The grey-middle

I am both an At Home Parent and a Working Parent. This sounds impossible, right? And if our tendency towards black and white labelling of people and situations was to be trusted, it would be. But from my vantage point in the grey-middle, it’s easy to see that things are not nearly as simple as we’d like to believe.

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I work 50+ hours a week, as does Campground Papa. The Campground Kid is awake for maybe 85 hours a week, and she is at daycare for about 21 of those hours. She comes to work with us for about 25 hours a week (our work is at our house, so the line is a bit fuzzy on this one. Our work also has a playground, so it’s not as boring for her as it first sounds).  We are all at home and off work for 2 days a week, and Campground Papa and I have about 2 hours to ourselves between finishing work for the week and picking her up from daycare.

Within each day, we flex around. We alternate pick ups and drop offs at daycare; we swap around bedtimes and sleep-ins; we take turns cooking. The Campground Kid “helps” Campground Papa on his work tasks; I take her for walks; we both take breaks to play tea-set or marble-run; I watch Dinosaur Train with her; Campground Papa sets her up with magnatiles and then does chores; we both try to keep her entertained in the office and laundry; we both frequently fail. When it’s quiet at work, the juggle is relatively easy; when work is busy, it’s not easy at all; when The Campground Kid is out of sorts or overtired, it sometimes feels impossible. But we muddle through it together.

I don’t entirely know what the point of posting this is, but I do know that when I was an At Home Parent, I used to think the life of a Working Parent was hugely different to my own. I didn’t necessarily see it as harder, or as less hard, but I did think it was an almost fundamentally different experience.

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Now, I don’t see it that way. I see a lot of different experiences. I see different levels of juggling and different levels of time away from kids. I see different levels of monotony and different levels of satisfaction. I see different levels of calm and different levels of stress. But none of these levels correspond neatly to “At Home Parents” or “Working Parents”; they vary with hundreds of individual circumstances and personalities and experiences. I see those black and white extremes blurring into the grey-middle, and I think that grey-middle contains most of the interesting stuff.

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And I think this is true of many other labels that we place on parents too. Sure, some people exclusively breastfeed or exclusively formula feed. But many (most?) people do a bit of both, and I think how much they do of each is never the most important thing about their relationship with their baby. Some people sleep train and some people co-sleep, but some people do both (that would be us!) or neither or just whatever works in the moment to get everyone some sleep. Some people are natural birth advocates and had c-sections; some people want all the drugs and arrive at the hospital too late for any pain-medication at all. I am infertile AND a mother. (etc. etc.)

It’s not that I think the black and white labels are useless. They have their place. It’s just that I think the individual stories in the grey-middle are a whole lot more interesting, if we take the time to listen and share.

 

Sometimes

Sometimes I cook lots of vegetables and meals from scratch and new and interesting recipes and homemade bread.

Sometimes I make clothes and hats and art and cool projects.

Sometimes all our clothes are neatly folded and put away as soon as they’re washed and our laundry hamper is empty and our house doesn’t have any random piles of clothes and sheets floating around in various states of doneness waiting for the next step.

Sometimes I read wise books and clever articles and smart thinkers. And sometimes I even have smart thoughts and interesting conversations about them.

Sometimes our house is tidy and everything is put away and there are no toys strewn around the lounge.

Sometimes I stretch and practice yoga and do strength training exercises and take long walks.

Sometimes the dishes are all away and the benches are clean and shiny and the compost bin is emptied and the floor is mopped.

Sometimes I write, here or in my journal or on the mostly-abandoned novel that I still want to write. And sometimes what I write is actually good.

Sometimes our vegetable garden is weeded and tidy and the crops are harvested and used in our healthy dinners or blanched and frozen for later use.

Sometimes I write letters and organise thoughtful gifts well in advance of when they’re needed. 

Gratuitous picture of the sunrise from my sister’s deck.

But sometimes surviving a 12 hour work day (including stupid mistakes and interviewing two job candidates and ringing seemingly endless tour operators to arrange tours that then get cancelled) without shouting at anyone is enough.

Sometimes getting my kid to daycare with a packed lunch and picking her up on time is enough.

Sometimes a packet of soup for lunch and macaroni cheese for dinner is enough. 

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that these things are enough. 

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I am enough. 

But, sure enough, I am.

And so are you. 

And sometimes we all need a little reminder of that.

On “Strike”

It’s March 8th. It’s International Women’s Day. And it’s A Day Without a Woman. If, like me, you’re in New Zealand, you are quite likely only aware of one or two of those things. The Day Without a Woman hasn’t really made it big here. But in spite of that, I decided to participate and go on strike. 
It was easy for me to strike. It is my rostered day off work. My husband and I had no solid plans and he is more than capable of looking after our household. In fact, he is more often the one who does. Because of this, I actually asked him whether there was a point in me striking. But he quickly replied “yes, you should strike for everyone who can’t.” And so here I am, striking for everyone who can’t.

I know that many people genuinely cannot participate for any number of reasons. I’m not questioning that. But a lot of the objection to this movement that I have seen has focused on the fact that “it would cause a disruption.” And while I don’t claim to know the details of anyone’s individual situation, I would encourage anyone who sees the disruption as a reason not to strike to consider the fact that the disruption is exactly why we should strike. Without disruption, people will continue to ignore the facts. Without disruption, people will continue to ignore “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system, while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” Without disruption, there will be no change.

The organisers gave three suggestions as to how women could participate in this action:

  1. Don’t participate in paid or unpaid work
  2. Avoid shopping, except for at women or minority owned businesses.
  3. Wear red in solidarity

I decided to give all three a go. There are no rallies or meetings or anything near me (rural New Zealand is not big on this kind of stuff, and I didn’t have the time to organise anything), but I didn’t want my version of the strike to be sitting around watching Netflix in my PJs all day, so I made my own plan. 

I fudged it a little on the first point of the plan. I feel like the mass non-participation in work of all forms is only truly effective when there is, you know, mass non-participation. Without the mass alongside me, I felt like there was an argument for doing a little bit of unpaid work helping other women and our community alongside some self-care. So my “strike” included:

  1. Sleeping in. I’m not doing this selfishly, I swear, but this part was pretty good. 
  2. A bit of Facebook slacktivism in the form of sharing links about the gender pay gap and the women who came before me in New Zealand feminism.
  3. Looking after my reproductive health by getting a check-up, and reminding myself how fortunate I am to have this care readily available and easily accessible. 
  4. Cooking and delivering a meal to a mum who needed a break, and who asked on a marvellous Facebook Page called Meals for Mum. (If you’re in New Zealand, you should join! You don’t have to be a mum to participate.)
  5. Cooking an extra meal, and dropping it at a community centre for them to pass on to a family in need. Campground Papa and The Campground Kid helped with the cooking and preparing too.
  6. Shopping at a lovely female-owned-and-operated gift shop (I got a pastry brush and some lovely cards, if you were wondering).
  7. Picking up a volunteer recruitment pack for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, who provide an excellent service all over NZ. I’m looking forward to getting involved with the organisation, provided my application is successful. 
  8. Wearing red 
  9. Writing this blog post while my husband prepares afternoon tea and dinner for us all.
  10. Giving myself a haircut (this one’s not really strike-related, just a bit of self care!) 
  11. Doing yoga while he puts our kid to bed and tidies the house.
  12. Reading about International Women’s Day and listening to the stories of women all around the world.

    In many ways, this isn’t too different to an ordinary non-work day for me. My husband often does the bulk of the house stuff. I’ve delivered meals a few times, and I’ve read about feminism and shared links many many many times. Because I’ve been home most of the day, there have been times that it’s hard to tell what is “unpaid work” and what is “spending time with my family.” I haven’t been strict about the delineation, and my contribution has definitely been imperfect. I also recognise that the movement as a whole is imperfect. Then again, I am imperfect and everyone is imperfect, so to expect anything different would have been foolish. 

    And even in imperfection, International Women’s Day and the strike have made me feel more intentional about my actions and more considerate of the ways in which I can both help and hinder other women. I have made new connections in the community. I have helped other women. I have taken the first steps toward being involved in a female-dominated and valuable community service. My husband has stepped up to the plate and considered the part he can play in feminism. My daughter has been well cared for while I did other things.

    So, personally, I’m calling this a big ol’ win. (And also a really lovely day!) 

    And, although I have some doubts, I will be following with interest as to how the larger movement plays out when the USA catches up to us here in New Zealand and gets to Wednesday. I hope that there is enough participation to make an impact. I hope that men and women both stop to consider the contribution women make to our society and whether they are fairly valued/recognised/rewarded. I hope that we, as a global society, see that while great strides have been made in women’s rights, our work here is far from done. I hope that people realise that we all have a part to play in creating a fair and just society. And I hope that we continue the conversation about how we can do that, whether or not the Day Without a Woman lives up to its name.