Friday, February 28, 2014

Thoughts on staying home and then maybe going back to work ...

Today i got told by my offspring that i was born in the last century and don't know anything about life today. While the first part of that sentence may be true, i wasn't thrilled about the second. To top it off, they then went on to explain that since i no longer go to school and no longer work (along the lines of that i stay home all day long and do nothing - their words, definitely not mine) ... I basically know nothing.

i didn't wail or yell or gnash my teeth. I didn't cry or stomp out of the room or lecture them about what i do all day long. Much as I wanted to. I told them that i already finished school and so i know everything. And that i'm most likely going back to work once said offspring are both in school full-day. One cried and one was excited to have a babysitter. I explained that it's still a while away and that I have nothing figured out yet, and that i'll tell them if and when. But it was good to test the waters, for myself as much as for them.

It's been on my mind a lot lately. I always said i wanted time off when my children were little - at least until they went to school. Although I went back to work with Hayden it was only until he was 2, and then I resigned for us to move to the States. I cried and cried the day i handed in my notice. I remember feeling as if someone had died. I felt numb and alone and scared and as if I was setting part of myself adrift, maybe never to meet her again. It took me a long long time to get used to being at home. Much as I loved sharing Hayden's whole day, each day, I felt so lost, so useless. So unimportant somehow. As if my value depended on being needed at work, fighting a crisis and coming up with a solution to a problem. I missed working with a team of people who were fun and creative and young and full of vision and energy. I missed the buzz of the office, the thrill of a project deadline, the coffees and the beers on Friday afternoons. I missed the weekend feeling. I missed the focus and knowing where my place was. Life at home was so very very quiet and lonely - just the two of us trying to find our places in a new country where even grocery shopping was a major stress. Even though the food labels were in English, everything felt wrong and different and all I wanted was Marks and Spencers ready meals for kids. And the security of work, where some of the time at least, I knew what i was doing.

But I found my groove. It took time. A very long time. A lot of sadness and feeling lost but then I started to hit my rhythm. I started to notice that I felt happy after an afternoon spent outside at the park, baking cookies, doing finger painting. I was achieving something quite different to when I went to work each day, but it was rewarding on a different level. A year down the line I felt secure and comfortable with my decision to stay home. I had been able to focus on settling the three of us in our new country. Because of my being home, Clint was free to really focus on work - to work late nights and be in early for meetings without the stress of who was going to pick Hayden up from daycare or put him to bed. And i was happy with that, surprisingly for me. 

And now it's years later and I've been away from work for ...over 7 years. They've gone so quickly when I stop to take count. I like being at home. I like knowing the small details of the kids' lives. I like making snacks and picking them up from school and tucking them in at night. i like that one of us is able to be here to bear witness to their day-to-day. I love the photographs I get to take, the tea parties I get to sit down to, the baking and the laughing and the watching of growing and playing and figuring life out. Of course there are bad days and times I wish I could run to the other side of the world. But most days, this is exactly where I want to be. With a little more time to myself - for painting and writing. I have definitely been missing both. And for a long time that shone like a beacon on days when things were hard ... that soon, both would be in school full day and I'd get to have hours to myself to work on my own creative work, not knowing where it would go but wanting, finally, to be able to do that again. But still being here for them when they got home.

Now i think it might be time to be back at work in something which actually pays ... and it's scary and overwhelming and I have no idea what i want to be when i grow up. I have worked in newspaper layout and book publishing and waitressed and managed a picture framing business and done window displays and sold occasional paintings and worked in the gaming industry. I am good at learning new roles but at my age I don't want to start over, not so much. I have no idea where i fit in or what i can do. Or want to do. The fire and ambition which drove my twenties has somehow burnt low, or maybe gone out all together. When i imagine my perfect day, I think of sending the kids to school and spending the morning in my studio. I imagine concrete floors and white walls and sunlight streaming in. I imagine the walls filled with drawings and canvases half done, waiting to be finished. I imagine a dog lying at my feet and the music playing and that's really where it goes ... simple and quiet. I imagine some freelance work here and there, and maybe some windows or design work or writing or something. Being home in the afternoon when the kids get back and then the day would be all about them. Somehow, magically, this would all result in a pay check now and then. I'm not sure how but that's the beauty of daydreaming. My heart aches at the thought of missing out on time at home, at someone else doing my job here, at not being here all the time. Which I guess is why i'm writing and thinking and trying to work it all out. Priorities and balance and we all want and need different things. There is part time work and maybe I could be lucky ... but would i be happy doing something half way ... not being able to really throw myself into a role, a company. A lot of questions and no answers.

This wasn't the post i was planning on writing ... i was going to talk about spring and how this house has become a creative battleground for me, not feeling as if it will ever get finished. But i guess this is what's on my mind at the moment. How we transition from one chapter to another, even when we don't want to. How to do that gracefully and so that everyone's needs are still met. How confusing it all is, the working vs staying at home, and how many volumes and millions of books and articles and blog posts have been written on the subject. I don't have anything new to say. I am still figuring it all out, and might never get there. But one thing I do know. I had a friend who carried on working when she became a mother - three times. Her children went to daycare and she sometimes worked from home and then it was a nanny full-time when her eldest went to school. I remember the juggling acts and the stress of making it all work and how she sometimes said it was really really hard, being a working mom. But she was doing it so that when her kids were all in school one day, she would still have her career - she would not have lost her place on the ladder of success. She'd not have to start over or wonder what she could do, or have lost her confidence. She'd have her place in both worlds.

As her youngest son and my daughter start school in a few months time, she's definitely in the winning seat as far as career goes. She's miles ahead of me in terms of confidence and having her place in the working world. But I wouldn't trade my 7 years of being at home for anything. I wouldn't trade the sticky hand-holding, the being there to kiss boo-boos better, the wiping of tears and naps on the couch together. I wouldn't give up the dress up games and candy-land and losing at monopoly to a four year old. The spontaneous tea parties, the playmobil worlds, the playdates, The wonderful creativity and laughter i have been able to be part of, the adventures and the walks and the snow fights and the picnics. The bearing witness, the sharing, the being part of. For me, that was my choice and I'm so glad i took the leap all those years ago. I might be completely lost in terms of career and work and have absolutely no idea how to re-enter the work force, if i even want to, or know how to, or can. I might cry about how that part of myself that i set adrift really did get lost and that i really never will get her back ... but another piece of me came sailing towards me the day i walked away from work, and that's the side of me I have loved growing into.


Monday, February 24, 2014

What i love about Africa ...

I stumbled across this little video today via Facebook. It made my day. Meet the Lion Whisperer...

And on the same theme, if i haven't mentioned them before, i really really loved the three books I read by the late Lawrence Anthony. I think they're a must-read for all of us.

The Elephant Whisperer
The Last Rhinos
And his amazing story of the Baghdad Zoo rescue.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

On Valentines Day ...

It's been the time of year for love-messages and Valentines cards and flowers and chocolate hearts in all the stores. Facebook has been full of roses and dinners and who was spoilt how, and that's all lovely and important. Taking time to let those we love, know it. Sharing our happiness online. It's all good.

I have mixed feelings about the day to start with. Growing up, it was for the older kids only - for when you really liked someone but were too shy to tell them. You gave them a card, secretly so they didn't see - like in their backback when they weren't looking, or slipped inside their desk (the old fashioned wooden ones that had a lid that opened). You might be brave enough to put a little clue in there ... a half name, a hint. Then you waited with breath-held to see if they figured it out. If they smiled at you differently. If you got a card in return. It wasn't a day for our parents or for anyone who was married - they had anniversaries to celebrate instead.

Nowadays it's become a commercial holiday and in the States even the preschools celebrate with handing out cards (make sure to give one to everyone in the class one so no one is left out) and parties. Cupcakes and treat bags and everything red and decorated. I do like it. Mostly. I think some of the magic has been lost. I think that the day originated in secret love notes and that's kind of the most fun ... but Americans are really really good at celebrating holidays and just making them a lot of fun, and actually I love that about living here. My cynical side just has to be quiet and join in the fun. I do miss the secret notes though, the anticipation. The anonymous roses. And yes, there were tears - more than once - but that high and low is part of life. I kind of liked it the old way.

But that aside ... we've been married a long time now and we've sometimes celebrated and we sometimes haven't. There have been years of new matching watches or big bunches of flowers and other years where it's been a simple card or a small heart shaped chocolate. I decorate the table and do a little goodie bag for the kids each year - a small gift and sweets, because living here, it means a lot to them. But for us ... it's not a big day at all. No fancy dinner or surprises. Do i sometimes wish there was a bit more romance ? Sometimes. But it's not what i signed up for, and i knew that at the time. For me there are other things that count. 

This year, on the surface it wasn't the greatest day. We had had more snowfall overnight - enough to make our drive difficult to navigate but not enough that i wanted the snow plow truck to make a call. So i started digging out tracks down the drive and clearing the area around the garage, so that Clint could drive out easily as he was taking our smaller car which doesn't have 4 wheel drive. I thought he was coming to help me. Half way down I heard the car behind me and there he was, racing to catch a train at 7.30. Happy Valentines Day i thought. Here i am shovelling snow alone, for him, and off he goes without a care in the world. I did a fair bit of stomping and shouting in my head. (Mainly cos there was no one around to listen and i did not want to frighten the deer).
All day long after breakfast I could smell a burning smell in the house. I tromped through the snow (which involved climbing out of a window as the kitchen door couldn't open with all the snow piled up against it) trying to check on the propane tank - which is in itself hilarious as i had no idea what to do when i got there, but at least i couldn't smell anything strange. I was painting furniture and thought maybe that was the cause of the smell but it seemed bad at times and in spite of the snow and freezing cold, i had to have the windows open all day long.
When Clint got home (late, long day at work) he thought it smelt like oil burning so we called our fuel company and they sent someone to check the furnace. That's what we were doing at 10.00 pm on Valentines Day. Turns out the furnace was fine and maybe it had backed up during the day because of snow on the chimney or maybe not, but we felt better knowing it was all ok.

So although on the surface it wasn't a romantic day I think after all these years it's other things I value. I shovelled the driveway to make Clint's journey to work a little easier ... it doesn't matter that he didn't have time to help (or that the driveway turns out to have been TOTALLY fine to drive down without the shovelling, as shown by his get-away). That was my little gesture of caring.
And we had a furnace repairman in our house that night because although he really didn't want to, my husband could see how stressed I was by the fumes and how worried I was that we were all going to blow up. Even though he was tired and trying to eat his dinner, he called the company for me when i wasn't up to dealing with anything, and arranged for someone to come to the house. He appreciated that I needed the peace of mind to be able to get to sleep that night. And that's what i got. 
So although we might not celebrate with big romantic gestures (a small bouquet of roses was just perfectly big enough for me this year) and a shovelled driveway and a furnace repairman are not normally associated with the romantic day of the year, i have learnt to find love in the everyday. In the ways we are thoughtful about each other. We don't always get it right, and sometimes I have to look really hard ..... but those small things we do for each other are the stitches in the fabric that is our life together. For every day. And for me that's good enough.