When I think about my parenting I'm not proud of myself - I think only of the times I have shouted at my kids, the arguments we've had, the seemingly never ending stream of, "don't do that," "no !" "stop it !" and "leave your brother alone." Then I catch sight of one of my boys. I saw Blue Bear putting on his shoes and thought, "when did he learn to do that ?" I forgot all the times I sat with him and put his shoes on or showed him how to put them on. This evening I went to see how Brown Bear was getting on with his homework and he asked me how to do the maths puzzles so I told him to look for the pattern and he said, "Ok, I've got it now." I came back a few minutes later and he was racing through them. He did indeed have it.
I've been cooking with the boys recently - Blue Bear and I made pastries and I said "let's brush them with milk," and he said, "I'll do it Mummy." I watched as he carefully and precisely brushed milk over them and could not believe this was my baby boy. Brown Bear is really keen to apply for junior bake off so I agreed to help him practise. He has spent a lot of time designing a showstopper cake, so I thought I'd get him started with a family favourite. We baked some banana bread and he followed the recipe from my notebook, measured the ingredients with me using digital scales, mixed the batter using an electric hand whisk and timed the cooking. He was very happy with the cake, but insisted that next time he bakes will do it all himself. I think he will too !
In the last few days the Guardian ran a piece by a man explaining how he feels that his work as a stay at home parent is undervalued compared with paid work outside the home. This was greeted with a national chorus of "well duh !" from women (and men). Way to go there Guardian, some epic mansplaining and complete disregard for what women have been saying for, oh I dunno, decades ? I feel devalued as a person because my worth in financial terms is non-existent. I can show you my children, my home, my writing, but I can't show you any pay for those 'jobs' and I don't have any references. The joint decision we made that I would take care of our children and Hubbie would work did not include an agreement to become invisible and irrelevant. So, yes, women's work is devalued and let's be honest parenting is still seen as 'women's work.'
On the toughest days I tell Hubbie that he should stay at home and I can go to work again. He can be the one who acts as referee, cook, butler, party planner, tutor, playmate and occasional furniture. I can be the one who gets to talk to adults, read my ipad on the train, make small talk with people in shops, take a phone call without being interrupted by a small child needing something urgently (a wooden train, a drink of water, the answer to why is the cat white ?). My friend Yasmin told me today she has the same conversation with her husband and then she said something that I've heard so many times before, but today I really felt it. "What we're doing is so important. This matters."
This morning we all went on the school run. The boys on their scooters, Hubbie on his bike and me on foot. It was Blue Bear's first day and Brown Bear was so proud to take his little brother to school. We took the obligatory photo before we left - not in front of the door though, I don't do that cliche - then made our way up the hill. As the boys scootered off into the woods Hubbie said to me, "Well done. You did it, you got them here." The boys parked their scooters next to each other outside the school office and Brown Bear held his brother's hand to walk him to the nursery gate. I swelled with pride - then took a deep sigh of relief.
Tonight as I put Brown Bear to bed he asked me to sit on his bed so he could read me a story called "I love my mummy because..." and looked at me after each page, "...she gives me hugs... she is beautiful... she holds my hand, etc." We hugged each other and I said, "I loved that story baby, thank you."
No, I don't get paid. There's no Christmas party, or secret Santa. My reward is seeing my boys grow up. To watch them become the amazing young men I know they will be. I can live with that.