Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Full Days, Leisure Time and Headcheese (Guest Post)

Very pleased to continue my series on moms and work today, in which I invite mothers to consider these questions: how do you manage to work and also care for your kids, both in a technical sense (how the time is divided up), and an emotional one? (Be a part of the series: send me your thoughts!)

Today I welcome guest blogger Deborah Churchill who discusses how much effort it takes--or should take--to do the work of a mother. Does reading the Little House books make you feel weary, or, as it does Deborah, quite lucky?

Full days, Leisure Time and Headcheese

I’ve been feeling that my days are pretty full. That is, until I read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (shameful: I’d never read it before, but I am British).

There’s a chapter in it about butchering the pig. It’s full on. The pig is slaughtered, scalded and scraped. The meat is butchered, salted and smoked. Then, just when you’d think that, really, they must have had enough of the pig-work and surely it’s time to catch up with a box-set (excuse the anachronism), Ma chops and boils all the last scraps making the (to my mind unspeakably unappetising) headcheese. It got me thinking.

On Mondays I get in at 8 and do a short day at the office. I’m contracted for a three days week but I’m lucky enough to be flexible with my hours. It means that on all but one day of the week I get to pick my kids up from school when they finish at 3.25. I leave almost no contingency for the journey time; it’s pre-rush hour. I almost always get away with it.

So anyway, Mondays, we execute a swift turnaround. Snacks, wees, goggles and head to the pool. It’s fun; a family swim followed by Felix’s lesson. Then it’s back home for kids’ tea, spellings, handwriting practice, put a load of washing on, put a load of dry washing away, make tomorrow’s packed lunches, unpack the dishwasher and chivvy and chide the children to clean teeth, wash faces and get ready for bed. All climb into my bed for cuddles and stories. (Side note: I thought Little House might be too advanced for my youngest. Imagine my gratification when halfway through the chapter on maple syrup he asked a technical question about sap extraction.)

You know what? By the time it hits 7: I’m finished. I call my partner and ask him to bring something home for dinner. I’m pretty relaxed about this. I’ve done enough for one day, right? 

I can’t help wondering what Ma Ingalls would think about my sudden collapse of effort. Of course our times and situations are very different. But you don’t have to go back far in my family to find a much tougher lifestyle. My grandmother (95, oldest of 10, with six children of her own) had a far more gruelling day than mine. Not only were all her household chores harder to do, the expectations were also different. She cooked three meals a day, every day, for at least 8 people for many years. It would tip me over the edge in less than a week.

I have no intention of signing up for the servitude endured by countless women. But, next Monday, I’m going to take a moment to remember that I’m living in a very privileged place and time. The idea of leisure time is so ingrained that I consider it my right. I’ll try to feel less hard done by and, who knows, I might even cook dinner. If I do, I’ll consider it the headcheese.

Deborah Churchill lives outside London in Kingston-upon-Thames and works part-time as the editor of a property magazine. She and her partner Allan have two children, Annabel, 7 and Felix, 5. She’s recently become interested in preserving food and made 10 jars of marmalade over the weekend. An interest that can only be reinforced by reading more Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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