I am in the mood for writing long, philosophical posts on the nature of Things at the moment. This is partially because my only plan for the day is cleaning, which I have absolutely zero enthusiasm for (my mum arrives in 2 days, which I'm certain will provide all the necessary 'motivation' I need) and partly because I am still ill, despite hard-working penicillin and steroids. The ear infection just won't clear, and I remain vaguely in pain all the damn time. I've gone from wishing the ear infection would just go so I can have the baby already to wishing the baby was out so I could really seriously blast the ear infection and sleep for a couple of hours in a row (I'm not fussy- two hours would do nicely. And probably optimistic if the baby is here...)
But I don't want to write about ear infections, or incidentally, about the Cystitis the cat developed over the weekend, meaning that first thing in the morning and last thing at night have become some sort of insane merri-go-round of medications. This made me think of my old job at Bankfoot, a respite centre for children with learning disabilities. I worked there for 18 months, and despite it being one of the hardest jobs it's ever possible to undertake, I miss it horribly.
I spent the morning reading blog posts, as I often do when I don't have to be anywhere early in the morning; cup of tea in hand, stacks of pillows around me in bed and Feedly making a good looking magazine spread on my Kindle. I read the words- your words, mainly, people who read the things I write, and spend the day mulling them over. The 8-hour time difference means I can rarely join in the discussions about them, the moment has passed and the article is old news by the time I get to it, but I think and think and think, imagining my responses. Today, I read The Little Pip talk about a Guardian article on Motherhood as the 'most important job in the world'* and found myself nodding along like mad with her response. Now I come at things from a fundamentally opposite viewpoint of the author, since I am going to be a stay at home mum, rather than a working mum. Her blog is predominantly about being a working mum, so often lots of it doesn't feel relevant to me. But the idea of parenting- in any and all of its guises- being a social relationship rather than a job makes my heart sing.
I adored working at Bankfoot. I would accidentally turn up early and just start work. I'd stay late and not think twice about it. I would work for 12 hours, then sleep over and get up twice during the night to deal with things that came up and get up at 6am and work for another 2 or 3 hours before getting on a bus that would take me an hour to drop me off at home and then do it all again when I got a 'we're short staffed' phone call a few hours later. I worked a night shift, awake all alone for 12 hours, then got 2 buses, got lost and walked for 40 minutes straight after because I realised that one of the young people did not have his swimming kit, and he would miss out if I didn't get it to him by 10.30am.
That job, whilst it was most definitely a job- I definitely got paid for it- was completely underpinned by social relationships. My own tiredness, my own revulsion at the task at hand (and believe me, there was PLENTY to be revulsed by...) the bruises (including a black eye just days before my wedding day) and cuts (so many cuts) was always negated by the needs of the young people, by the joy I got from walking through the door and hearing the loud music and seeing the smiles or hearing screeches or roars of laughter. And it was hard. Harder then anything else I have ever done or ever will do. Whether that was watching a child self harm out of sheer frustration, getting a knock to the head from a stray fist that left me seeing stars, or even when I knew I was irritating my colleagues because I didn't agree with them about the best way to do something (they irritated me too at times. Those were LONG days to work under stress in such a small team.) I was never, ever sorry that I was there. I have never known hard work like it. But it wasn't just my job, it was a part of me. Or more specifically, those relationships, with the kids and the other staff, were.
Now of course being a parent is different because not only do you have tiny overlords you can have a great deal of fun with, but you made those overlords yourself. I guess I am thinking about how lucky I am to have had a job where it was so much more than 'just a job'. It sets up being a stay-at-home-mum in some ways. The thanklessness of so many of the tasks (we were certainly not appreciated as heroes at the respite centre. There was always something we were doing wrong. Usually many things. But that's another conversation for another day) mixed with the never ending propulsion to do them because they needed done and the person you were caring for needed you and JUST GET ON WITH IT. There is no glamour or glory in being a care worker. It's a minimum wage job (for many, not us, thankfully) with next to no qualifications required. There is no status, or 'pioneering' in it. It does nothing to forward the role of women in the wider world- I'm sure it would be considered positively anti-feminist to read stories and hold hands and clean up poo and be another woman in a care role but I didn't care and I loved every minute of it. It was the role that has had the single biggest impact in my life, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat, regardless of what others feel my degrees and education are 'worth'.
So what is my point? I don't have one really. I miss working there. I think it's prepared me for being at home. Most of the young people were non-verbal, so I'm used to not having 'adult conversation' for large chunks of the day- I had really great communication though. I know that changing a nappy is the most unrelenting, soul destroying thing you can do with your day, safe in the knowledge that you will have to do it all over again in a few hours. But I also understand the value in treating such a task as something important, a way to show the person you are caring for that you respect them.
I imagine that it's in large part my personality, but in my mind EVERYTHING is better is you treat it as a continuation of a social relationship rather than a 'job', although I know life doesn't always work that way. Working in the bookshop at WH Smith felt like a series of social relationships through warm and affectionate interactions with customers. My insurance job did, until I was moved to the sales department and it suddenly didn't. So how I spend my day, from now on at home with a baby and a cat, is important to me, to us, to our family, but probably not anyone else. And that is really ok with me.
*Who says it is? Seriously, I get so confused with this constant supposed 'battle' between parents who have a job and those who stay at home so confusing. I don't know anyone else who will be at home with their kids. Literally everyone I know works. I have no strong feelings about any way of doing anything because a) I just don't know and b) honestly, don't really care. I swear newspapers just perpetuate it so this lady and contemporaries can write articles.