When you were asked as a child what you wanted to be when you grew up, you no doubt answered with things like fireman, doctor, nurse, or princess. Perhaps you wanted to be an astronaut or an engineer or even a vet. Maybe you chose these vocations because your dad was a vet or your mom was a doctor. Perhaps you wanted to be like your parents. But you never wanted to be like your parents, in that you’d *be* parents. Does that even make sense?
I guess what I’m trying to say is this. The idea of being a parent (while you’re still a kid) doesn’t seem like a career. There’s no job in it, so to speak. You don’t grow up wanting only to be a parent, and nothing else. You grow up wanting to be *something* and *do* something and you learn some things about it at school, and then perhaps you study something at university and then you go on to (hopefully) do something and be someone (or in some cases do someone to be something) and that’s what you expect from life, right?
You have goals, right from an early age and you study hard for your exams and you get good grades and make the deans list and have five year and ten year long term plans, right? You start in the workplace and you pay your dues and painstakingly climb the (corporate if needs be) ladder, right?
See. I never got that. Awesome for you, if that’s the way you’ve done it thus far. For me, it’s been different. I went to school and got good grades, only because it was the only way to keep my dad out my hair. Ditto on the studying law. I was told I had to study something, and it couldn’t be a bullshit degree, so I picked law. I always wondered why my friends could actually visualise their ascent on their various chosen career paths, but I couldn’t. They could all see themselves as attorneys,some advocates, some eventually judges and Justices. I enjoyed the study of law, and I enjoyed the theory – but I could never see myself in a formal suit, with heels and a neat ponytail in court. When I tried to picture my future in the legal profession, it was grey. Like looking out of an airplane window when you’re flying through thick, heavy clouds.
I never realised why this was, until I had The Kid. Having a child makes you realise what’s important and (even more importantly) what’s not important. Following a career in something I’d studied for seven years (I did a masters degree as well) no longer seemed important.
At this stage I simply thought I’d be able to find another calling that would complement my task of being a parent, and I could focus on and balance both. I thought being a writer would be it. After all, I could churn out a 10,000 word research-based law assignment overnight; how hard could it possibly be, being a writer? Turns out it was a lot harder than I thought. It also turns out I wasn’t doing very well at my job of being a mother at the same time, either.
It might sound like an excuse, or even a copout, but damn you. It’s my flaw, so I have to deal with it as best I can. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. And you can think less of me if you like, but I’m the kind of person that latches onto one thing/task/person and throw my all at it. To the detriment of everything around me. I’ve never been that good at balance, and I’ve never been that good at multi-tasking or delegation either. I like to do it all, myself. And as long as you appear willing, other people will let you do everything yourself. Tough lesson to learn.
The danger for me, personally, in being this kind of all-or-nothing person came in the form of a very abrupt wake up call. My three year old son spent the majority of last week in hospital (two of them) hooked up to drips and being poked with needles, having scans and x-rays and enemas and being force-fed foul-tasting medicine because of my neglect.
Sure. You can tell me not to blame myself, but I do anyway. Because I failed at the most important job I’ll ever have. The most important thing that’s ever happened to me. I failed at being a mother. I let my job get in the way, because I was so focused on trying to do everything myself. When he’d fall ill, I’d get annoyed, because it was taking time out of the office and trying to work and keep your head above your to-do list is hard with a sick child. He got sick quite often in the last year and I simply blamed it on being exposed to other children at daycare and believed the doctors’ hurried diagnoses of tonsillitis and ear infection and tummy bug. I didn’t listen to my child complaining of a sore tummy. I didn’t realise that there was a reason for his not eating that didn’t involve him just being plain stubborn and difficult.
It was only when I was watching the doctor put a drip into my child’s tiny hand and listening to my little boy scream that it hurt, that I realised this was my fault. For thinking I could do both. For thinking that I could balance a child and deadlines. For thinking that I could be both mom and worker and do them well enough that neither suffered and neither was neglected.
Schools teach us how to be good workers. Parents teach us how to be good people. No one can teach us, or prepare us to be good parents, workers and good people all at the same time. We can only learn those lessons ourselves, and we can only learn them while we’re already on the downward drop of the rollercoaster – at full speed and with no room for stopping. Luckily, my child has proven quite hard to break and rather forgiving. Also luckily, I’d already made the right decision, and picked my family over a job so was able to be there, and be fully committed with no distractions, when my son needed me.
Being The Kid’s mother (unplanned as he may have been) helped me learn an important lesson. Although it took me a while to get it. The reason why I could never see a future as a lawyer, or why I had no 5 year plan when I was 21 or why I always felt directionless. Because I was meant to be his mother. That there’s no such thing as unplanned. That part of the plan just hasn’t been revealed yet. Most importantly he’s helped me realise that being his mother is the most important job I will EVER have, and if I can’t do that to the best of my ability and throw every ounce of my single-minded determination into it, then I’m simply wasting my time.
Call it a copout, call me weak or tell me that I’m wasting my equal rights as a woman to be in the workplace and that I should, instead, try harder at being a better working mom. Tell me that millions of other women do it with more work, more children and more responsibilities to juggle. I don’t care, I’m not listening. I’m too busy counting my blessings and feeling lucky that I’m able to do what I do – the most important job in the world.
That’s all I need to worry about.