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?