Wednesday, October 13, 2010

life, squared

This is a post for the working mum blog carnival hosted by Holly at "its a mummy's life".

I had this post all thought out. I wanted to convey how I feel that being a working mum, a mother who also has a rewarding career, should be the aspiration of all women. But every evening I have been just too bloody knackered to actually write it. I'm not sure what that says about my ideal world for women. With Holly's deadline looming, I'm tapping this out while simultaneously watching 'Law and Order SVU'. That I find myself multitasking even in my extremely limited leisure time speaks for itself, I suppose.

People often say "My life became complete after I had my children". I have never felt that way. No offense to my amazing kids, but you see my life was quite complete before I had my children. The children brought a completely different dimension to it. One that I didn't even know existed before. Now I have a whole extra complete life, on top of the one I already had. I think of it as life, squared.

I'm a scientist. Science is a vocational type of career; a mindset and a way of being. It is how I have always defined myself, the first thing that comes to mind, before 'woman', 'Brit' 'liberal' or 'wife'. Now I define myself as a mother, too, of course, but I am ever grateful that I did not have to choose between these two identities. I can be both mother and scientist and straddle these two worlds. It may not be elegant but it works.

We working mums are lucky, I think, in that we never had to feel the disorientation that comes with leaving one life, that of the workplace, and moving over to the world of child raising and home making. Becoming a mother never left me wondering who I was. It has always been quite clear that I am the same person as I was before, living in the same world, just with so very much more to do. Since becoming a mother my brain has been challenged in more ways than I though possible. I'm not a rocket scientist kind of scientist, but I do have a job that stretches my neurons on a regular basis, and still I was not prepared for the mental gymnastics required of a working mum.

spare school clothes to wash, new papers about high cholesterol to read, preschool beach day to remember, holiday fundraisers, backordered reagents to track down, performance reviews to write, parent committee to attend, elementary school tours, conferences to book, brilliant scientific leaps of understanding to make, dentists appointments to book, forget and rebook, music classes to research, groceries to buy, sticker charts and prizes to create, assays to run, data to analyze, experimental strategies to plan, birthday parties to go to and to organize, nails to clip before they scratch another classmate and draw blood, nits to treat, powerpoint presentations to make, contract research oganizations to manage, field trips to attend, parent teacher meetings......

My mind is a maelstrom of information. I have a reasonable system of lists and files that ensures that I succeed in staying on top of about 80% of it, but I am always looking for that perfect system that will bring me to professional and personal perfection. I just hope that when I'm with the kids I'm giving them 100%. We do have a lot of fun together in our mornings, evenings and weekends, and we are lucky to have a wonderful preschool that I swear provides them more consistency, security and emotional and intellectual growth than I would be able to provide if I was with them full time. I've also been fortunate enough to participate in some pretty amazing scientific research in the five years since I became a mum, work that may end up really helping people. The last five years, my years of working motherhood, have stretched me further than I thought possible, but have also been incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally.

I worry though, that I bring the stresses of work home. Geekyboy brought home a project from preschool, a 'feelings book' where they had scribbled on a picture of different feelings and the teachers had written a quote from them about each emotion. It had a page that said "Mummy feels happy for closing her eyes".

The life of a working mum is wonderful, varied and challenging. It is very busy. For me it can best be summed up best in words that are not my own. I paraphrase Jessica Piers (mother and lawyer) in the excellent "Mothers on the fast track"  "To be successful at family and career you have to come to grips with the fact that you are not going be perfect at doing anything. I am not the best mother and I am not the best lawyer at my firm either, but my life is my whole life".

Despite the challenges, I would still counsel anyone unsure about whether working motherhood is the life for them to go for it. I can't imagine any other kind of life.

My life is my whole life.