Friday, 7 October 2011
Buckling under the guilt
This week saw me punching the air triumphantly in a style normally only seen in schmaltzy 1980’s films like Top Gun. No, in fact, I didn’t just punch the air. I whooped like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (except in that film, Julia Roberts said her legs were 44inches long and I look more like a celebrating hobbit. Also, I’m not a prozzy unless you count the time I gave my husband a Popozogolou to get him to fix the shower door).
I was celebrating because my agent decided that my manuscript, Zeeba Marple, which is for children aged 9+, was finally ready to go off into the blue yonder into publisher land. I have been working on that bloody novel since last November, so it’s almost a year’s labour. It has been lovingly crafted with as much fun and imagination as possible. It has been written and rewritten and rewritten until it’s so polished, you can see your chins in it. It has had feedback from the savviest minds you can imagine and I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I managed to pull my ravaged mind through the dark pureed-Weetabix years of drooling with my children in front of Teletubbies and Mr. Fucking Tumble back into the sunlit lands of intelligible adult conversation and hummus. I am a creator. I am an author. I am more than my empty holdall of a belly and bingo wings. More than just Mummy.
But there lies the rub. I am WRACKED with guilt. I am CONVINCED I am a slightly shit mother. Why? Well, I think there’s some kind of evolutionary burden of guilt for women who try to juggle quality parenting with professional success and without the luxury of hired childcare. If you’ve tried to burn this candle at both ends, you’ll know that I’m telling the truth. This is how it happened to me:
Four years ago, my writing passion was reignited, after more than a decade on the shelf. I had been renovating two houses – a great career if you’ve got kids who see the fun in playing in building sand at Jewsons - but work had finished. The housing market had collapsed and so had my intentions of being Sarah Beeny Mk II with more disappointing boobs and a rubbish accent. Feeling at a loose end and not yet ready to go back to working in an office, I wrote a simple fairy story for my daughter. She loved it and so did I. I became quickly addicted to the creative fix that writing offered. It was like hobnobs in crack cocaine form. Better than that. My brain was thawing out and it had survived its cryogenic-hibernation-through-having-babies intact. Cue Julia Roberts whooping.
But I was skint. So I went back into an office part-time, reluctantly resurrecting my fundraising career, which I thought I had successfully killed dead and replaced with power tools and the ability to talk Plasterer fluently. Suddenly, I was balancing a three year old, a five year old, a part time job WHICH I LOATHED and my new obsession. I was DEFINITELY going to be a published children’s writer. This was it. Definitely me. I was going to show my children that with hard work, you can achieve anything.
But gradually, the more into writing novels I got, the less I could pay attention to my children as they clambered all over me, talking gibberish and smearing marmite on my dreams. I was in the room physically – perhaps more “there” than most parents but my mind was travelling through the Frankish Empire and flying with big bat wings through fantasy landscapes. I was in the tunnel. If Sid on CBeebies wanted me to pay attention, he was going to have to get his man-meat out on national TV for me to notice.
And so it has continued, this sub-standard parenting. I must be doing something right, of course, because my children haven’t got nits. They’re loved and can walk and eat vegetables. But they still talk shit at me at high velocity and volume. Now, more than ever, as my writing career really steps up by several notches, I am forced to triple-glaze over when they try to zap through to my tunnel with their laser-attack of spoken bollocks bullets. And the guilt: it’s getting far worse. Soon there will be book tours and possibly trips all over the world. I will have to leave them to eat Daddy’s poisonous cooking overnight or longer. He may not check that they’ve wiped their bums properly. But it’s kind of...tough shit. I have to relinquish control just for a while and the very fact that I think that kills me too.
I have no solution to this common problem of juggling. I am going to keep writing as well as I can. It’s who I’ve become. And of course, I’m going to keep trying my best at mothering. My children are still at the centre of my world, even if I do wish they’d shut it when I’m editing. I would rather shoulder this burden of guilt and be an excellent writer with mildly neglected children than be an excellent mother with neglected dreams and a heart full of regret.