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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

On 41 and Freaking Out

A CBC Doc Project Documentary by Tara Henley (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/docproject/single-childless-and-40-why-freaking-out-isn-t-your-only-option-1.3418720) about turning 40 got me thinking about my friends and myself.
   I have friends who are stay home moms like me - women who worked before they had kids and then opted to stay home. I have friends who are single and have careers the rest of us envy, and then I have a few friends who have it all - the wonder women who have careers, kids, and are happily married. What do all my friends have in common? The constant need to remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have, endless notes to self to be happy. Makes a person pause and wonder why we have to constantly remind ourselves and each other to be happy? And, of course, there are those moments of vulnerablity when we admit to feeling like failures. Those moments when we admit our own unhappiness and immediately feel so guilty about it that we follow it up with a list of all the things that we are , oh, so grateful for.
   The stay home friends wish they had careers. The single ones wish they had partners and children. The wonder women oscillate between exhaustion at juggling so much all the time, and smugness at managing to do it. While cynical me wonders how they would manage if someone took away from them the women who take care of their kids and in some cases, their homes for minimum wage while they pursue their careers. Isn't that exactly what men of the earlier generations did - leave the house work and child care to the women while they chased larger dreams - power and money? A man was the head of the household -why? Because he earned. Now us women feel we have to do the same in order to earn a seat at the table. But what does this imply? That house care and child care are tasks best assigned to less privileged women because these jobs are less worthy of people with higher skills. Isn't this just more chauvinism? Tasks traditionally assigned to women have less worth than man's work. What I find odd is that no one even questions this. Why? I guess power and money is shiny. It sparkles in ways that a well- cleaned bathroom and an hour spent with your child doing nothing, just hanging out - does not.
   But then I also remember working full time and returning home tired to cook and clean. I remember the pride my pay cheque gave me, but also dragging myself to work every morning and dragging myself back seven hours later. I was lucky I worked with amazing children who made my day by smiling at me but still all work becomes monotonous after a while. That sparkle dims and turns rusty. The bread-earner does not always head to work with a skip in her/his step. That job, too like unending housework becomes an obligation and like all obligations, it weighs you down.
   What am I saying? Are most of us just miserable no matter what we do? That very few actually have a song in their hearts every day of the week, week after week whether we work unpaid hours at home or paid hours else where? Yes, you heard me right. But I also think that there is joy to be found in each and every day. Joy in a child's smiling face, joy in a surface you scrubbed clean, joy in a project well managed, joy in code written efficiently, joy in a paragraph that is effective, and so what if we are all a little sad, a little disappointed at times, that's a part of life as well.
  I wish we could change the perimeters of success so that all work deserved respect -  paid or unpaid- as long as you worked hard at it. I wish all my friends felt successful whether with or without partners, with or with out children, and with and with out careers. I wish.
    Six short paragraphs and I have arrived back at where I started from - sad yet happy, happy yet sad.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Fate

"Fate. There it was, it hung in the air for fraction of a second, before the diviner's stones scattered in the dust. My father lost his mother. Missionaries turned up at the village and chiefs ordered each household to send one male child to their new school. My uncles stayed at home and were taught by the Imam. There was the fork in the road. There had been twists and turns along the way, but that was the deciding moment when their futures, and mine, divided. One to the west, the others to Africa."

The Devil that Danced on the Water by Aminatta Forna

I collect words, the way others collect art, toys, crystal, and coins. Every once in a while, I have the breath knocked out of me by a sentence in a book and I have to save it, so that I may return to savour it later.

This paragraph probably hit where it hurts because I have since yesterday been thinking about fate and regrets. That fork in the road that she mentions, has been playing on my mind. What if I hadn't quit working after the kids? What if I had started writing earlier in my life? What if I was a better writer? What if I had the gift like Aminatta Forna? What if... Two powerful words; they carry within them the world of possibilities and yet, these two words are also completely useless. Life is not about what ifs, but about the what is. My what is comprises of a beautiful family, a few good friends, a home I love, and a cat who melts my heart. Yes, I wish I was a better writer but writing is a craft and I will continue to work at it.  If I had not quit work to stay home with my children, I would not have taken up writing. I know that. There simply aren't enough hours in the day while juggling home and work.

So while fate presents us with that fork in the road, and at times the direction we take is determined for us, and at other times, we find ourselves behind the wheel; it is pointless to spend hours toying with the what-ifs. As unromantic as it sounds, best to keep your mind focused on where you are at the moment and enjoy what is.