Thursday, 18 March 2010

time and the (half)working mother

I am having trouble with my time zones. Not in the way I used to (husband fogbound at Washington airport, me in London at overrunning meeting, ergo nobody home for bedtime). But I have three different sorts of time now, all moving at different speeds.
First, there is toddler time. This is not time as the laws of physics would know it. Toddler time can go backwards, forwards and sideways: it can take half an hour to walk a few steps (if there's beetles on the ground to investigate, or things that need poking with a stick, or just because I DONT WANNA!!! WAAAAHH!). But it can take a fraction of a second to grab a knife out of the dishwasher when your back is turned.
Toddler time responds badly to being organised, or attempting to achieve anything specific. On rainy, badtempered days an hour of toddler time can last forever. Yet the years between babyhood and disappearing off to school can somehow flash past in an instant.
Second, there is housework time. Initially I thought this worked to the toddler clock: that it basically involved wafting around, pegging out washing in the sunshine, inbetween playing. But wafting does not get stuff done. Wafting leads to everyone running out of socks. Domestic time actually needs to be organised, methodical, linear: it means shopping lists, schedules, and making packed lunches the night before, and it's therefore not brilliantly compatible with toddler time.
Third, there is work time. In an ideal world, this would be on the same latitude as housework: structured, efficient, running to a strict timetable. But for me it's another time zone again: short, creative bursts of being absorbed in what I'm doing and making sudden leaps forward - mixed with long hours of faffing about eating biscuits. It goes in slow motion for days, when I can't summon any kind of urgency about the task ahead, and suddenly speeds up to a frenzy about three hours before deadline.
Switching between these three time zones isn't so easy. I keep having to remind myself when I'm with my son to slow down and forget the idea of getting anything done: no sooner have I got the hang of that then it's time to kickstart myself into organised mode, or work mode. I finally understand now what people mean about part-time work involving more frequent gearshifts.
I'm not moaning: I prefer all three of my new timezones to the old never-enough-time one. But I do think I've got jetlag.


  1. Hi, there. I smiled to myself reading your text for having had the same reaction when realized what the real life of not working outside fulltime actually meant. Not the "plenty of time" I had envisioned. ;)
    I write a column in a small Brazilian newspaper and, if you ever grant me permission, I'd like very much to translate your piece to my readers. But if you don't think so, it's fine. I'll be coming back here all the same. All the best for you and us all in our quest to enjoying motherhood responsibly but differently from our moms! :)

  2. I know what you mean. When I was full time it was so much easier in some ways, i.e. most things didn't get done or if they did, by someone else (nursery, cleaner, ironing lady etc). But now I'm at home it is a juggle. I worked from home for a while like you and this was my biggest problem which I never truly sorted out. My return to work this year will be strictly office bound only!


  3. As ever, you've put it in a nutshell.

  4. too true....

    but what i mostly want to know is how on earth does time go so quickly? i only work three days, and it always seems time to go back to work again.... meanwhile my toddler is fast approaching two. TWO! what happened??

  5. I know exactly what you mean - going back to work has meant I've felt at sea because I've not reacclimatised to the work time zone vs. baby zone (it appears the rest of the world isn't run in three hour segments between feeds !)

  6. This is soooo true. Yesterday was like marathon running through treacle and we were going to the RAF museum ...something you think would be a big carrot...okay not carrot...big piece of cake. Today we are taking a day out to just be or all his childhood memories will be me screaming "FRAAAAAAAAAANNNKKK!".xxx