Women can have it all these days, so they say. We can be mothers and sex goddesses and ambitious career women, and can generally achieve great things. We can.
But right now I’m failing at all of the above.
I’m failing as a mother because I’m not there for my children whenever they need me.
I’m failing on the second one (can’t bring myself to put “sex goddess” and “I” in the same sentence) because I have no significant other and no one on the horizon, nor the likelihood of ever having the time to find one – I am basically resigned to dying alone and my body being eaten by cats.
I’m failing as a career-type because I am increasingly resenting my job for sapping my time and energy and affecting the aspects of my life that mean more to me these days than my career.
My week is spent careering (pun semi-intended) from home to school to work to school to home, slap-dashing everything as I go. I shout at my kids more than I ever thought I would: for playing up for my attention which is stretched too thin, for making us late, for being rude when they’re probably just modelling my own impatient behaviour.
I drop them at school and check my watch multiple times, willing the whistle to go and the children to be led inside so that I can dutifully wave before legging it back to the car to speed off to the office. I barely speak to the other mums as I only see them the few times a week when my children aren’t in breakfast club and/or after school club, so I constantly feel out of the loop. My boys don’t do play dates as there never seems to be time in our week, even if I did get my act together enough to plan ahead and organise one.
Arriving at the office, I park the car and practically run to my desk, desperate to squeeze my contracted hours in without wastage. Worky work work work…it pays the bills.
At the end of the day I dash back to the car, back to school, and run through the playground and into after-school club. My babies are sitting, red-eyed with tiredness, the last to be collected. Immediately they start to play up and I try my best to be patient but I’m so so tired myself and before I know it I’m shouting again – will you JUST get into your goddamn car seat so we can go home?
Fighting through the rush-hour traffic we eventually do get there, and we fall through the door, arguing and pushing and laden down with book bags and coats and lunch boxes. I stick CBeebies on (do they watch too much TV?) to stop the whining and leg-climbing whilst I make any sort of dinner which takes no longer than 10 minutes to prepare – we are all shattered and the kids need to get to bed tout suite. Beans on toast again; at least I know they’ll eat that with minimal complaining – I just can’t face more whinging, even though I know that they should be eating something green and more nutritious.
At last, bed time.
The children protest, despite being barely able to keep their eyes open – they know that this hour with me is all they’re getting today. I try to make it a worthwhile hour. We have stories and cuddles and I tell them I love them and that I’m sorry for shouting and that I’ll try to be a less frowny mummy tomorrow. If I’m really lucky I’ll get a sleepy smile and an “I love you Mummy” as they drift away and that makes me feel guilty and glad all at once.
My days are spent wishing for lunchtime, for hometime, for bedtime, for the weekend, for next weekend, and every so often I blink and realise that my babies are toddlers, are big boys, are growing so fast and I’m wishing it all away.
I don’t want to hear the words “I don’t know how you do it all” any more. The truth is, I’m not doing it all, whatever “it” is. I’m barely keeping my head above water. And I know it’s not just me. Is this feminism? Is this what we have been fighting for all these years? Will our daughters and grand-daughters look back on this era and thank us for creating this utopia of opportunity for mothers?
I am a staunch feminist, a fierce mother and a proud Chartered Engineer, but something has got to give, and it can’t be me.
But I am tired and I am stretched too thin, too thin.