tizzies.

While, also, pondering the message we send in saying “don’t make a fuss”.

What we mean, is don’t make a fuss at people who don’t deserve it. Don’t make a fuss about inconsequential things. Don’t be like Mummy was on the phone last week. Don’t blow off steam in unproductive and harmful ways.

But what we say is – don’t make a fuss. Several times a day I’ve been saying “no need to fuss”, or “calm down”. And I’m thinking, maybe it’s the wrong thing to say. Maybe it’s a missed opportunity to teach him to think carefully about his reactions. Because sometimes, he should make a fuss. I don’t want to inadvertently tell him to ignore his internal warning signals that things are going wrong – one day, he might need them.

Here are some things I will try and remember to say instead:

  • Use your words to tell Mummy what’s wrong.
  • I understand why you’re upset, that’s really frustrating/disappointing.
  • Next time we’ll try and remember to do it the way you prefer.
  • Is this something we should try and fix? How could we do that?
  • Would a cuddle help you feel better?
  • Is part of this reaction because you’re hungry/thirsty/too hot/tired/need quiet time?
  • I know it’s hard, but I think this is a time when we need to practice being patient.

 

 

Kid eating stuff

Several months ago we saw a dietitian/nutritionist for the little dude, and I meant to write a summary of some of the stuff. We did a food log for a week and had it analysed to check if his failure to gain weight was due to any nutritional inadequacies. It wasn’t, it was caused by sleep apnea from swollen tonsils and adenoids, which interfered with release of growth hormones. Completely unconnected to diet! And the food log showed he ate a good diet for a two year old, but the dietitian’s views on toddlers and eating were really interesting and useful anyway.

The file of notes and info fell off the shelf in the earthquake, and I looked over it again and decided to write it up today as a distraction from worrying that another big quake is going to happen any minute and/or Donald Trump is going to turn the USA into a fascist dictatorship.

Starting point: food empathy

Before we talked about her advice on kids and eating, we started with some food empathy exercises. For example, think of a time when you’ve been in a situation where there’s huge social pressure to eat something you find disgusting. Think of a time when you’re really really hungry but the only food available is something you strongly dislike. Think of a time when you take a bite of something and it’s completely different to what you expect it to be. Think of something you don’t like, despite having had plenty of opportunity to learn to like it, and imagine someone cajoling you into having a bite. Think of a time you’ve been full, but pressured to keep eating. It doesn’t happen often to adults (which is the first insight!). You can probably think of a few times though, maybe you’re travelling, or at someone else’s house. Maybe you even have to think back to your childhood. For a kid, it could happen several times a day. One of these experiences could be happening at every meal. Yeah – let that sink in. Wow.

Kids can self-regulate their food intake

Most kids aren’t as picky as their parents think they are. It’s normal for little kids to prefer a few foods. That’s not a worry.  We’d done the food log, and based on that we did a list of the little dude’s “safe foods”, things he will usually eat. Then the dietitian pointed out that even if he only eats his safe foods, he’s getting a balanced diet. It seems so hard to believe because adult dietary advice hammers the point of variety! But kids need energy-dense foods and they like familiarity. Their dietary requirements are quite different from adults, they need more fat, less fibre. So she was like, look to be honest if he has porridge for breakfast and a piece of fruit at some stage in the day, you don’t need to worry about how much he’s eating for lunch and dinner, he’s pretty much covered. And I’m like, really? I mean I know porridge is good, but really? And she’s like yeah, really – so long as he’s not filling up on low-nutrient food, you can trust him to decide when he’s had enough lunch and dinner, it’s important for him to listen to his cues for feeling full.

Attitude towards presenting food

Based on the food empathy stuff, and the trust that they will self-regulate, she recommended that adults need to massively lay off kids when presenting food. You know that thing you see in tv and the movies all the time, “just one more bite”, etc? Don’t do it. No need to do it. Leave them be. Here’s how she framed it: whatever he’s eating, and however much of it he’s eating, and at whatever time of day, have the same attitude you’d have if it was a few nuts and raisins for morning tea. Something a bit boring but also appealing, that he might finish, or not, and you wouldn’t care either way, because it’s not a main meal time and you didn’t put any effort into preparing the snack. Tempted to try and coax them to eat some of this or that or the other? Just don’t! Tell them what it is, offer it to them, but then leave them be.

What to do: This one is watermelon, you haven’t had that since last year. It’s sort of juicy and crunchy.

What not to do: Do you want to try some of this watermelon? It’s REALLY YUMMY!! Here, try some of it. Just one little bite? You’ll like it! It’s delicious, try some! It’s watermelon, everyone likes watermelon! I’ll put some on your plate. You haven’t tried any of your watermelon, c’mon, don’t you want to try some? Watermelon is the best! If you try some watermelon, I’ll give you a strawberry as well!

Shaping the food environment

So how do you create a positive eating environment? Here are the tips. (We’re still working on some of these things.)

The big picture

  • Parents are responsible for what is on offer and when, kids are responsible for whether they want to eat it and how much.
  • If they ask for food, including asking for a specific food, try and bring the next snack or meal forward slightly and offer something substantial.

Some specific things

Focus on breakfast

  • Most kids wake up hungry and it’s relatively easy to create a good routine for breakfast. We normally eat porridge together anyway, so this was a free shot for us. And now bub is bigger he can join in with the porridge! Ah, porridge, such a comfort food for me. My husband hates porridge and he rolls his eyes at us every morning.
  • If you struggle with the timing of sitting at the table to eat with your kids at dinner, breakfast together is a good opportunity for a meal where they can see adults eating.

Focus on snacks

  • Kids need snacks. Kids who don’t get regular, reasonably big snacks will want to graze constantly between meals, and that means they’re less likely to be filling up on nutritious food and more likely to be filling up on whatever is to hand when they want to graze. So either you embrace the grazing but try do it without over-reliance on things that are high in salt and low in protein, or you boost the snacks and have a mini meal at morning tea and afternoon tea (she recommended the second option).
  • Snacks are a good opportunity to try new foods – for example a plate with three things, two familiar, one unfamiliar, and they can choose how much. Snacks are also a good time for treats, because then the treat doesn’t detract from a main meal.
  • A “supper” of a cup of milk can be a good way to make sure that they have enough to eat before bed without worrying too much about dinner.

Offer some of the “safe foods” at every meal

  • This is a mid point between the option of “that’s your dinner, I don’t care if you don’t like it, it’s all you’re getting” and “ok fine I’ll make you scrambled eggs”. It’s something we’ve been doing, and it takes the stress away nicely. It’s not complicated, it can be as simple as a dish of nuts, some cut up apple, and some bread on the table with whatever else we’re eating. So if he decides that he doesn’t want falafel tonight because it is too spiky, that’s ok, he can fill up on bread.

Don’t expect them to like everything

  • If they say they don’t like something, don’t make it a big deal. You don’t even have to comment! But if you do, make it low-key, e.g.”Maybe when you’re bigger.”

Role-model convivial enjoyment of food

  • Give them the option to join in on what the adults are eating, when the adults are eating.
  • Eat as a family. Obviously this is a good thing to do. We don’t do it for dinners very often because my husband gets home too late – but all the more reason to prioritise it on weekends. I try and eat something with the little dude when he eats during the day though and this is increasingly possible now that bub eats solids too.
  • Be aware that every role model is important. She really emphasised this point, that it is common for kids to see only the main caregiver eat, and then when they get to adolescence and they are pulling away more from the main caregiver, they stop eating well because they haven’t seen other people eat regularly.
  • It’s good to have kids eat with adults at family events, etc. We always did this in our house when I was a kid, and I expected it and felt indignant whenever kids were (in my mind), ostracised from the real action. Once a friend’s dad tried to give me tinned spaghetti when the adults were eating salmon and several years later when he separated from the friend’s mum I was like “yeah well he was always a dick, remember the tinned spaghetti?!” (Harsh, twelve year old me. Very harsh.)

Eating at the table, rather than snacking on the run.

  • Meh, yes, this is a good idea, and I aspire to do it most of the time but it’s not yet a priority.

Similarly: not having meals in front of a video as a general rule

  • Fail grade. I do this at least once a day. If he has a snack and a video, he will stay in one place for 20 minutes and I can give bub a breastfeed and put bub down to sleep.
  • But yeah, it’s obviously a good idea for meals to be their own activity most of the time. But also, done better than perfect. Let not the child starve because I want him to turn off Peppa Pig.

Treats

  • Don’t be a food puritan. Let them enjoy sweet things or fried salty things, while being mindful about how often they’re on offer.
  • Don’t use negative words about treats. There are no “naughty foods”. We enjoy different foods in different ways and should be able to enjoy them all without baggage.
  • Double no no: don’t make treats conditional on eating something else first. This puts treats on a pedestal and it is pressure to eat, both of which should be avoided.
  • The big issue is for us is how to manage treats that aren’t really treats – we spent a while talking about this because the little dude is a fiend for fruit. He LOVES fruit. To the point where he’ll give himself diarrhoea and he’ll still want more frozen berries. So far, he’s still too little to learn from that experience, maybe next year! Lots of kids have something in this category, a food that is great in moderation, but they like it so much they don’t moderate their intake. A common one aside from fruit is something high in fat and salt like cheese. Some tips include cutting things up small, to help them pace themselves (remembering that children are small – a banana is the size of his forearm!); and making sure that there are other things on their plates as well as the favoured item.
  • If they ask for treats, a good neutral-ish response is “that’s not what’s on offer this time”.

Solid, boring blog post that isn’t about disasters, natural or political.

Bedtime now.

Big tent democracy

I wrote a post after Brexit, and then I deleted it later, thinking “meh, no-one wants my random takes on something happening far far away, why am I joining the chorus of reckons.” Now I regret deleting it, because some of what I wrote seems important after the Trump victory. Not like “WOW I AM SUPER INSIGHTFUL”, just like, “hmmm, this seems kinda a thing to me but I don’t see other people saying it, so maybe I should say it?”

Here goes then, and this time I’ll spend a little bit more time than I did on the Brexit piece.

Ok, so the basic idea is that there is inherent compatibility between conservatism and liberalism, and they are the twin pillars of democratic engagement, and the danger is posed by their opposites: radicalism and authoritarianism.

People keep thinking conservatism is the opposite to liberalism, but it’s not! It can be opposed to liberal change, but it can also be opposed to illiberal change.

The opposite to a conservative is a radical. And radicals, well, um, they can be good or bad, depending on how we feel about the status quo! If the status quo is good, conservatism is a good protection against unwanted change. In a New Zealand context, opposition to asset sales is conservative, opposition to charter schools is conservative. The insight behind conservatism as a political theory within democracies is that we should be cautious about upending something which is currently working OK (“sure, there’s room for improvement, but we could also lose out if we change too much too fast”).

Radicalism isn’t a political theory. You can’t be a radical all the time. You get one shot at big, sweeping change, and then, presumably, you want to keep the thing you achieved.

Conservatism is part of the political legacy of everyone who believes in democracy, because democracy can’t work without conservatism. Let’s not have a revolution and counter-revolution every few years, that sounds horrible, let’s build enough support from the ground up through democratic processes so that when we achieve the change we want, it’s durable. That’s the progress we need.

Conservatism is an important part of left-wing political ideology. The desire to rein in the industrial revolution and protect human interests? That’s a conservative impulse. The battles fought by indigenous people to retain their cultures in the face of colonisation? That’s conservative too. When we talk about progress, and the desire to make things better, it’s in the context of protecting the things that we want to retain. This is important to ordinary people living their ordinary lives, people with a stake in the status quo because its predictable and familiar (for example, New Zealand needed a dab more conservatism back in the 1980s when Roger Douglas decided to build a new economy from scratch).

On any issue, there might be some people who want change and others who don’t. Erring in favour of the status quo is a respectable default setting, because people come to the conclusion that something is an improvement at different speeds. If you’re part of the vanguard on an issue, you want progress, of course you do! You want to make the world better as soon as possible, it’s urgent, people are suffering in the meantime. I get that, I really do, I’m not minimising it. But if you believe in democracy, conservatism is a necessary compromise. It is ingrained into democratic systems to prevent instability, by ensuring that change occurs gradually, at the speed of shifts in the views of the majority. It can seem like a bad thing, until we consider the alternative: radical change that we don’t want.

Democracy requires change to come through popular support or not at all. This doesn’t mean we should be reticent in our push for making the world better, definitely not! It means we direct our efforts at the hearts and minds of people who disagree with us. It means we keep trying, despite resistance, to explain why this change is justified. It means we embrace their standard for change – that the case for improvement needs to be strong – and then we work to convince them that what we’re fighting for meets that standard.

I did my dissertation on the repeal of the defence of reasonable force for purposes of child discipline. When I started, I planned to focus on the rights-based case for the law change, the child’s right to be free from violence. But it changed shape as I was writing it. I became more and more interested in the question of how representative democracy should respond when there is a tension between protecting rights and upholding popular opinion. I reached the conclusion that to accommodate this tension, we need a deliberative legislative process, that seeks to convince people of the substantive merit of a proposal as part of the system for achieving change. Parliamentary democracy for the win, folks!

What about liberalism? I said above that conservatism’s merit depends on what is being conserved. Liberalism isn’t like that. Liberalism is the bright shining idea that people should be as free as possible to live life in accordance with their own values and desires. Many political philosophers see equality as integral to liberalism: it’s gotta be liberty for all, you can’t go selecting one group to live in freedom at the expense of others, nothing liberal about that. Liberalism without equality is supremacy. The opposite to liberalism, by the way, is authoritarianism.

Trump is a extreme radical traditionalist reactionary, not a conservative. He’s also authoritarian. So it’s terrifying that he’s the president of the world’s most powerful country.

Liberalism and conservatism hold democracy up, and provide the terms of engagement. In a democracy based on these principles, we will have:

  • A system of representative government with diffuse power underpinned by popular support;
  • Respect for the limits of legitimate government and protections for individual freedom;
  • Ideological and practical disagreement on issues of substance, played out within the boundaries of respect for the processes of the political system;
  • Widespread acceptance of a result even when there was significant disagreement, because people respect the process;
  • Neither stasis nor revolution, but iterative change, with modulating back-and-forth between successive governments, avoiding major unstable swings in policy.

For the past two centuries, we’ve been working to build this system. This is the story of democracies. Democracies enable us to resolve disagreement and govern effectively, to avoid radicalism and authoritarianism. The liberal revolutions that we lionise, they had the goal of creating conditions that eliminate the need for future revolutions. They sought to establish a new order that protects everyone’s interests, then maintain that order, integrating conservatism into the structure of the government.

And what of questions of the left and the right, the nature and extent of the government’s role in the economy, the competing interests of capital and labour, regulation to protect the environment, those other things – surely those are big democratic questions too?!

Welllllllll…. not really. Those aren’t questions about system design or the boundaries of engagement. Those are questions of substance. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important questions – but we have had radical, authoritarian right-wing governments, and radical, authoritarian left-wing governments, and they both lead to people against the wall. If there is a common enemy, we should be able to agree it’s authoritarianism. If there’s a common goal, we should be able to agree it’s democracy.

Which is not to say that question of left-vs-right are unimportant. They’re really important. It’s just, we need a big tent in support of democratic processes. I’ve seen things popping up among many of my lefty friends about the need for a revolution and my eyes are popping while I think, wait, did you all not get that the terrifying part of Donald Trump is that he ran on a RADICAL, AUTHORITARIAN platform and WON?! Are you using “revolution” as a term of art for a concerted attempt to convince people of your views? You don’t mean an actual revolution, right, with all the killing and stuff? Trump is an enormous threat to stability, we need to position ourselves in favour of stability!

I’d like to see US opposition to Trump rally around electoral reform. Elections shouldn’t be as high-stakes as this one was. When your preferred candidate loses, you should feel disappointment, not horror and despair. By definition, this outcome demonstrates that the system is flawed. And did you see voter turnout, ye gads! But what do I know, I’m not over there.

So for our own context, here is my take. I find it disquieting when I see people in New Zealand say that, post Trump, we need a “real left”, we need to “channel anger against the establishment and the elites”. Taihoa e hoa mā! There is a time for progress and a vision for the future, but there is also a time to fight to retain what we have. We are not the United States, or the United Kingdom. We have our own history and our own political legacies. A left-wing activist in the USA might look at the features of our political consensus and weep with envy. We have our own problems, but they’re solvable. When we look at the mess the USA is in, we should be heartened by just how solvable our own problems are! For starters, I know a whole lot of National Party voters who were posting their dismay at the Trump election on Facebook on Wednesday night. We have a solid platform for productive democracy in New Zealand: let’s make sure we keep it that way.

Porridge muffins

This morning my husband lovingly made porridge for me and the little dude, and then the little dude didn’t want his porridge, and then I forgot to eat mine, and then he went off to creche, and there was a pot on the stove with two cups of cold porridge staring at me sadly.

So I made these muffins.

Ingredients:

2 cups cold porridge

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1 grated apple

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup oil (I used half/half canola and olive)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbsp golden syrup

1 egg

Method 

Beat the egg, oil, and golden syrup until thick and a little bit foamy. Add the cold porridge and apple, and beat until well-mixed.

Separately, combine the dry ingredients.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing quickly and taking care not to over-mix, as is the standard advice for muffins. Spoon into a greased muffin tin and bake at 190 celsius for 15 – 20 minutes, until a bit browned on top. Makes 12.

These make pleasant muffins, unapologetically plain, but moist and light.

 

He doesn’t know

He’s two. He’s watching Peppa Pig while I shush the baby to sleep. He doesn’t know. Yesterday I was anxiously checking my phone and I told him I was scared, he said “you can’t be scared, you’re a Mummy!”

He doesn’t know that there are big things to be scared of in the world, things even scarier than the noise of the recycling truck.

He doesn’t know that some people think a person’s gender limits their life options. He doesn’t know that some families aren’t gentle and kind to their children. He doesn’t know that some people want his wonderful favourite kaiako to go home, bloody immigrant.

He doesn’t know that ordinary people can do abhorrent things.

He doesn’t know that his great-grandmother spent her youth in a concentration camp.

He doesn’t know that his Pākehā ancestors made a life on stolen land.

It’s hard to think that one day he’ll find out these things. But I know what I’ll tell him. I’ll tell him what my parents told me: we find meaning in life through making the world better. I’ll tell him what his religious tradition has been saying for millennia: we are put on this earth to do the work of healing it, together. I hope he finds strength in these messages, strength to avoid cynicism, strength to avoid despair and despondency, strength to carry that torch forward. I hope that by the time he’s old enough to take note of current events, the world will be better than it is today.

 

Unfinished Business: the big picture critique

Intro 

This is the final post about Anne Marie Slaughter’s book Unfinished Business. Earlier posts are here and here and here.

Y’all already know what I’m gonna say right? The big picture critique is gonna tap into a theme I’ve written about again and again and again and again. Basically, long hours are inimical to the good life and we gotta do something about it.

The book was disappointing because it seemed to really care about the problem, but didn’t prescribe a radical enough solution. Or any real solution. I was hoping for a detailed analysis of what policy changes we need to create the feminist socialist utopia, alas, it says this instead:

The specifics of policy proposals on each of these issues differ from state to state and often by party affiliation and political philosophy; a comprehensive catalogue is thus impossible.

What a cop out! Someone give me a fucking research grant.

Over and over again, it falls into the same rabbit hole of offering tips for younger people facing the work/family dilemma without exploring what needs to change in the bigger social context. I find those conversations so boring. Tip, you want some tips?! Be extremely well-educated and able to demand good working conditions. Hire a cleaner. Buy food out a lot. Find a great childcare centre. Have grandparents in the same city. Don’t get sick. Don’t have sick kids.

It’s all varying shades of privileged bullshit.

Wow I’m being super harsh and I didn’t really mean to be super harsh! I think I’d really like Slaughter in real life! It’s just… I have two kids under three and my husband works a 50 hour week. There are so many chores, the children have so many needs all day, time for myself is a distant dream, we never have any adult time at the moment because he logs back in from home as soon as the little dude is in bed, and y’know, what is life all for, right?

These entwined issues, working conditions and valuing care work, they’re super political and I don’t understand why the book tries to depoliticise them. I don’t understand why it brushes off the discussion about specific policies. There is huge value in having specific policies to argue for! What do we want? An improvement to the status quo but we don’t want to predetermine how! When do we want it ? Ah, no rush, as soon as we figure out the policy details. Pretty weak rallying cry!

At the very least, we need some criteria for evaluating policy proposals, and some outlines of the trade-offs, otherwise it’s vague platitudes all the way down.

Let’s be even blunter. The political alliance between libertarians and conservatives hinges on the shared view that children are the responsibility of their parents, not society at large. Each branch of right-wing political philosophy has an attitude opposed to providing more financial and social benefits to parents and children. Conservatives say they’re in favour of family and community providing for themselves, and if the state starts “paying people to have children”, it undermines the natural bonds of care. Libertarians hiss and roar at any redistribution of income: “don’t have kids if you can’t afford it”, etc. The economics of care works is completely, fundamentally a political issue.

In New Zealand our political centre is located somewhere further towards social democracy than the USA (relief!). But, when centre-right parties accept policies such as paid parental leave and childcare subsidies, this is a shift in the centre and a win for the view that families should be supported by the state; not a consensus alliance on an issue without underlying political divisions.

Granted, Slaughter is writing for a USA audience, and they have pretty much nothing, so any improvement would be good. But New Zealand has a lot of the sorts of policies Slaughter name-drops, longer paid parental leave, guaranteed sick leave, etc; and we can tell you it’s still not enough. We don’t have 50/50 gender representation in top positions, or even in middle-management positions, in either the public or private sector. We have a lot of single parents living in poverty – in part because the Working for Families programme is highly discriminatory towards single parents and parents without secure work. Even though we have employment equity legislation that has lead to a court victory for aged care workers, we still underpay the whole care sector.

Framing the problem

The gap between 30% representation and 50% representation of women isn’t about the two people in a group of ten, it’s about the billions of women worldwide whose diverse interests aren’t represented. There’s a common fallacy that we need more individual women at the top because they’ll bring their experience and it will make the world better for all women. It’s a dangerous oversimplification. I’ll be STOKED to have Hillary Clinton as President, it will be momentous to have a women in that role, and more women in power is good. But, the goal should be representation diverse enough that we don’t rely on one woman to represent the views of women generally. We each have only our own experiences and we should be cautious about how far we extrapolate based on common characteristics like gender. The lumping together of all women as having one set of interests is really problematic if you really care about diverse representation.

Raising kids together 

OK, so if Slaughter isn’t focused on the policy reforms needed, what is her focus? The central thesis, so far as there is one, is that women can succeed at work when men take the lead role at home.

If the vast majority of male CEOs with families have wives or partners who are either at home fulltime during the caregiving years or whose work flexibility allows them to be the lead parent, then women CEOs are going to need the same thing.

Deep sigh from me over here. It’s trotted out as the solution so much, but, oh, I’m so doubtful. I’m not knocking it as part of the picture, but, but, but, but. So many things. Here are some particularly big ones.

  • Time use surveys are very clear that women with at-home male partners do VASTLY more unpaid work than men with at-home female partners.
  • Survivorship bias – looking at the small group who succeed and trying to extrapolate out reasons for their success, instead of looking at the conditions that lead only a small group to succeed in the first place.
  • Even if this worked, it would replace the “woman gap” with a “caregiver gap”, which would still be a major problem of representation.
  • How many mothers want the work-all-hours lifestyle anyway?
  • How many men want a career-supporting role?

On the final point: many men want to be fully engaged dads. BUT. How many people of any gender want to be the 1950s housewife? No-one! It’s a raw fucking deal! Role differentiation premised on equality and mutual support is fine, but that’s not the arrangement which has enabled male CEOs to work 60 hour weeks. It’s just not. The false equivalence undermines so much of what feminists have fought for these past decades. It undermines the achievement of a relationship like the one Slaughter describes between her and her husband! It’s not so long ago that wives were literally their husband’s property, I mean, bloody hell! A lot of men STILL expect their wives to do way more than their fair share of unpaid grunt work and don’t see anything wrong about it.

In a gender equal society, no-one should be willing to exploit their partner’s unpaid labour.

Because it’s not only the joy of days at the park, it’s the slog of doing everything else, all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the invisible stuff like arranging the social life. That’s the arrangement that sits behind the men in the boardrooms doing long hours without burning out.

To achieve equality, we need to crash that system down. It is absolutely not about selective reversal. Importantly, to do things differently, we can’t tip-toe around the question of who benefits from unpaid labour in a capitalist economy. We need the system-wide view. It’s really obvious in my relationship, especially when I was in part-time paid work. If I do an hour of chores while he does an hour of paid work, my work is supporting his work, and his work is generating revenue for his bosses, and they’re getting rich, and boom: that’s a microcosm of the larger societal dependency on unpaid labour to generate wealth. There’s a lot of writing on this stuff out there, and Slaughter mentions it only glancingly.

Two careers is going to be our norm, so my bias is in favour of workplace arrangements that accommodate a family situation where both parents want to spend time with the kids. But here’s something people don’t often mention: long hours are horrible for an at-home parent. When I’m at work too, I don’t mind my husband’s long hours anywhere near as much. When I’m at home, it’s a major imposition. It feels like his work is such a huge presence in my life; and it is, it’s ridiculous, he’s trying to squeeze a 55 hour workload into 50 hours and then squeeze those 50 hours around the early bedtimes of two little kids. Some people tell me I’m lucky because most men with that sort of job don’t see their kids during the working week.

All dads, including the best dads, benefit from low social expectations of their parenting. Men are free to decide how much effort they want to put into the parent-child relationship without worrying about falling short of community standards. I envy that freedom, while being unable to imagine what it must be like.

Before I read Slaughter’s book, I read a piece by her husband Andrew Moravcsik,  “Why I put my wife’s career first”. This paragraph resonated with me:

Despite many days of weariness, I would never give up my years of being what the journalist Katrin Bennhold has called “The One”—the parent my child trusted to help master his first stage role, the parent who shared my child’s wonder at his first musical composition, the parent my boys called for when they needed comfort in the night. When my sons turn to me in this way, I feel a pride that is in many respects deeper than any pride I have experienced professionally.

When I first read it, I thought but I want that, I gestated these children, I deserve the payoff of parental love! 

Here’s Slaughter on this issue:

…being needed is a universal desire and the traditional coin in which mothers have been compensated. If we accept that trade-offs are necessary for women if they want to reach the top of their careers, even if they have money and choices, and if we’re prepared to let men be equal caregivers just as we insist on being equal competitors, then we have to be very honest about our deepest needs and desires.

Yeah, well, y’know, if the choice is cuddles or career, I chose cuddles. I want to be there for the big moments – to pick them up on their first days of school. I want to be there for the little moments too, the slices of life that I might forget and they might remember.

But.

My husband wants the same.

And.

The impossibility of this choice is why it is so essential for working arrangements to change.

We don’t fit into neat primary earner / primary caregiver slots. We’re not complementary in that way. What we have, more and more as we get into our grove with the kids, is a complementary approach to parenting. When we parent together, our different strengths and temperaments balance each other out. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Insofar as Slaughter is saying that men should be more involved in caregiving, I wholeheartedly agree. I want the norm to be equal parenting. But I reject the idea that more men need to be the “lead parent” because I think the “lead parent” framework is part of the problem. When you frame the question as “which person is the primary caregiver / lead parent”, the opportunities for how to configure things are restricted. If you think in terms of “how do we manage our working lives so that we can share the caregiving” it’s a much more egalitarian conversation. It’s good to have two people (or more!) who want to be involved with the kids and bring different skills and different perspectives. It should be unexceptional for people to want to combine hands-on caregiving with other things in life.

On a personal level, we both want to be actively involved. When my husband is here, he’s fully here. Thursday night at 4am he was defrosting expressed breastmilk to sneakily mix with baby pamol after bub woke with a temperature. Wednesday, the little dude had a nightmare and my husband slept on the floor for the rest of the night, reassuring the little dude with his closeness, while I settled bub back so sleep. There is such relief in my heart knowing that I’m not the only one the little dude turns to. The hardest part of being a mother is when both kids want me and ONLY me. The more they’re willing to receive comfort from others, the more I can have a break without worrying.

The difficultly though, is that the little dude loves his dad and doesn’t understand why he has to go to work so much. Kids with two really engaged parents don’t think of them as transferable figures. This is the sinkhole in the logic of different roles. When I pick him up from creche, he always asks “where Daddy?” I remember when he was a baby, thinking, I love him so so much, how could anyone love anything this much; and only my husband knew because he felt it too, and we would look at our baby together and hold hands and share the same soppy expression. Now I look at my boy and think, he loves us so so much, how could anyone love me this much, how humbling to be needed and trusted to this degree, what an honour – and again, my husband feels it too.

The next circle is also close. I see the pride on my mother’s face when he runs up to her and says “Nana, Nana, Nana!” My brother’s smile at the painting the little dude made him, or the way he cuddles bub and grins at his adorable little laugh. On the trip up to Auckland the other week, the joy of seeing the little dude with my husband’s family, seeing that connection get stronger. Surrounding my boys with thick layers of love from their whole family is much more satisfying to me than being the one they love most.

Today Mr Daddy was holding bub on his lap while I played a game with the little dude, and I saw him smiling at us the way I smile at them sometimes. This love is more joyful for being witnessed. The encompassing love of family, that’s what we’re here on this earth to enjoy.

This is what we miss out on when work takes too much of our life.

A privileged conversation

Slaughter devotes a lot of space to the importance of having conversations with your partner about how relationship divisions are going to pan out. We had those conversations, and it’s going to plan so far. I’d find a family-friendly job, he’d earn enough that we could afford for me to take unpaid leave when our babies were tiny. Two problems: first, if all workplaces accommodated parenting responsibilities and paid parental leave was longer, we wouldn’t need to have those conversations. Second, having discussions with your spouse about this stuff and planning your career around kids – those are luxuries. There’s immense privilege in the premise, and this is not given anywhere near enough attention. Slaughter’s husband has a pretty solid career too by the way, he’s a professor at Princeton. It’s about as far removed from the average family as you can get.

She doesn’t ignore this all together – there’s discussion of the “what ifs” and how a “resilient system” can cope with the unexpected. OK, but the important thing about “what ifs” is that they’re really “whens”. A normal life is one with heaps of curveballs, heaps of unexpected events. The specific thing might be out of the ordinary, but something was bound to happen eventually. Especially if we look at things from a system-wide view: if you have ten employees, you should prepare for a few of them to be sick each winter. Even more so from a policy perspective: across the whole population, there unexpected events are actually pretty predictable. Some people will have kids when they’re not financially set up for it – that’s going to happen. What are we going to do about it?

Slaughter talks a lot too about “managing up”, or, as I like to think of it, pushing back against unreasonable expectations. I agree that this is hugely important, whether you’re in a workplace that needs big changes, or whether you’re in a workplace that is fairly good already. But it’s another area where privilege is key. When working part-time, I found I needed to manage my coworkers’ expectations of my output and availability, and being upfront and realistic was the best approach. It meant a few instances of warning people that I’d have to slip out of the meeting early to get to creche before it shut. I think being officially part time made this easier, because I wasn’t being paid to be there for the same hours or the same output. Managing up requires a lot prerequisites though. Being established as a capable employee in that role; being on good personal terms with your coworkers; having valuable knowledge or skills that make your retention important; having demonstrated commitment to the organisation. If you’re not in this position – for example because you’ve just started a new job or because your skill-set is easily replaceable – you don’t have the power.

Good for men?

The majority of American women have demanded over the last half century that society reject and revise traditional norms about what women want and what they can do. It is time to do the same for men.

And:

…if we truly believe that care is just as valuable as competition, then we will realize that men who are only breadwinners are missing out on something deeply satisfying and self-improving.

Sure, this is true, I think things will be better for everyone if we had a society based on human connection rather than competition and acquisition. But only in the sense that the oppressors are destroying their ability to care about ore important things. Not in a direct material sense. There are big payoffs from status and power and money! Look at Donald Trump – he’s rich enough that he could spend the rest of his life doing whatever he wants, and he’s running for president because he wants to be the boss of things. (Hey Donald, have you considered maybe just playing with your grandkids instead? Just putting it out there. Y’know, maybe you’ll find it is really rewarding?)

We need a movement of people of every gender fighting against a culture that values work and status above simple enjoyment of life. Fighting for more financial support for families, so people don’t have to work such long hours. And workplace arrangements that give plenty of space for a life outside of work. Men absolutely need to be involved. But we shouldn’t be afraid to point out that the gender gap at the top is good for a lot of men. Overstating the “everybody wins!” thing is naive and counterproductive. Some people will lose. That is why they are resisting change! If men are two thirds of the legislature instead of half, they get double the influence of women. Some of them don’t want to give that up. Even my husband, who would really like to work shorter hours, benefits from the current arrangement in some ways: I do far more chores than he does, because when he’s around I want us to be able to hang out as a family.

Representation of caregivers

On an individual level, for the woman who wants to prioritise having a career, not having kids is the single biggest thing she can do to make that a reality. It’s the obvious solution. So it’s strange that it’s not considered in more detail. The declining birthrate among educated women is crucially relevant.

Women born in the 1980s and 1990s are the third generation of women with access to reliable contraception. Our great-grandmothers, in the 1930s, had no reliable way of limiting family size. Our grandmothers in the 1950s and 1960s had access to contraception, and family size reduced drastically. Our mothers, in the 1980s and 1990s, had even better access to contraception, and also to abortion, and also benefited from (and contributed to) the enormous change in attitudes to childbearing wrought by second-wave feminists. The idea that women might choose not to have children at all slowly became more accepted. The pioneers of childlessness by choice faced enormous stigma and many let people assume that not having children was a stroke of fate rather than the result of careful contraceptive use (Dame Sylvia Cartwright mentioned this in an interview here; it was also the case for one of my grandmother’s sisters).

By the time my mother had me in the mid-80s, her father’s response on finding out that she was pregnant was “oh, I always assumed my eldest daughter would be more of a career woman”. The battle she faced, and many of her friends, was trying to do both. Fast forward to my generation: we’ve had childless women role models, we’ve seen that they can have enviably fulfilling lives. In New Zealand, there is of course Helen Clark. In the USA, look no further than the Supreme Court: of the three women, only one has children. In Australia, the first woman Prime Minister was childless. Meanwhile, we’ve also seen women with children (including our mothers) making career compromises they would never have envisaged, and having almost no leisure time. Having a kid might seem appealing when the image is of a relaxed time together with your funny and adorable toddler, less so when the image is of unrelenting chaos  of competing demands and feeling like you can never take a minute to just pause and enjoy.

Slaughter says, and I agree:

In short, both women and men who experience the dual tug of care and career and as a result must make compromises at work pay a price. Redefining the women’s problem as a care problem thus broadens our lens and allows us to focus much more precisely on the real issue: the undervaluing of care, no matter who does it.

Except when it comes to solutions, following the logic of much of the discussion in this book, there is a risk of solving the problem of women’s representation through more women choosing career over family involvement. This would still leave a big problem: those with extensive caregiving experience (men or women) would remain marginalised within the corridors of power. Or, some mothers get there once their kids are grown, and that’s good, but it’s a different perspective to the parent still in the trenches.

I’ve come to think that although much of the work I do in foreign policy and nonprofit management is intellectually harder than being a mother, parenting is emotionally harder and often far more perplexing.

There is scope for women like Slaughter who have had success in masculine fields to change how care work is valued, simply by being honest about the comparison between the types of work. If people with caregiving experience are excluded from power, we never get the opportunity to have those conversations. Meanwhile, there is still a pervasive idea that if you’re a woman with kids who wants a career, you’re probably not good with kids, or don’t enjoy it. The idea that you might want to contribute to the wider world partly because of your experiences as a caregiver remains difficult for some people to comprehend.

When I left school, there was a slow-dawning realisation that in the real world, men in charge were often less capable than I expected them to be. Their abilities made a poor impression, their pomposity was absurd, and you had to either laugh or cry at their obliviousness. You meet these men and you quickly realise they don’t have the slightest inkling of how mediocre they are in comparison to the women working alongside them in less powerful roles while raising families.

(Of course, once you remember that women and men are equally capable, this is obviously going to happen, right? The over-representation of men crowds out capable woman, and less competent men get promoted above their ability).

Are long hours necessary?

Central to the problem of career progression for caregivers is the long hours problem. It’s THE BIG ISSUE. THE OVERWHELMING ISSUE. Slaughter doesn’t critique this anywhere near enough. She buys into it! Sometimes you’ll have to stay til midnight, that’s just professional, etc. That’s why you need a partner to be the lead carer. Ummmmm, welllllllll, yes, within the constraints of the system we’re in that might be true, but is it really necessary? If you’re an MP you need to stay until sitting hours end. Why don’t sitting hours end at a family friendly time?

Here’s a story that happened to a friend in their law clerk year in one of the big firms. My friend left at 7pm on a Friday to make it to a family function, intending to come back and work all weekend because there was a big project. The partner responsible berated this person for abandoning the project and said “your family has to learn that work sometimes comes first”.

Frankly, fuck that.

I think most often, long hours are caused by arbitrary urgency and unnecessarily narrow responsibility. Sometimes this is obvious: two people working 60 hours a week for two months to get something finished, argh, just hire another person or take another month! Sometimes it’s more subtle. Why are the junior doctors working such long hours when there’s no shortage of people wanting to study medicine?

One explanation is that long hours are core to capitalist logic. It makes it seem like those on super salaries deserve that money, it legitimises success and selfishness. If someone earns $150,000 working 30 hours a week, they would seem like one very lucky rich dude. The same person earning $300,000 working 60 hours a week can rationalise their salary – oh, the hours, never have time, work hard for the money, how dare it be taxed at a high rate!

If long hours and urgency led to good outcomes, this would all have some redeeming features. But it’s the opposite. It leads to blinkered decision-making, things get missed, the people in charge don’t question things enough because they’re operating under the tunnel vision of “get it done, get it done”. If you’re a brilliant scientist working on the cure for cancer, we don’t want you to burn out! If you’re a doctor in an emergency ward, we need you to have a good night’s sleep!

There’s a line of thought that the more committed and absorbed an employee is the better, but I’m very dubious about this. Effective delegation and teamwork requires letting go of the outcome somewhat and trusting others you work with. Being able to completely switch off when you walk out the door is good for a bit of perspective, which in turn helps the person in charge to accommodate other views, which leads to a better result.

This brings me to a broader point about collective politics. There are seven billion people in the world, the best possibilities for improvement in global welfare comes from the plurality of voices contributing, not the marginally amplified voice of one smart person who gets an extra few hours a week to work because they have a cleaner.

Head down working hard while life goes by

A few weeks ago, I picked the little dude up from creche one day and we went out to a local pizza place. We got there around 4.30pm, and live music started up at 5, and we had a lovely time. Even though it was a creche day, I felt like I’d had one of those nice bits of smooth companionship that bring us closer. Last week, I took them both to the beach one day. Bub practised getting onto his hands and knees, lying on a towel on the sand, and the little dude threw stones into the sea. A group of students cooed over bub, they were on study leave but had decided to take an afternoon off to blow away the cobwebs. I remember doing that too. Ah, the bliss of the early evening. It’s my favourite time of day, when the sun is still warm but not burning hot, when the air feels balmy but fresh.

Children go to bed early, the little dude can’t cope staying up much past 7.30pm now that he’s dropped his nap. There’s not much evening left if you’re coming home from a full-time job. One night last week my brother was going to visit but he got held up at work and couldn’t make it. I know as the kids get older, this will seem less of a big deal. Yet at this stage, the gap between the level of involvement my husband, parents, and brother (all in this city!) would like to have and the level they can reasonably have outside of work is huge. They’re missing out. This time is going fast and it will never come back.

Bub is seven months now, one of my favourite phases of babyhood. He is trying to crawl, getting up on his hands and knees and making little vocalisations of alternating pride and effort. He is fascinated by the little dude, watches him avidly. He’s a sunburst of a baby, a happy, rosy, delightful little chap, he smiles at everyone he sees. All these people who love him and want to see him during the week, it’s hard to fit it in, because they work at least 9 – 5.30, and by the time they get here, we’re almost winding down for bed. A shorter week for everyone would be so simple, and so amazingly life-enhancing for us all! The little dude would be DELIGHTED if someone else picked him up on his creche days, took him on a big kid outing. Bub would be the perfect cure to office drudgery blues for any of my family and friends who were able to pop by before or after work for an hour and tickle his neck for the squeals and giggles of delight. Whenever my brother sees the kids, he lights up. Last year when he first got back from overseas he had a patch of not working, and we would meet in the afternoons all the time. I didn’t notice then just how special that was. I’ll always think fondly of those golden afternoons, him and me and the little dude, hanging out, relaxed, just being. It was on one of those afternoons that he taught the little dude the game of throwing stones into the sea.

It’s heartbreaking. Time is the only thing we have that is truly ours, and it’s finite, we should be able to spend more of it in the company of those we love, and less of it slogging away in paid work.