Thursday, 4 March 2010

A Life of Her Own

When Truly came home from school yesterday we sat at the kitchen table and she told me about a Geography project she's working on. She said that women and girls in rural Africa and Asia spend an hour each day, but sometimes up to four, gathering fuel and carrying water to prepare meals. In developing countries, women tend to work far longer hours than men, up to 13 hours more per week. Women in Eritrea work up to 15 hours per day during the cropping season, up to an additional 30 hours per week more than men. The typical day in the life of an Indonesian woman farmer begins at 2:00am when she wakes and doesn't end until 8:00pm when she goes to bed.

I listened and nodded and I saw the cushiness of my own life and the little things we take for granted, running water and washing machines and gas hobs, and I saw how it contrasted so starkly with the lives of these women. And that's before we even get started on the gender gap in their working days.

'That's terrible,' I said. 'It makes you realize how very fortunate we are.'

'I'm happy to hear you say that,' Truly said, sliding a stack of papers towards me.

'What's this?'

'My Geography homework.'

'Well, you better get on with it then.'

'No, you have to do it. You have to make a list of everything you do in a day.'

The heart palpitations started. 'Why don't you ask HRH?' I said. 'He brings home the bacon. I just fry it up in the pan. Surely, the procurement of bacon is far more interesting than a sizzle and a flip.'

'I don't really get that bacon thing. But sorry, it's all about you, Mummy dearest. We're going to compare your day to the women in the third world.'

I stared at the papers. My mouth went dry and my stomach performed a triple toe loop and I pictured my day tallied up against a woman doing a 15-hour stint in the fields. And, sadly, I also pictured myself stacked up against some of the women, the other mothers, so many of whom are very accomplished and have fabulous careers.

'When is it due?'


'Leave it with me.'

'Fine. But don't leave it until the last minute, Mum,' Truly said, with a withering glance, perfected by 14 years of practice.

Here's the crux of the matter: I don't have a job outside the house and I don't earn a salary. This didn't used to bother me so much, not until September when Scrumptious started school. Before that, we were expats in Asia and Scrumptious was only in nursery school, so I was busy. Now I'm struggling with existential angst. How did I get lost in the shuffle and what am I going to do about it? After listening to the statistics of these women in Third World countries, it seems self-indulgent to feel that way. It’s no great mystery why existentialism became fashionable in the post-World War years. If I needed to keep all my wits about me just to survive, wouldn’t have the time or energy to think about all this existential freedom I’ve got on my hands. If sirens were wailing and bombs were dropping, I wouldn’t stop on the way to the air raid shelter, scratch my head and think, ‘Gee, am I living authentically?’

But I am not living in rural Southeast Asia and I'm not living through the Blitz. I can only live my own reality and deal with my own issues. After six years at home raising children, do Truly and Scrumptious see me as a positive role model or would they be prouder if I went to an office everyday? It’s not as though my career was so illustrious. I never did anything truly worthy like rescuing small children from the mouth of a volcano or performing brain surgery on orangutans. But still. I had a job. I earned a pay check. I had colleagues in other cubicles that I could pester for a chat. It was something.

I have always believed that being there for my daughters is the most important thing I can do in my life. But what happens when they both go to school? I need to do something meaningful in my life, something outside the confines of the children and the house. So I guess I'm back to the question of what should I be when I grow up? And that's something I'm going to work on this year. I need a life of my own and I'm wondering if there are other women, who may be staying home with their children, who feel the same way?

1 comment:

  1. If you start spring cleaning now, by Monday you will have pages to write about your workload! Maybe you could plant some herbs or sew some buttons on. I work 6 days a week and am always trying to find a way to be a housewife! I've heard that when the kids are all out of the house we will have a life of our own.