I think we’ll visit the castle tomorrow

30 Jul

I was doing the dishes and listening to a radio programme about Muriel Spark and her new biography.

I had forgotten that Muriel Spark’s son lived with her parents. The biographer explained this by saying something along the lines of, ‘She couldn’t do the kind of writing she wanted to do and look after him’.

And that was interesting, because just that morning I’d been writing in my diary about the conflict between the two things I’m trying to combine – firstly, putting on a show; and secondly, showing my boys some of the world.

The conflict between being a writer and being a mum.

I don’t want this to be a conflict. In fact, one of the appeals of coming to Edinburgh was the opportunity to immerse my boys in my ‘work’. (For now, let’s leave aside definitions of work, and whether or not this counts towards my ‘career’ and whether or not you have to make a living from it in order for it to count as work). When I was deciding whether or not coming to Edinburgh was a good use of some very precious funds, I looked on it as a chance – probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance – to show my boys that life can be filled with all sorts of bits and pieces and in all sorts of different ways (though at the same time, reminding them – constantly – how bloody lucky they are – again, another post for another day).

My wish to show them this side of me (my ‘work’) is probably closely related to my current obsession with validating the contribution that I make to my relationship and to my family. Which is fuelled by all sorts of things. Ego; and becoming an orphan; and turning 40; and waking up and finding myself an expat wife; and having no career to speak of; oh, and being middle class enough to have the luxury of obsessing over such things.

But I do obsess over it, and that obsession has been exacerbateted by our move to Abu Dhabi where the mister and I have roles that are even more gender-defined than they were at home. I worry at the ‘example’ I set my children. I worry (and the mister does too) that our children see – that they live – such a gender-specific life where the mister goes out to work and I pick the kids up from school.

But it’s funny, because if we hadn’t moved to Abu Dhabi, I never would have come and put on my own show. I would have looked at Edinburgh, from Adelaide, and thought, ‘How could I do that with children? Just how?’

Like I said a few posts ago, when I did start thinking about doing this, I really had no idea how I was going to make it work, bringing the lads along. But like I also said, bringing them here was no harder than any other plan for being away from Abu Dhabi. And in the end it worked out okay, because the mister can get a few weeks off and he’ll be here soon and he won’t be missing his connecting flight (I’ve forgiven him for it, I really have).

But my goodness it’s up and down, polishing a script and rehearsing and looking after little boys who, even when they’re quiet, are pretty loud. Yesterday morning, the two things that I’m trying to be right now – a writer and a mother – were completely incompatible.

I needed, more than I needed anything else, to work through my script. To look at it word by word, to reassure myself it was finished, to immerse myself in it just a little bit more (I’m sure that sounds wanky, and I do apologise for that). To get this work done I woke up early, kept telling my children to ‘put the television back on’ and let them ladle sugar on their weetbix.

Perhaps they got wind of my urgency, because they co-operated by burrowing themselves away in cubbies made of curtains, playing three games of Cluedo without an argument (two pounds fifty at the oxfam shop that game cost and all that was missing was instructions), reading, working in their sketchbooks and munching their way through a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut paste and several punnets of berries.

The writer in me was almost happy. The work had to be done, and I love my script, I just love it, and working on it always makes me feel good.

But at the same time, the mother in me couldn’t help thinking that my boys weren’t doing anything that they couldn’t be doing at home. And not only that, but here they were, cooped up in one small room, with no yard for soccer or cricket and nowhere for mixing mud potions with added stones. This isn’t broadening their horizons, it’s limiting them.

I don’t want to do everything. I just want to do what I do do well.

Anyhoo, I’d made a bargain with myself (and written in my diary, so I couldn’t back out), that I would find us a routine where I spend the morning working and in the afternoons, we go exploring.

So I got a few hours done, then off we went for a run in Holyrood Park and a fossick through Our Dynamic Earth. It was brilliant. Wonderful. And when, after carefully reading all of the information and pressing all of the interactive buttons, my little boy said, ‘Yes, but who is going to tell us where the first dinosaur came from’, I would not have been anywhere else in the world. And then we ran home around – but not up – Arthur’s Seat and my goodneess me, they are thistles over there, and the crag is gorgeous and that grass really does wave in the wind and now our umbrellas have blown inside out, and how lucky are we to be seeing all this?

So I don’t know. What’s the answer?

Because one moment, those two things, being a writer and being a mother are completely incompatible. And the next, they are a perfect fit.

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16 Responses to “I think we’ll visit the castle tomorrow”

  1. kate July 30, 2009 at 3:29 am #

    I understand why this all bothers you, and it bothers me too periodically. That said, it probably doesn’t need to. I’m not sure it’s bad for kids to have their parents tell them to entertain themselves with limited resources occasionally. It’s a challenge, and they rose to it without getting stuck into the booze, which is what I would do if I was confined to a small apartment on a rainy day in Edinburgh.

    A friend of mine is the child of two commedians. When she was a baby and toddler they ran a comedy club and left her sleeping in a caravan out the back. They checked on her between skits. They also took her and her sister to Edinburgh, and it’s one of their fondest childhood memories.

  2. peppermintpatcher July 30, 2009 at 3:40 am #

    Strange thing about kids is that in about a month you’ll ask them what they think was the best thing about visiting Scotland. You’ll be thinking about the wonderful expreiences you provided, the horizons you expanded, the information you shared and wondering what they treausre the most. They’ll consider for a moment and say that they most loved it when the hotel had taps that were purple or when they saw a man on the train who had a funny hat.

    Kids find their own moments to treasure and they are never the ones that parents thin they are providing. Their worlds look nothing like ours and that’s why we keep them around – to remind us that it’s not always as serious as we think…

  3. peppermintpatcher July 30, 2009 at 3:41 am #

    think – not thin…

  4. franzy July 30, 2009 at 4:19 am #

    My mum took me with her to complete her masters degree at Colchester uni when I was four. She was studying and I was … filling up my brain with crystal clear, beautiful, valuable memories of snow, slush, a house with stairs, this awesome little car I had, the smell of coal, yak yak yak. I’m sure Mum spent a lot of time doing boring stuff, but I never remembered those times. Why would I? What would there be to make them stand out?

    Now I’m stuck where you are. Working full time and trying to pretend to be a writer still while M raises our son and pretends (better than me) to be a writer.

  5. Stomper Girl July 30, 2009 at 5:52 am #

    I like that my children know I have a purpose in life in addition to their upbringing! And I think it is so true about all the compromises we have to make in order to achieve a reasonable balance between the parenting and the other. That there are days when I say Just leave me alone kids I really need to finish this and others where I ignore the list of things to do in order to take the kids to the park or the museum. I think you are an inspiration with your book and your show and even the fact that you DID uproot yourself in the first place when as you said the person with the most to lose and the least to gain was you. And your boys sound like very good eggs indeed, so doesn’t sound like you’ve mucked up this quality parenting lark!

  6. Kath Lockett July 30, 2009 at 7:15 am #

    I’m kinda sorta in the same boat, but not as far away from Adelaide as you are.

    As a work-from-home struggling writer who puts the ‘free’ in freelance, husband and my roles do seem very traditional to the outsider.
    He works full time in the city and I’m hope to drop off and pick up our daughter from school.

    During the day, it’s impossible NOT to ‘put a couple of loads on’, or unpack the dishwasher, pay some bills online or do the weekly shop. I earn a pittance and want our weekends to be relatively free of housework.

    As Peppermintpatcher said so well, kids see things so differently to us. I never noticed that my mother’s cooking or housework wasn’t up to scratch like she feared; or that she never had time to read to me. I noticed how creative, kind and clever she was and how I could ask her *anything*. Her honesty and forthrightness provided most of my friends with the sex education they needed!

    As for my child, I asked her a few days ago, ‘How do you describe me to your friends?’
    She said, “You’re a Mum who is a writer, you have lots of notebooks and ideas you’re working on and you’re also my friend. I like the way we say and do silly things when no-one else is around but us.” So, nothing about having clean clothes, a full fridge, dog-hair-free rugs on Fridays or lugging your musical instruments to school and back, then…?

  7. innercitygarden July 30, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    The more I think about it, the more I think half a day of exploring really is plenty. Trying to do too much ruins a holiday. If you were dragging them around ticking off everything there is to see in Scotland, they’d be tired, cranky and miserable (well, I would, if I were them). Kids need time to just hang out, even if they are on holidays in an exciting new place.

  8. Cristy July 30, 2009 at 7:33 am #

    I also struggle with this balance thing – and the whole traditional gender roles thing (what with working from home etc) – but I think that you are doing a fabulous job.

    Have you read “The Divided Heart” by Rachel Power? It is an excellent read and addresses this exact issue so so well.

  9. Cristy July 30, 2009 at 7:33 am #

    I also agree with Kate – trying to do too much totally ruins a holiday.

  10. Melody July 30, 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    Edinburgh is an awesome city! We’ve promised Monet we’ll take her to Scotland, next time we are UK bound (after all, my Grandparents were Scottish!)

    Okay, so if you were still in Adelaide it would be freezing and you’d be stuck inside. If you were spending your summer here in Abu Dhabi, you’d be stuck inside. You are in Scotland and you can at least get out and do stuff, even if for a few hours a day.

    I know for you, like for us, moving to AD took a lot of thought. We questioned ourselves a lot of the time thinking that we were taking our daughter, our parent’s grandchild (my parent’s ONLY grandchild) out of the country, to not just anywhere in the world, but the Middle East. But part of our thinking is that we want to show Monet that you can do anything, you can uproot and settle somewhere – even somewhere where it is 50 degrees outside AND survive. At the end of the day, I will make sure that Monet knows we did it partly for her – we see living here as a stepping stone to where we actually want to settle one day. That one day is still far off in the distance but we know we will get there one day.

    The world is an amazing place; for all of us.

  11. Deborah July 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    The thing is, I admire you so much! I know you’re agonising your way through this knot of your own work, and supporting your mister, and loving and rearing your children, but somehow, you seem to be getting it about right, sort of, for you, and for your lads, and for your mister. S’not easy, at all, but what you are doing and achieving seems good to me.

    “S’not” reminds me of a joke. Your boys will like it.

    Q. What’s the difference between snot and broccoli.

    A. Kids don’t eat broccoli.

  12. planetnomad July 31, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    Oh how I can relate to your strange conundrum. It’s very hard to combine other things with motherhood, but it sounds like you’ve found a good solution. And it never hurts for kids to learn to entertain themselves.
    Good luck.

  13. Helen August 2, 2009 at 5:39 am #

    Read children’s stories – Nesbit, Blyton, Ransome – from the earlier C20, you know, when Women Knew Their Place Before All This Bloody Feminism.

    Where are the parents?

    That’s right, they stayed out of the picture doing Adult Things while the kids used their imagination and interacted with each other and created their own adventures.

    Not 24/7 mind, I’m sure the parents were providing meals and clean beds and baths which aren’t part of the story. But this C21 obsession with pumping our kids with “enrichment” every moment is part of the megatheocorporatocracy. Not that a good bit of culture-vulturing and new experiences isn’t good. But hell, they are travelling a lot. They probably NEED unenriched Cluedo/sketchbook down time.

    I once used to be in your boys position, as my Dad used to have temporary overseas posts. Some of the time I was doing awesome new things, some of the time I was content just to read books and vegetate. And I think that’s OK. And my parents took me on very few Cultural Outings, at least in the 60s, and that was considered OK.

  14. Ariel August 16, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    I think sitting in a cubby house of blankets playing Cluedo and eating bread and berries sounds like an excellent thing for two small boys to be doing. What Helen said about imagination and parent-free time and, yes, the value of them being bored.

    I bet if you asked them if they’d rather be off on this big adventure and occasionally have to make their own fun in one room while you work, or be at home as per usual, they’d choose the adventure. This sounds like such a great experience for them – it’s making me want to take F away somewhere.

    It sounds to me like you do a brilliant job of combining parenting & work. It’s always going to be messy and you’re always going to feel guilty and like you should be doing more. That’s motherhood, I reckon!

  15. Ariel August 16, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    PS. Agree with Cristy on The Divided Heart – read it if you haven’t. When you get back of course …

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