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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Mothering, Writing, Pilating, Guilt

February 28th, 2012 at 13:26

I finished my short story! It feels like a big achievement, the first thing finished of the year. This is going to be my year of finishing things, and rewriting things, and submitting things. Many things. For the first time in a while, I don’t have a contract or official deadlines which means I have to MAKE MY OWN.

Today is Pilates Day, an activity I took up when Justine Larbalestier started evangelising about how important it was for writers to start that kind of stuff BEFORE developing RSI or some other work related injury. When I started, it was amazing how many people were there to fix something awful they had done to their bodies. I would feel a bit abashed about being there pre-emptively, but it seems the thing to do.

Pilates is one of those things I had to circumvent a lot of guilt to allow myself to do – because it’s something that’s about ME and not the family. Especially when I was using household money to pay my way – but since our last big budget rehaul, I’ve been paying for it myself and buying less things on the internet in order to do so, which means I feel less like I have to justify This Thing.

(I know, by the way, that I shouldn’t have to justify it, and what’s good for me is good for the family and so on, but logic is logic and guilt is guilt)

Managing guilt is a huge aspect to being a working mother. Or a mother full stop, I guess. (it’s also one of the hardest aspects to reconcile with being a feminist – what works in theory often falls down in practice, and when the baby’s screaming, theory doesn’t help much!) I find it interesting when talking to other mothers that we all have different lines of guilt, those which we cross regularly and feel bad about, those which we try not to cross and feel AWFUL about, and those which we are okay with.

One of my lines is that I don’t use paid daycare for Pilates. I only have two days a week for the 2 year old in daycare, and I need those days for writing! I also use that time for shopping, housework, chores etc. but I’m well aware of how much writing and writing-related work I have to do that doesn’t quite fit into those days. Daycare days are my days where getting shit done is a lot easier than any other time.

I’m lucky that I have no guilt at all associated with daycare. But then, my kids have always loved daycare, and benefited from it. Our local centre is a really good one. And it constantly annoys me as a feminist that, when telling people that my daughter is in daycare, I always feel the need to tell them STRAIGHT AWAY how much she enjoys it, and the direct benefits she gets from going there, regardless of the whole ‘mummy needs to be sane, mummy needs to get her work done, no matter what’ issue. I shouldn’t justify myself, but… I guess there’s a hint of pre-emptive defensiveness sloshing around in there.

So lucky to have sociable children, though! I have witnessed the pain and stress of parents who have to fight their kids (and their own overwhelming guilt) to leave them at daycare, and it’s dreadful to see them go through that. I empathise deeply.

As we figured out on our last budget, it’s a bit dicey as to whether we can afford that second day. But one is NOT ENOUGH. Our compromise was that I would try to contribute the equivalent of that one day in my occasional income over the year (the kind that arrives in random cheques, fits and starts). I always knew daycare was worth it, so never really paid attention to quite how much it costs, but we’re talking $3000 over the year for each day. So, um, yes. There’s another level of guilt associated with those days – I always feel the pressure to make them REALLY REALLY PRODUCTIVE.

That is what we call Useful Guilt.

This, by the way, is my own way of looking at the world. Other people can spend their daycare days however they like! Mother guilt is kind of a personal, specific thing. Like body image, it’s amazing how many women can be deeply critical of themselves and yet happily encourage others to not feel bad at all, without even noticing the disconnect.

I couldn’t attend my weekly Pilates class if not for the voluntary service of one of my parents. This is another common thread of modern motherhood – reliance on the next generation up for unpaid daycare and babysitting, in order for our own family to function. The upside of this is that my Mum and Jem get some time together weekly (and it’s an arrangement that doesn’t have to change during the school holidays, which is a major plus – she can just include Raeli in the morning’s plans). There are other direct benefits – Mum is flexible, so I can extend my Pilates class into getting other chores done, parcels posted, PO Box checked, and even having lunch occasionally with my honey. Plus she always does my washing up, and sometimes cleans the floor too. MY MOTHER IS AWESOME.

The key to making Tuesdays work for me is to not plan to get much of anything done. Which is fine except when I have a daily writing target I have to reach.

My Dad chips in with at least one Raeli pick up a week, which extends one of my paid daycare days to 7.5 hours entirely child free instead of having to do the school run with my older child hours before I have to pick up the younger one. Which is fine until soccer season starts. At least Raeli can occupy herself for a couple of hours – far more than when she was younger. She has discovered comics and (in the last fortnight) chapter books, so hooray!

A huge decision this year, which turned out to be more drama than I hoped, was to move Raeli’s after school gymnastics from a Jem daycare day to a NOT Jem daycare day. It means a hideous Wednesday now, as it turns out that the cute little cage full of toys to occupy stray children is busier than a traffic intersection, and Jem didn’t want a bar of it. She spent the whole gymnastics session clinging to me and eating potato chips pointedly. But the pay off is that Thursday now is calm and streamlined – last year we had Raeli after school activities on both daycare days which was a bit frustrating.

All dull details for my readers, I expect! But the upshot is that all this juggling means that time is incredibly valuable to me. My time is money – because a good chunk of my writing time is paid for, by me or by our household budget, and thus is money not paying off the mortgage. So that adds a certain pressure not only for me to be personally productive, but to get paid for my work. I think a lot harder now before doing favours for people, or volunteering time.

I didn’t do a single hour of classroom help last year, which I felt extremely bad about, because we’re supposed to have that time, aren’t we? Supposed to give that time to our school and our kids. Without parent help, for instance, the classroom is so pushed that kids don’t get tested on their spelling. So there was a bunch of guilt. But not enough guilt to give up my rare, precious paid-for hours.

All this is great but it makes for a lousy writing day – often I don’t get home until 12-1pm, and of course I have to leave the house at 2:30 to pick up Raeli from school. Luckily my mother is good at getting Jem down for her nap early – later naps are starting to become a drama for us, because if she doesn’t fall asleep until 1:30, dragging her up for the school run becomes miserable for everyone.

These are the things I think about when people say ‘how on earth do you get any writing done?’

My answers, given with suitable facial indications as to how serious I’m being:

“Well, I don’t, really. Have you seen how many books other writers can get done in a year?”
“Panic = adrenalin.”
“I’m a really bad housewife.” (true, though I make more effort since podcasts)
“Daycare helps.”
“My mum cleans my house.”
“I neglect my children.” (mostly not true, though it felt like that the day my toddler punched my laptop)
“Oh, well, you know.” (translation: if I don’t write, I won’t write, and that’s not an option, what do you people who don’t write novels do with all that time pouring out of your ears?)

Mostly when people ask how I get my writing done, I resist the urge to laugh bitterly in their faces, and then try to tactfully answer so as not to in any way imply that they are in no way at fault for not writing novels themselves in the spare time they don’t have. Which means I completely never take the credit for all the work I do, and the effort I put into that work.

When you love something, you make time for it. I chew pieces off the ends of other pieces of time, and jam them all together with sticky tape. I never really stop and smell the roses, because I’m too busy trying to squeeze my time dry, three times over. I have no hobbies that aren’t, somehow, also work. Sometimes I let my kids watch too much TV. I never do enough housework. I don’t get enough exercise. I expect a lot of my partner.

I write because I write because I write.

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2 Responses to “Mothering, Writing, Pilating, Guilt”

  1. Thoraiya Says:

    “When you love something, you make time for it.” Good answer! When I was at uni and people asked me how I’d had time to write a book, the easy answer was “I don’t drink.” People would think about the strange life of someone who doesn’t drink, and then nod fervently in understanding, haha.

  2. tansyrr Says:

    It’s a horrible question, isn’t it, the how do you make time? It feels like a more aggressive aspect of the vague ‘oh I’m going to write a book someday when I have time.’ And it feels like there is NO WAY you cannot answer it without somehow sounding judgemental that they have not likewise found time to write a book.

    “I don’t drink” is a good one. I tend to go with ‘Daycare helps,” which is mostly true, if I can then shut up from being defensive about daycare for ten minutes.

    But often I play down how hard it is, which upsets me after the fact.

    Basically people shouldn’t ask the question. They should just say ‘well done, you. that was clever.’ and move on. Sigh.

    (often I want to say DON’T QUESTION IT OR IT MIGHT DISAPPEAR but I never do)

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