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.

Monday, 16 August 2010

the joy of filing

I am now the proud - and embarrassingly, I do mean proud - owner of a filing cabinet, only lightly distressed with coffeestains and paperclip scratches. I spent half the afternoon digging it out of the secondhand office warehouse down the road and heaving it up our stairs, but the research materials for my book which were previously strewn all over the spare bed are now satisfactorily stowed away in its drawers and I feel virtuous every time I look at it (which is fairly often, unavoidably: it takes up half the bloody room).
The irony of working from home and then making my house look like an office isn't lost on me, especially as my old office now looks more and more like a home: the paper moved last year to new headquarters that are all sofas and coffee machines and chillout areas to make everyone more creative. Unfortunately, having my own sofa and coffee on tap at home makes me not so much creative as inclined to lie around reading magazines and eating chocolate: hence the need for the grim Seventies office vibe. I was, I told myself, saving time and making myself more productive in the long run by spending a few hours getting organised.
Except that the more I think about it the more I suspect it's the (semi) grownup version of spending hours painstakingly colouring in your revision timetable with millions of different highlighters. File that under P for Procrastination, then.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

a window of one's own

Something's been bothering me for ages. It's bothered me ever since we moved into our old house when I was vastly pregnant, and therefore not agile enough to stop my husband annexing what was in theory our joint study by filling it with guitars and great tangled snakes of cable and pointless bits of paper that CAN'T BE MOVED BECAUSE I MIGHT NEED IT ONE DAY.
It has bothered me probably more in this inbetween house, where there's no study and I work from the spare bedroom - surrounded by unpacked boxes, random articles of skiwear that haven't seen snow in years, and small people raiding the desk drawers.
And it is the main reason, if we're honest, I fell in love with the crumbling wreck of a house we are now attempting to buy. It's got enough room for a study, but even though I now work from home and my husband from an office, I'm resigned to it not being entirely mine. But what it has is deep, thick walls: and that means there could be windowseats.
Admittedly, the windows are so rotten they're falling out and the walls are crumbling around them but still: windowseats! I have ALWAYS wanted a windowseat.
There could be piles of cushions, and streaming sunlight, and ideally very long curtains to hide behind: and that might buy me easily three minutes with a book and a cup of tea before someone comes running to make me play 'truck games, mummy!' or ask where the phone charger is.
Everybody needs somewhere in a home to hide. Men have sheds, in which to smoke furtively and read motorbike magazines: children crawl under tables; my grandfather had a greenhouse in which to hide from my grandmother (I don't think he even pretended there was another purpose to it). I'm not even asking for a room of my own, just a bloody window.
Although don't get me started on the idea of a pantry....

Sunday, 1 August 2010

is fatherhood a feminist issue?

AT first glance it looks like just another of those cheery "ladies! having kids will ruin your career!" stories. Half the headhunters questioned in a survey said taking a career break to have a family held women back from senior executive jobs (ie roles paying £150k and upwards).
Except if you read the small print (as the NewsAboutWomen site did here) the headhunters said the same was true of men taking time out for any reason. In other words: ladies and gentlemen, having kids will ruin your careers.
So far, so grim. But having taken part the day before in a debate on Radio Four's Today programme about feminism, it did leave me wondering: what do you call the campaign against this rather depressing state of affairs?
Feminism is the natural home for anyone believing that, on the whole, women who get pregnant need not be tarred and feathered and dispatched to a job in the postroom.
But believing in equality between the sexes only goes so far. It is after all equality (of an admittedly rubbish kind) if working fathers get just as lousy a deal as working mothers. The problem here isn't sex, but parenthood.
British law still tends to see things in gender terms: traditionally women disadvantaged by motherhood have sued for sex discrimination. Men who interrupted their careers to look after children have been relatively rare, meaning legislators haven't been forced to think about them much until now.
As they get more common, it is of course possible that recruiters will relax and simply stop binning CVs with breaks in them. But it's also possible that some men will join women on the 'daddy track' to nowheresville at work, and promotions will go to people who either don't have children or are willing not to see them so much.
So is fatherhood a feminist issue? Or, given so many more mothers than fathers still take career breaks, is that missing the point?