Many moons ago, I sat musing on this blog about what to do with my life. I was bored, frustrated, lonely, quite possibly depressed and was desperate to break out of the stay at home mum mould that I’d put myself into only a year or so before. I thought about it. I wrote about it. I thought about it some more. Then wrote about it again. Lots of people asked me to keep thinking, and keep writing. And then it occurred to me, that thinking and writing for a living probably wasn’t such a bad idea. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d discovered the holy grail of the trailing spouse: a portable career.
I’ve just finished the MA degree that idea, and this blog, led me to. It’s why I’ve not been around a lot, because apparently they don’t give masters degrees out like sweets and you actually have to work pretty hard to get one. No one in real life understands this, of course, and the general assumption is the past two years I’ve been doing quite a lot of what is generally expected of me as a trailing spouse, i.e. drank coffee, got my nails done, hit the mall….and yes, I’ve done all this, but in between it all I’ve also carved out the time to research, draft, edit and market my way into a new episode of my life.
I don’t doubt there will be those who scoff, and mutter I’m just doing it to ‘keep myself busy.’ I’m sure there’ll be talk of ‘it’s just something to do; it’s not like she needs the money.’ (Although any writer worth their salt should know they aren’t in it for the money). It’s assumptions like this that make me get all feministic (is that a word? I should probably know that) and wave my burning bra above my head and say I want to work; in fact I need to work; it’s important to my sanity and self worth – yes, to earn my own money – but more importantly to achieve something lasting. I want to show my son I’m more than the ‘mommy’ some irritating woman at school keeps referring to me as rather than using my actual name. I want to prove to myself and the rest of the world, that I’m still an actual person with skills that extend further than negotiating school run traffic and baking. I want to keep hold of the idea that I’m my own person, rather than an appendage to my husband or my five year old.
It’s all too easy to lose your identity when you’re a parent, doubly so if you’re a trailing spouse (I know some of you hate that term, by the way, but it is what it is). It’s hard work to have it all. To be the hands-on parent while the other gets on a plane to wherever. To juggle work with pick up time, get the groceries in, remember the cat vaccinations, do the Christmas shopping, wait for the inevitable repairman to come and fix something in the house again, cook dinner, make packed lunches, call relatives several time zones away, shoehorn in a bit of study, or work, and then get up at the crack of dawn and start it all over again; I don’t really care what it looks like from the outside, it’s a lot to manage and still retain some sense of self, no matter how glittery the backdrop might be.
I thought for a long time that you couldn’t have it all. Then I thought you could. Then I realised it really depends on your version of ‘all’. I think in my ideal world, I’d like to rename it ‘having it some’. Some of this, some of that, and a little bit of something else for good measure. I know now, that it’s okay to say no to helping on the PTA, or turn down a job, or blow out a dinner when you just want the time for yourself. I know now that if I don’t fit it in before pick up, it can probably wait until the next day. I know to offer my help and my time to people when it matters – when I know it will be valued, rather than because it’s assumed I’m not doing anything else.
I think the word I’m searching for might be ‘balance’. There’s so much pressure on women to have it all when really it’s just about finding the balance that makes you happy. And I think – I hope – that right now, as I hang up my student hat and start back out on the rocky road to writerly success, I’m lucky enough to have found it.