Recently one of my contemporaries from Robinson College days became the Deputy Prime Minister. That's just about how I look at the world these days, seething with rancid bitterness as contemporaries sail past me, and I am left tied to the sink... by my own choices. Here's the thought process that regularly assails me:
- I was the one who wanted to write.
- I was the one who wanted to have babies.
- I was the one who wanted to get out of a monolithic gerontocracy, geared only to reproducing the Establishment, through the promotion of an orthodoxy (I was an academic).
- Well, I have made my bed, had my babies in it, and there I must lie, until the little one says roll over, and my determination to Have A Career somehow carries me through these years of early childhood and out into a glorious future of saying "just a minute, darling", and "mmm, yes, sorry, what was that? GCSEs?", as I pen brilliance, and tour the world basking in my own glory.
- My choices, my responsibility, my failings.
- IT'S NOT FAIR, SURELY I'M OWED MORE THAN THIS.
- Not really, no, you're lucky to have even what you have, and don't you forget it.
- I like my garden.
- Oh god, it's nearly 3.30, have to race to the school (using the car) to collect son.
Each year I have taken stock and wondered whether this year, this year, finally, will be the one where I work out how to have it all, be with my children while simultaneously absent from them, what the deeper meaning of housework really is, whether feminism has actually betrayed me or whether I'm ultimately its (spiritual) winner...
My eldest is now 7. And it ain't that I ain't worked. I most certainly have: tried it all ways, going back to the original profession; living and working as a freelancer on the other side of the world; making a fundamental career change; with all the attendant childcare mashups needed to facilitate this.
I came out the other side wrung out, just as poor as when I went into it, with ever so slightly troubled children, and totally depressed. My year and a half since then at home, getting back into the writing rhythm, doing a little consulting, acting as a school governor… well, it's all been wonderful really. I can see a future that I want, a freelance, portfolio future, running my own business from home, and being there for all the concerts, plays and parents' evenings. It perhaps won't make me famous, or cement my reputation as an earth-shatteringly brilliant social critic (or will it?), but I'm never going to stop trying, and at least I finally have a platform from which to do it. I am living my own dream... the only thing I have needed more of than I ever expected is time.
I spent a great many years so anxious about time that I could hardly sit still. How on earth this led me to a doctorate on A la recherche du temps perdu, I'll never know. My temporal accountancy left no room for food shopping, exercise, or anything apart from a frenetic social life, and incredibly hard work. Having children has taught me to live at an organic pace -- I literally cannot go faster than my children, entwined with their development as I now am.
The gnawing frustration I have felt at the difference in pace between my head and my heart has caused me endless misery. And I haven't reconciled the two yet. I still want more. I feel like a horse wearing a tight bridle, reined in. And I'm not sure what can be done about it, other than to try to defuse, dance out, get rid of those poisonous feelings that aren't going to help me achieve what I want. It makes it hard to make sense of what went before children— achievement without happiness, a sense of being doomed to succeed — because now success means my children's success. But I'm more willing than I've ever been to see the experiment through.