Sunday, 22 August 2010

what mothers do all day

I'm playing helicopters with my son, and as ever, he has grabbed the leading role. He is the pilot, and apparently 'you are the mummy.'
Am not sure what a helicopter pilot's mummy does in combat. 'Nothing,' he says cheerily. On being pressed as to what a mummy does generally, he is stumped for a while, before volunteering that 'you wear silly dresses.' (I'm in jeans, as usual). He can't think of anything else.
What does a mummy do? I've just been reading Naomi Stadlen's book What Mothers Do, which argues that all the mindless things you do blearily on autopilot with a small baby are pleasingly critical to stages of the baby's development. But it only applies to babies. Quite what mothers do for three-year-olds remains unclear.
The line about a mother being a CEO of her own household is well-meaning, but cannot be said with a straight face if you are English. I am absolutely nothing like a CEO. I couldn't honestly say I was in command of anything - offspring, husband, housework - except possibly the dog on a good day.
A CEO does not get woken up at 3am by the most junior member of their organisation, who quite fancies a drink of water. A CEO has people to get them coffee and fetch their drycleaning for them, not the other way round. A CEO is treated (at least in their earshot) with fawning respect. Nobody throws lego at a CEO.
There is no other job description requiring the same combination of daunting responsibility, occasional life and death decisions, and endless wiping things up. It's like being a brain surgeon, while simultaneously having to mop the operating theatre floor, with no actual job training beyond occasionally hanging out in Starbucks with other untrained brain surgeons.
Actually what it's like is building a house, where you are simultaneously the architect and the hired grunt shovelling earth. In the early stages the client asks for things and when you build them shouts 'Nooo! Not that one! ANOTHER ONE!'. In the middle stages, the client demands a house like the one everyone else at school has, only for you to discover halfway through building it that everyone else at school now has something different.
And in the final stages, the client bellows that they hate you and NEVER WANTED YOU TO BE THEIR ARCHITECT, and then borrows your car and crashes it.
But once the thing is built, mostly you're quite pleased with it. After a while everyone forgets their creative differences, and you may even come out of retirement to oversee some extensions. You just have to remember, while spending several years living in a bombsite covered in dust, that there will eventually be a house. Probably.


  1. I was chatting in the car with my girls a while ago about what I do and Francecsa was most concerned that I didn't have a 'job' and Daddy did only for Elizabeth to pipe up that 'actually Mummy does have a job, she looks after us all the time' and she pointed out that she might be the only girl in her class never to have been on an aeroplane but she's also the only girl who has Mummy meet her at the gate everyday!

    Maybe we can't quite pinpoint or explain what we 'do' but I know without a doubt that it would all go tits up if we weren't there 'doing' it!!


  2. Hmm, 3 is a tricky age to expect any great insights into what you 'do' but I have to say I was surprised and touched the other day to overhear my 9 year old son explain to a friend's son who is 8 that 'Mummy does lots of work, only she is not paid for all of it, only the legal stuff. The rest is either voluntary which means she is not paid or keeping the house going'. Am probably about to upset the whole apple tart by returning to full-time work but I wouldn't have missed these past 6 years or so for anything.

  3. Oh gosh we are kindred spirits.
    Have added u to my reader.

    M2M x

  4. My wife and I are just reaching the stage where the house is now having to provide support for the architects, thanks to progressive degenerative diseases. Thank goodness that the architects concerned did pretty well at their job. If we do the same with our house, then we'll be ok.