Currently, I am sat on my couch in my pyjamas. It is 2.45pm and I have just had a shower. I actually had time to put an intensive conditioner on my hair. I had time to lather myself in moisturiser from head to toe. I feel pretty good. Or I did, until the guilt set in.
As soon as I sat down my mind wandered to all the things I needed to do. Funnily enough, my mind never seems to total all the things I have already done this morning, but no matter. The only sound I can hear is the swirl and swish of the dishwasher (which only reminds me that I will need to empty it at some point.) The TV is off. I can’t hear the familiar sound of feet running across the landing or the shouts, laughs and yells of my three children. Today they are with their dad.
This month has been pretty non stop since New Year and then Christmas before that. And then Autumn term before that and the end of my marriage which was slap-bang in the middle of that term. I have had two colds, stomach flu, a migraine and Tonsillitis. Over Christmas, I cooked for my whole family (parents, sisters, brother-in-law and nephew and niece) five times. Following my Eldest son’s tenth birthday on New Year, my nephew turned one, my youngest turned three and my dad is 77 today. Each birthday has meant cake baking and party making and general heavy duty house cleaning.
And yet, for some bizarre reason, as I sit down after a great shower (do not under estimate how wonderful an undisturbed shower is) I feel guilty for not loading my over-worked washing machine with yet another load and even more guilty for not starting on the pile of exercise books waiting for me on the kitchen table.
Why? Why do I feel this way? I have not been lying bed all morning. I work full time and am a newly single mother of three children. Why do I feel so bad for just resting? Why do I feel anxiety in the pit of my stomach for not attempting the next chore on that never ending and ever growing list?
That list is the faceless dictator in my life. It governs and rules me and beats me when I cannot meet its demands. It taunts me when I am ill and guilts me on the rare occasions when I relax.
I love my job as a teacher. I love the many wonderful young people I get to meet and learn about each and every day. I love the satisfaction I feel when one of them is inspired by something I have said or taught them. I love the happiness I feel when I see the pure delight of a child who has done well. Make no mistake, teaching is a highly demanding job. Anyone who feels the need to mention the ‘holidays’ we have does not know a teacher. Ignoring the 50-60 hour weeks we have there is the constant pressure to perform and the pure and unrelenting angst when dealing with the many children we support as they fight through their own anxieties and woes.
And when we return home, physically and mentally and emotionally exhausted, we have to find the energy to love and nurture our own children. We have to find the time to make them nutritional, home cooked meals in an clean and tidy house.
As a working mum, I wake up and go to sleep to the sound of my own guilt in my head. It is the steady repetition of a list all the things I have not done today and all the things I have not done well. Because as a working mum, that is my life – a set of scales that bang and shriek as each side fights for supremacy and dominance over my time and effort . They are never in equilibrium.
There is no catharsis in writing this. If anything it has just augmented the feelings I work hard to suppress every day. And yet, by writing and not succumbimg to the pull of the washing machine or the marking, the scales are in balance. My time, right now, is not dominated by motherhood or by career but by ME. It is a strange concept and sits uneasily within me. I am going to have to work even harder to allow myself this time, in every sense of these words. I am never going to find me, or create the new me unless I give myself some time. This does not make me a bad mother or an incompetent teacher: that is the mantra that needs to replace the taunts of my to do list and its associated guilt.
The sounds of the dishwasher have stopped. It hasn’t beeped yet, but it will.