I know I’m lucky. I don’t work, and that’s unusual for a mother these days. The extra money would be nice but a combination of lots of children, one of whom became very ill, and a paralysing lack of confidence in just what my marketable skills are after years of childbearing, have made working seem out of reach.
Once, I had a job. Before Steph and I got married, I worked in sales. That was an accident. I moved to London after graduating in French, and a recruitment agency put me forward for a position as a European sales rep. For two years I sold Turkish polyester to industrial weavers across Europe. I was 22, and had not the slightest enthusiasm for selling, but I had fun. I suspect I got the job because my skirt was on the short side. That’s not going to get me a job these days.
Not working (unless you count a tiny bit of paid writing) has meant spending a lot of time with my children. That hasn’t always felt like an unadulteratedly good thing for me or for them. I’ve sometimes thought that I’d be a better mother if I had a life beyond the house, and I have worried about the example I’m setting my daughters. Saz once told me half-jokingly that I needed to provide a positive female role model for the girls after she spent a night in hospital with Juliette. In the morning, Saz kissed her goddaughter goodbye and said she needed to get to her office. “Girls don’t work,” laughed Juliette, indulgent in her godmother’s delusion. “Only mens do.”
My own mother didn’t work or at least, not outside the home. When school fees became too much of a burden, she opened our big, lovely but shabby house to guests. Foreign language students we loved and welcomed into the family. Bed and Breakfast visitors, less so. A creative soul, she could have been an actress and has a beautiful singing voice, but she was never encouraged. I did hope I’d be different.
My “failure” in the role of mother when Juliette died and the ensuing depression, blinded me. I felt useless, nothing more than my children’s unemployed carer, a benign yet passive shepherd with little influence. Worse, at times I’d become a malevolent instrument of hurt as the demons of depression took hold. I started to believe my children needed protection from me.
Therapy, blessed therapy, has made me value my role as their mother again. Writing this blog now I feel somewhat shamefaced to admit that it’s more by accident than design that motherhood has been my career. I look at my children. In the past I’ve been surprised at what fabulous people they are. This may sound falsely modest but I truly believed and goodness in them was a happy accident, nothing to do with input I’d had. Now I accept that I’ve had a hand in shaping them, but the clay is resolutely their own.
It’s seems a while since I’ve felt this way, but I’m loving the holidays. I usually appreciate not having to skitter out of bed to make packed lunches and chase after uniforms, but it’s more than that. The house is a tip, but rather than slip into my default (depressed) hysteria at the mess, I’m coping with it. I’m just loving being around the children, and that’s making my heart sing. For me, the most terrifying aspect of depression is how disconnected you become from the people you love. But the summer holidays loom long, and I feel like I’m getting to know and love my children all over again. It feels amazing.
I’d had a bit of a break from therapy but I was back at the Priory on Monday. The timing wasn’t great with the holidays, but Elodie had enough energy to take charge at home and I reminded myself that they all need me to be well. I had an hour with my counsellor, then morning and afternoon groups. Unusually, I was the only person in each group, so it ended up being six hours of one-to-one therapy. The whole day was about Elodie and her situation, which has been weighing very heavily on my mind. There’s a lot more to her illness than anyone knew.
When I got home, all four children were grinning from ear to ear. They’d had a wonderful day, and had organised a “photo shoot” as a surprise for me. These are some of the pictures they took.
Despite our run of bad luck, I am still a believer in fate. I struggle to imagine how we would have coped with our young family had I been working when Juliette was ill. Less so how I would have grieved, and given each of them the support they needed. Now, Elodie needs some intensive love and what I’d be able to offer at the top and tail of the day just wouldn’t be enough, for either of us. I’m a huge admirer of mothers who manage to juggle work and child rearing. A big part of me feels they are more important, better people than me, but for our family so long as we can manage it, I’ll be at home. And if that means steering our way from one financial crisis to the next, then so be it.