Monday, 6 October 2008

Please Miss!

“So”, said Hubby recently. Such a simple, two letter word and yet loaded with meaning but, having been married to him so long, I knew what was coming.
“The Red-Head is starting school next week?” he continued, hesitant, waiting for my reaction.
I didn’t take my eyes of the TV screen.
“So”. There it was again. “I was just wondering what you’re going to do with yourself all day”.
“It isn’t all day”, I snapped, “Only until midday. What job can I do for three hours a day?”
“You can put some feelers out”, he replied, resolute. There it was. Out there. He and I might have been speaking in code to some but we knew exactly what was going on. Now that all four children were in school, Hubby expected me to join the work force and help him share the burden of every single household bill that has caused him a deeper furrowed brow than Gordon Brown’s.
Of course the evening ended with me storming out of the sitting room, yelling something about being undervalued and with Hubby sighing deeply, as though he knew this would be the final outcome. The thing is, his insistence that I go back to work sends me into a panic. For a start I do genuinely think that stay at home mothers are horribly undervalued. It is as if the role of ensuring that every family member is well looked after, that coming downstairs in the morning to a proper breakfast, a cup of tea, the radio on and lunch boxes packed and a hug and a kiss is insignificant. As though returning from school every day to find mum in the kitchen, always on hand to listen to every woe whether physics was ‘pants’ or maths ‘grim’ was irrelevant or whether every success, “Hey I got an A* for my essay” or “I got the part in the play” trivial.
My busiest time of day is from three in the afternoon until seven. In those hours I have done the school run, listened to four (now that I have Pia living here) variations on a theme of a day at school, made dinner, cleared up after dinner, been a taxi service, nagged relentlessly about homework and helped the last but one with her reading and spelling. I have also had to find sufficient enthusiasm when Hubby walks through the door to listen and comment accordingly as he off loads his day and make sure that at some point in the evening we share a couple of glasses of wine and he feels loved and adored (I fail miserably in this department). It is nothing new. Women like me have been doing it for centuries. I don’t expect a pat on the back but neither can I tolerate the attitude that what I and millions of other women do is inconsequential. The consequences of latch key kids and fragmented family life has been well documented, the results of which make-up media headlines daily.
The prickly subject of my returning to work is not only about my feeling unappreciated though. That is only half the story. The other side is fear and self-doubt. I may be happy enough to travel the world and its cities alone but, going back into the work place is a different thing altogether. My self imposed domesticity, whilst beneficial for the hearts and minds of my nearest and dearest, has left me bereft of any professional confidence. It has been years since I stood in the classroom and was Miss. Terms and terms of students have been educated since I last thought about the lexical choices and semantic fields in essays and Lady Macbeth and her beleaguered husband have long since been dead since I’ve discussed their murderous machinations.
Much like that great Dane Hamlet though, I could not prevaricate any longer. Hubby was insistent. My children were a little less enthusiastic, “Will things will change much?” has been asked on the quiet.
So, for the time being a compromise has been reached. Three mornings a week, I will be gainfully employed at a local school. Is it any wonder women earn so much less than men and professionally rarely reach the elusive ‘glass ceiling’ when part time work often seems to be the only option for them, especially when the spouse is in the military, where his absence or the constant moving makes it nay on impossible for the wife’s career to be equally prosperous?
I have done two mornings already. Hubby is away this week and, where his parents came to look after the daily exercise of getting five kids out of the house dressed, brushed, fed and lunch-boxed with notes signed and cheques written when I was in NYC, my organisational skills have been called into question because, on the second day the youngest had no clean knickers to wear and therefore had to don a pair of her elder sister’s. They hung down her legs and we had to put a pin at the waist. Great start. My youngest child going to school looking like an evacuee, “All she needs is a gas mask in a cardboard box around her neck”, was my son’s parting shot.
A school full of teenagers running down the corridor after morning bell is an intimidating sight. The staff room more so. Finding myself a chair, I drank my Nescafe amid other colleagues, who, thinking I was ‘supply’, ignored me. With knees trembling and throat dry, I entered the classroom and fifty minutes later as the sequential events of Romeo and Juliet had been cut out and stuck into exercise books, I was beginning to get the hang of it or so I thought.“Miss? Do you think Juliet was a slag? She was only thirteen and my mother thinks girls who have sex that young are real slags”. On reflection, thank God it is only part time.


Mary Alice said...

This made me cry a little, because I understood Every.Single.Thing you said. Appreciation, it's a nice thing to get.

Hotel Allgäu said...
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Anonymous said...

Wow Alice! You have been busy, congratulations! Very brave indeed. I completely agree that Mum's are underestimated and unappreciated too quite often. Hope it goes well for you!

Eloise said...

Oh, Alice, I feel for you because I know exactly what you're experiencing. My husband has been dropping the same hints (although his tend to fall along the lines of "When do I get to quit and stay home and you go back to work?"). I gets knots in my stomach just thinking about it. Teaching was also my pre-family profession. I'm thinking about submitting an application to substitute teach as a compromise.

Thinking of you and appreciating all you do for your family. Hang in there.

gemmak said...

I don't have kids but I used to be one and I have to admit that having a mum that was 'always there' was important to me and my siblings. The trials of a domestic godess seem always to be undervalued...try adding up the cost of a professional launderer, PA, nanny, taxi service, part time plumber/electrician/plasterer etc, a nurse, a cleaner and a chef....I am preaching to the converted though I know! ;o)

Sally said...

So how did you manage to get a job three mornings a week..... all other things aside, that's quite a good compromise really. AND you do get paid for your writing too!!!!!! So don't ever underestimate that.....

Wouldn't the old days of women actually being valued for just being Mums be nice sometimes though? (Especially just Mums with little paid writing or Acting jobs....)

But the slag comment was just brilliant!!! I love it.

Sally said...


Sent you an email with my email address on! Would have done it last night, but couldn't get NEAR a computer.... thank you teenagers... (With two still around and two up and coming ones still here I do confess that life is still quite entertaining and busy in our house!!)

Sally said...

P.S. Last comment explored further in my most recent offerings....

Anonymous said...

Oh, Alice! (that was a wail of concern)

My dh has plans to retire from the military in 2 years time, and then he intends for me to go find a part-time job to pay the bills. It's been more than 18 years since I was employed and I fear that no one will want to hire me.
You are very brave to get out there, and esp. teaching these days!
As much as our husbands do value and appreciate us, I think that being a SAHM has gone under-appreciated by so many.