Monday, 20 January 2014

A Month in the Country!


This is the main reaction I received to the news that I was going away for a month to write a book (about motherhood, as it happens). 

I couldn't work out whether it was men or women who were more likely to stare in incredulity. As if I was leaving my children on a frozen hillside, or having an affair with a well-known politician.

Of course there were some people who got it (I think), who didn't react with a quickly-suppressed cough of scandal in their throats. These people said, “Go for it, just make it worthwhile, get that book written already! How brilliant that you've got a room of your own!”

Of course it’s the doubtful and silent judgers I believe. Yes yes, it’s wrong to go, I should be safely at home, doing the washing, shopping for the endless routine of children’s teas, monitoring the activities, the homework, the notes home from school, the Forest Schools equipment, doing the Guides run, making inane conversation at drop off and pick up, feeling bad about my ageing body, trying not to mind as friends achieve success, income, status around me. I’m not supposed to want more than I have — a loving husband, two beautiful children, a nice little home. Wanting more is greedy, unseemly, self-indulgent, immoral, ungrateful, negligent, puts too much pressure on the family, and must be punished.

Do I just imagine these thoughts behind their eyes? Are these thoughts merely phantoms of my own guilty conscience? Is the English language more Chinese than it realises — does one word signify multiple, completely different things, depending on tone? “A MONTH!?” It is undecidable. No one ever tells the truth.

Perhaps the only thing I am clear on is that I simply don't feel the guilt I know I am supposed to. Nor do I feel I "deserve" to have this month. I'm afraid I just want to work, I just want to be by myself, thinking and mulling, and putting stuff down on paper, feeling rubbish when it goes wrong, throwing stuff away, having inspirations and being overwhelmed. Like a writer.

My husband, meanwhile, is being congratulated as a hero, the best husband imaginable (and that’s true, except that he leaves his pants on the floor and snores (not at the same time)), for "giving his wife this opportunity". Actually, it was a negotiated settlement.

When he went to China for a month, towards the end of last year, no one batted an eyelid. A few friends asked me how I was getting on (fine, if you want to know). It never occurred to anyone to say, “How could he leave his wife and children for so long, just for work, that’s ridiculous!” In fact, the opposite was true — he was also a hero for going away, because he was earning money to keep the family. 

In other news, what I've actually come to write about is THIS:
Just some of my many Motherload books.
I threw away the What to Expect lot. 

Look at those titles: Working Mother, A Good Childhood, Shattered, Torn in Two, Mommy Wars, The Bitch in the House, Tiger Mother, I Don't Know Why She Bothers… 

These are the titles that glare disapprovingly down at me as I try to write at home. A row of upright, big sisterly spines, that all proclaim they know better than I do how to be a mother, how to work, how hard to work, how to work hard, how hard it is to be a mother, how a mother shouldn't be trying so hard — enough

I think that quite a few of those books were written by women who had got through their children's early childhood, and were damned if anyone was going to get away without learning a thing or two about how tough life as a mother really is.

Well, I'm not going to add to the pile. I'm going to write a book about pleasure. About happiness. About joy. About experimentation. About looking closely at one's lived experience, and testing the theoretical frameworks we are told to live by. About deliberately failing the contrived expectations of contemporary Western society — not by going to live in the woods and daubing myself in woad, but by living up to my own expectations. Which, as it happens, are pretty high. I invite you all to be subversive mothers. 


Tuesday said...

A Month! That's not long enough to write a book! Take as long as you like. xxx

Kirkegaard said...

Thank you Tuesday! I love you!

myrin said...

"Perhaps the only thing I am clear on is that I simply don't feel the guilt I know I am supposed to. Nor do I feel I "deserve" to have this month. I'm afraid I just want to work, I just want to be by myself, thinking and mulling, and putting stuff down on paper, feeling rubbish when it goes wrong, throwing stuff away, having inspirations and being overwhelmed. Like a writer". THAT IS THE POINT. You just want to be YOU. Not a mother. Not a wife. Just you. So you can continue fulfilling the other roles without feeling they are crushing you. And feeling guilty about feeling crushed. I can relate to that. As you know I was forced out of the "baby bubble" and the first thing I want back is "me". Read the same as you wrote. Add the word photography. My reaction? Pure jealousy :-)

Anonymous said...

I would guess there is a large dose of jealousy in a lot of those "a MONTH?" reactions. There would be in mine.

Anonymous said...

If you'd been talking to me 'A MONTH!?!' would translate as 'Oh my goodness think of all that uninterrupted time. In fact I can't; its like trying to imagine how big space is. I would LOVE that'. In other words, I'd be jealous too.

Kirkegaard said...

Oh no! the last thing I want to inspire is jealousy -- I want everyone to find a way to do whatever it is they need to be happy. Part of that is a serious critique of the ideologies governing life in Britain now. Part of it is working out ways to challenge the remarkably limiting status quo, subverting it if full scale change is not possible. Part of it is trying to refind some sense of solidarity rather than the loneliness and alienation I currently feel (not through being alone in a cottage, but through being trapped in the contemporary notion of what a mother is and does). Part of it is overcoming the barriers I myself throw up, and hear others throwing up, to positive change, and dealing with the fear of failure -- or the acceptance of failure if it comes. What I'm trying to do is somewhere between self-help and total social revolution by peaceful means. Proust is the greatest analyst of jealousy and envy there is, and he understands they are both acids, one that corrodes our capacity to love, the other that corrodes our capacity to create. At best they form the alloy admiration, which we can use to inspire ourselves, but which itself threatens to compound our feelings of worthlessness. I don't want anyone to feel jealous. I just want people to start their own guerrilla campaign for personal freedom.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! The scandal it must be erupting in the big bad world of the school run! :)

I've just come across this - a friend posted your blog on fb and what a relief to read this.

I experienced the same when I travelled for work reasons. The longest I was away was a week and a bit and so many of my friends (who are also mothers) invited my husband and kids round for dinner, playdates etc. But when my husband was away, or working late, I didn't get the same offer... from the same friends.. funny that.

I'm so jealous!!

Lyd said...

I love you for what you have written here. Yes! Self help and subversion and quiet revolution! Xx

Anonymous said...

Good luck and I can't wait to read your book!!

Anonymous said...

Love it. It's still your life. (Not theirs) :)

Anonymous said...

Dutch, are you a member of MIRCI?

Just jealousy here, I'm afraid. I'm ready to kill for the opportunity, but unfortunately himself is in the Far East and there'd be no one to look after the kids.

Judith Kingston said...

Such a great analysis of the situation - *why* is it ok, normal, laudable for Dad to go away for a month for work, but for Mum to do the same thing is negligent?? This is also insulting to Dads, I feel, like children could not possibly thrive, or even just be safe and cared for with only their father at home. Have a wonderful productive time!

paulabiggs said...

What an inspiring post, thank you!

You've articulated feelings I've had since having children, but especially since I've started working again. I have 3 kids and work, or at least attempt to work (it's sometimes pure hell), from home.
Sometimes I feel I'm walking on a knife edge trying to get the balance right and still feel like a human being. Our western cultural norms are actually still so unchallenged.

I love your idea about being a subversive mother! I'm going to put that up on my bathroom mirror for daily reminding.
GOOD LUCK with the book and just go for it!

Kirkegaard said...

Thank you for your votes of confidence! Yes to being a subversive mother. Question the 'norms' that engulf you. Do it firmly, do not give way, look people in the eye and question. They will not like it, you will get reactions, but if your question gets to the heart of an unspoken hypocrisy, or stupidity, or selfishness, you will move forward towards a solution, however infinitesimally. 'Questioning' is not the same as moaning, being difficult, being argumentative, nagging, hysterical or paranoid. Although you may be called all of those things. Questioning is about engagement, problem-solving, community.

Anonymous said...

It's funny isn't it. I went back to work when DC4 was 16 weeks old because I earn and DH is a SAHP. So, if I'm on SMP then we have practically no money. I still now (and DC4 is over 12 months old) get people commenting on how early I went back to work. To make it even worse, when DC4 was 5 months old, I went abroad for work for 1 week. You'd have thought that I had committed a crime and had lots of comments about how DH would cope. Yet, I know, if it had been the other way round, no-one would have batted an eyelid at DH going away when his baby was so young and no-one would have worried about how I would cope.

Never mind the comments from senior staff about how I shouldn't go for a promotion because I had such young children and so wouldn't be able to put the work in - I left that place!

Enjoy your month :-)

Kirsty said...

Have a great month, love this post!

Anna said...

Great blog! Thank you for your honesty and courage.
I hope you don't mind that we shared a link to your blog on our theatre company's Facebook page ( . We are currently working on a play that deals with similar issues and were very excited to have stumbled upon your entry!

Curious to hear if the month will be long enough and fruitful... keep us updated!

Enjoy your time!

Anna and the Prams In The Hall team

Kirkegaard said...

Thank you for all your very kind and generous comments. Things are going well in the country. Now that I am here, I DO think my husband is a hero. He is on an incredibly steep learning curve, and seems to be handling it all with panache (and keeping any upset to himself, in his desire not to disturb me). I DO feel lucky, and grateful. It's not that he *let* me go, he ENCOURAGED it, and for that I love him.

Alexa said...

Happiness and Joy...I like those words for family and life.
Alexa from

Anonymous said...

Some of it is down to the fact that generally it's the woman who learns the ropes of dealing single handedly with babies while on maternity leave. As you noted in your last post, it is a steep learning curve and there is a sense that if mum (and that's where the inequality lies - it usually is mum) has the routine all set up and everything in order, it's very hard then for dad to take over and learn a new job from scratch.
A friend of mine is a SAHD and if he went away for a month I'd be sure to invite his wife over often and look out for her as I'd be aware she was thrown in the deep end to a certain extent and would have no structure to keep her going.
A similar thing happens at work when you're highly depended on and you need to leave for an operation or some such - people express surprise and worry at what will happen without you (this has just happened to my mum who is out for a hysterectomy). In reality people cope but no one likes their routine to change.

Some of it is definitely sexism, because it's seen as mum's job to be at home. But in larger terms someone has to be around for the children and if the person who normally does it is suddenly away for a fairly long period then the question does arise as to how things will run without them. The idea that dad will flounder is also terribly sexist. Most men, like most women, rise to a challenge. The kids may eat a lot of beans at first but over time like anyone else they get the hang of it.

Hope your writing is going well. FWIW I think some time alone with dad is lovely for children - it's out of the norm and they will probably remember it really fondly.

Kirkegaard said...

These are all really good points, and I totally agree, especially with the insights that people in general do not like change, and prefer to depend on the status quo; secondly, that it's sexist to assume fathers will not cope alone; and finally, the terribly binding ideological paradox that 'women learn how to look after children while at home on maternity leave', and that this then founds and cements the idea that it's 'Mum's job to BE at home' — whether she goes out to work or not. She's somehow supposed to be in both places at once. This is at the heart of all the identity problems, judgemental criticisms made of mothers, ambivalence, and resentment that follows. And it is SO difficult to shift cultural attitudes, especially when they serve the majority well — how convenient to have a scapegoat you can blame! How readily our own assumptions from childhood, that it's all mum's fault, come back into unconscious play in the workplace, directed at working mothers! I have seen it so often, and from the most unlikely people.