‘What do you do with all your free time’?

There’s considerable feminist debate about whether or not having children makes you feel stupid (note the word FEEL stupid rather than actually reduce your IQ).  I would like to weigh in on the side of ‘yes, it makes you somewhere between a slack-jawed dribbling cretin (on a bad day) and a just about functioning just about productive member of society who may or may not have had the nous to put on matching socks (on a good day)’.  Counter arguments – but what about those politicians who go back to work barely minutes after having children and manage to run the country whilst looking polished and groomed and perfect? what about the countless talented and brilliant women up and down the land who create amazing art / save lives / teach our precious children??  Yes.  Women are inherently superb.  Women are also inherently good at putting a brave face on.  Most of the time.  I can pretty much guarantee that all of these super duper women doing super duper jobs (be it at home or in paid work) are  at least one of the following: knackered, calling their children by the wrong names on a daily basis, having a minor melt down about what the hell everyone is going to eat tonight, counting down to a respectable hour to open a bottle of wine, bickering with their other halves about who is the most tired and who does the most round the house, having a little cry in the toilets. (That’s not to say that in between these crises women aren’t pretty much running the whole she-bang) I’m sure that it’s not just me.  But then again since having the boys I am certifiably quite dumb far more than I ever used to be – so there is a fair chance that this hypothesis is flawed.

After Christmas Mitch started school.  Well that’s what he says – but he’s actually on a mission to convince everyone that he is really 5 (like his big brother) rather than his paltry 3.  His first method of doing so was steadfastly refusing to admit that he could count.  1,2,8, 12 – “I FIVE”.  He’s abandoned this pretence now he’s started school.  His logic “my big brother who is FIVE goes to school and now so do I so I FIVE TOOOOOOOOOO”.  Well, no.  He goes to the nursery at school just for the afternoon each day.  He does get to hang out with his brother and all of the other 5 year olds though as the foundation stage is all one big happy chaotic blur of small snot dribbling noisy monsters.   This has added to his conviction that he is one of the big boys now.  He has a uniform and everything to prove it.  Yesterday we spent half an hour arguing about his next birthday (which is not until November anyway) – he said “will I be FIVE then” (FIVE is always bellowed for some reason as he clearly is of the opinion that anyone who says he is three is in the category of stupid, feeble, old person who needs to be shouted at) “no Mitch you will be four” “Hmmmm, I not want to be four I will be FIVE instead” “It doesn’t work like that” “I not like four” “Doesn’t matter if you like it or not, that’s your next birthday” “No, I will be FIVE and Corey will be FIVE and we will be FIVE together” “But when you’re FIVE Corey will be SEVEN” *bottom lip comes out and inconsolable tears* *which stopped when I found him a MaltEaster Bunny*

So, since January I have both children at school for the afternoon.  If one more person asks me “so what are you doing with yourself now you’ve got all that time?” I swear I will spit in their face.  What do people want me to say?  “Yes, I am using that 2 and a half hours every day to work as a brain surgeon whilst also doing some worthwhile volunteer work and studying for a masters degree in social anthropology”.  What I want to say is “I slump on the sofa absolutely exhausted and watch Jeremy Kyle whilst eating a whole pack of chocolate hob nobs” which is pretty much what I think many people think I, and many other SAHM do anyway.  As I type it, it seems like a very pleasant and worthwhile way to spend the afternoon.

I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle.  I try and make sure that Mitch and I do something good together in the morning – be it playgroup, swimming lesson, play date with a friend, walk, cooking and then by the time I have dropped him at school and made lunch for myself it leaves 2 hours at the most before my next school run.  Factor in a bit of washing from the never-ending stack of dirty laundry, some hoovering, dinner prep and I have also been using the time to try and get properly fit this year (but I will do another post on that) then the time is gone.  I am also genuinely shattered at the moment.  I don’t think it’s just us but there has been one cold after another so far this year, as soon as one has gone the next one sets in which ultimately means I am permanently snotty and sleep deprived as the boys have been waking loads in the night and then kindly like to sneeze their germs into my face at 3 in the morning, whilst simultaneously using my neck as a pillow and kicking me repeatedly in the groin.

My husband has found it hilarious that last week I bought myself my own colouring book and felt-tips.  The official reason I’ve done so is that I am trying to get the boys to improve their fine motor skills and concentration skills.  The mid-level official reason is that I am tired and really do relish an activity that doesn’t involve me running round the garden/ park or crawling round the floor making something or looking for a car/monster/playmobil cannon.  The unofficial reason is that they make a right bloody mess of the felt-tips and always leave the tops off and the patterns in their books are rather juvenile (as you would expect for a book aimed at small boys) and I wanted one of my own.   We have been spending many a happy half hour sitting at the kitchen table chatting and colouring.  It’s been nice.  Sitting down is nice.

I must admit too that I have become a tad addicted to sitting eating my lunch on my own in peace, watching Rizzoli & Isles.  It is one of the worst detective shows ever made.  It juxtaposes preposterous crimes (which are always solved in one episode) with cheesy, wise-cracking dialogue about cake and high heels.  Bloody love it.  It’s about all, quite frankly, my brain can handle right now.

I am trying to write my book but am stuck in a bit of a rut there (partly because I just never seem to have any significant chunks of time, partly because I just don’t seem to feel very inspired at the moment), I’m trying to keep on top of my blog (failing at that), trying to keep the boys fed, watered and happy (seem to be managing that one).  I do three school runs a day.  I cook.  I craft a bit.  I read.  I run.  But it just feels at the moment that I am trying and failing.

Whatever I am doing in my ‘free time’ I feel a bit guilty about.  If I meet up with a friend for lunch or go shopping I have a ‘you’ve let woman-kind down and are a cheshire housewife cliche’ guilt, if I am exercising I think I should be cleaning the shit tip of a kitchen, if I am cleaning I think I should be exercising and getting myself thin and fit, if I am sitting slumped in a heap watching telly or heaven forbid having a nap because I have reached the weeping with exhaustion stage I feel guilty that it’s a big fat waste of an afternoon and that I am lazy.  I don’t even feel that great if I am doing writing because it’s not as though anybody’s life will be any different if they don’t read my blog and who the hell knows if I will ever manage to get my book published (which seeing as it’s largely unwritten at the moment seems a hell of a long way off).  I am at a bit of a loss to know what to do with my afternoons or how to shake the feeling that what it is that I’m doing currently just ‘isn’t enough’.

When my husband quipped last week “when I met you you were a successful lawyer and now you just watch Rizzoli & Isles and do colouring” it struck a chord. A rather hurtful one.  Is it true that everyone feels more stupid and insecure once they have kids?  Or is it just me?  Am I just telling myself that everyone else is also having a cry in the toilets because it all feels like too much to make myself feel better?

When I was working in the Civil Service last year I did regain a sense of pride in myself (and a mild bemusement that apparently under all the cbeebies kiddy stuff I did actually have a functioning brain that could do non-child related work – who knew?) but back at home this is fading a bit.  Society doesn’t appreciate raising children as a job and I think this means that even those of us who have chosen to do it full-time don’t really appreciate ourselves.  Should I feel a bit daft sitting colouring with my boys with my special felt-tips that they aren’t allowed to use? No.  Do you know what?  I am glad I can spend time with them every day after school.  Listen to how their days went and share their interests.  I won’t share my felt-tips though.  *might have lied to them and told them mummy’s felt-tips are permanent and will stain their tiny hands for ever and ever*