There was a time when the first day of a new job would have seen me arriving early, freshly scrubbed and dressed – if not smartly, then in the way I had planned to dress. As opposed to this haphazard, breathless arrival, fresh apologies tumbling from my lips, shoes once again clashing with my outfit, having forgotten my lunch. I really didn’t think that this phase would last so long. Initially I thought that once the breastfeeding stage was over, and my daughter didn’t see a clean nappy as her cue to ‘perform’, I would be breezing into work on time and unruffled. Later, I thought that this would come once she was able to feed herself without help and encouragement, then I decided it must happen when she learnt to dress herself independently. I soon revised this opinion, assuming that this would happen once she learnt to do her own hair (I am still traumatised by those days of trying to do symmetrical plaits and her shrieking ‘no! Daisy’s plaits don’t look like that! Do it again!’ while I fought to restrain myself from hitting her over the head with the brush). In the end I decided that stress-free mornings must come when children start secondary school at 11 years old, by which time they can dress themselves, get up early to do their own hair, and walk to school on their own.
Not so. 11 years after I gave birth to her, at 8am on a Monday morning, first day of new job which starts at 830am, she is saying
‘Mum, I need you.’
‘Why NOW, child, why do you need me NOW? I have to be on time today, remember?’
She has lost her school tie (it’s her first day back after the holidays) and she cannot possibly walk to school without a tie. She needs a lift to school, apparently, and she needs me to go to the school office with her to buy the tie, because this transaction is completely beyond her. Of course, I take her, I buy her the tie, I stand there while she ties it. Now like a pea in a pod with all the other identically dressed children, she is confident enough to walk out through the playground on her own. I also have to take this route. She peels away from me,
‘I’ll go first. Don’t embarrass me.’ I make a rueful face at her ungrateful back, remember I have to get to work in 15 minutes, and run to the car. I’ve had to revise my opinion yet again. Motherhood is a permanent state of being on call. It will never end, as long as I am me and she is she. Maybe if I was a different type of mother, a different type of worker, then I would be able to get to work on time despite hearing that phrase
‘I need you.’ Maybe she wouldn’t say it in the first place; maybe she would be a different type of child. But I am that kind of mother, and she is that kind of child, and – miracle of miracles – I seem for once to have found that kind of boss.
A kind boss. A boss who says
‘I know what it’s like when you have kids.’
This sounds like a woman who has walked a mile in my moccasins – and even if she has never worn moccasins, would be willing to walk a mile in mine before judging me.
While she seems to demand (and will get) total commitment from me during the working day, she understands that my commitment ends the minute my working day ends – and not a second later.
‘We all leave on time,’ she says ‘I make sure of it.’
Not only that, she has offered me a reduced-hours contract so that I can work 6-hour days, which allow me to meet my child’s needs as well as do my job. How much easier would life be for working women if every boss were like this? I have been lucky enough to get a 30-hour contract on more than one occasion, and I have also attempted to work a full-time day, as a mother. I know that the extra hour and a half at work makes my life torture, although it significantly increases my pay. Arriving home with an exhausted child, doing homework, cooking dinner, getting them fed, washed and in bed for a reasonable hour, is basically impossible, although getting all this done in time for a late bedtime is possible. This leads to grouchy mornings, and endless shouting. I attempted this as a single parent, and I felt as if I was constantly yelling ‘HURRY UP’ at my daughter, in those brief stressful periods which were the only times I spent with her:
‘Hurry up, you’re going to be late for school,’ and ‘Hurry up and get to bed, you’ve got school in the morning.’
The 30-hour contract saved my life. I honestly don’t believe that I did any less work than anybody else despite being at work for less time, and this was borne out by my experience of full-time work. People might have been sat in the office all day, but there were stretches of down time when their work rate slowed; they lost concentration, stretched, ate, chatted or strolled around. I simply missed out all of this down time with my shorter day. Despite this, the perception that I was less hard-working than the full-timers was hard to throw off. I experienced resentment from other workers as they saw me leave early, despite the fact that I actually completed the same job as them but in less time, and for lower pay.
I assumed that once my daughter reached high school, I would throw myself into some kind of career, and feel a true part of the workforce with their macho insistence on working kamikaze hours. But no. She still needs me, and as long as this is the case, my commitment to any job is limited. So to have a boss who offers me a part-time contract without my having to ask, and insists that I leave on time rather than tutting about it, is a dream come true.
Hopefully 2014 is going to be my kind of year…