This woman’s work

Work eh. Who’d be bothered. And don’t give me that women-can-do-anything routine with a tampon ad voiceover quality to your enthusiasm. That’s all fine and dandy until you hit your forties when you just want to put your feet up and whinge about what you could’ve been if only you had gotten off your arse on time. But as a mother (not merely a lowly ‘parent’) to a female member of the species, I’m morally contracted to keep up this Lean In On Me routine till she finds out about the ways of world for herself. (Future awkward conversations.. “Well, you fell for Santa, and the Tooth Fairy, and *scratches back of head* I just sort of lost of the run of myself after that. You did drink milk from those things lying at my feet though.”)

I’m not allowed to admit to anyone that I hope she gives university a wide berth unless she’s planning on becoming an astrophysicist, or enters well after she’s left her teens behind her. I once shared a house with an astrophysicist and distinctly remember indignantly remarking “I don’t remember seeing that on the prospectus” as if the sector was robbed of my scientific genius. That was after he regaled me with tales of chasing brown dwarfs around space, and before one of my mates chimed in to ask if he could read star signs.

Some other things not in the prospectus I hope she discovers…

  • A healthy scepticism towards third-level education: whether it’s the only route available to what she wants to do with her life, while recognising the value and privilege of education for its own sake; not just a route to work, or an entitlement to work based solely on it. Graduates are a mixed ability group like any other. Look around your office. Actually, just look at your management.
  • Be suspicious of folk who define themselves by the letters trailing their name. They haven’t done enough waitressing to know what a knob they sound like, or what the application of ‘interpersonal skills’ really means.
  • Wanting to do something ordinary is OK. That’s what the majority folk end up being as they contend with modern life. Except those people who make the buns in our local bakery, and Enya. But if doing battle with the piped cream, or wandering round naked in a field on the grounds of a castle howling at the moon isn’t her thing, that’s OK. Every modest job contributes to making our world spin.
  • She doesn’t have to fly to the moon, gesticulate weirdly in an ill-fitting power suit in a boardroom; cream her knickers discussing Sheryl Sandberg at her book club, or facilitate unethical financial transactions over obscenely priced lunches with people looking rougher than the photo accompanying their inflated Linkedn profiles, to break the gender mould. She can also build beautiful walls, thatch cottages, repair car engines, or be a real hero and fix washing machines. Plumbers are the unrecognised feminists of this world after all. The world will always need plumbers. Most jobs with an element of manual labour are extraordinary.
  • A job is not guaranteed for life. Anyone with that expectation is divorced from the real world.
  • If it all goes to shit and she needs to bow out of the mainstream workforce for whatever reason – that’s OK. Generations before her fought hard for workers’ rights. The right to sick pay, the right to get well. The right not be ashamed for being human.
  • Chances are everyone is under some degree of stress. Comparing your own work stresses to others is futile and, if you’re a teacher, will only win you a few headbutts. Remember that in the modern age, the union representative is the message. And most sectors of hardworking people don’t have a union to negotiate conditions or fight with Matt Cooper on Thursday evenings while she wonders what’s in the fridge for dinner.
  • Not to worry if she’s exhausted by the ‘professional’ persona she strives to cultivate or the bizarre ‘professional’ persona of others that appears at odds with their regular personalities. Work is all about suspending disbelief and leaving your normal personality at the door. Just remember to pick it up on the way out.
  • Life isn’t fair and until there is a universal definition of what constitutes worthy work, the wealth from work will continue to be distributed unevenly, with or without an education.
  • The composition of discussion panels in the media regarding the status of women in the workplace is usually skewed in favour of middle class women and their corresponding problems. Valid and relevant though they are, and she might well be one of them, if she filters the same problems through a person with half the wage, and a quarter of the opportunities, it’ll aid perspective.
  • Email read receipts are unnecessary and the scourge of the instant gratification generation. Ignore them.
  • That reminds me. Folk who will pride themselves in pointing out her grammar or spelling mistakes are just working through their feelings of guilt  and shame around masturbation.
  • It’s only work.

wall

A barrier to women in the workplace

Gaol bird

Time to crack open the Football Special. Word has reached me here at the dungeon that the original punk angel herself, Patti Smith, will play Kilmainham in Dublin this June. Not only that, it’ll be a run through of her enduring debut album, Horses.

Remember those spooky pictures of J.C. and his Sacred Heart appearing as a flickering red torch shoved under his chin like he was regaling the apostles with some top ghost stories? A relic from a time when it was essential armour of any self-respecting household defending itself from someone looking in or looking down doubting its inhabitants were anything but good stock. Well, we didn’t have one, so I would see how far the gaze from a singer on an album cover could follow me round the room instead. Album covers adorned with secular Gods presiding over standards of household rebelliousness and cultural credibility.

One such cover that made a lasting impression was Cliff Richard this slender framed dame with her vest on inside out. One has to join the rebellion somewhere. And she probably went out without a coat. By the way, wearing your Father’s suit to demonstrably prove your devotion to Talking Heads doesn’t make you rebellious. It makes you a plonker. And I should know. But I digress.

Patti Smith

She should have some good luck for that, with any luck.

So, it was Patti Smith Group’s Easter LP that paved the way towards impenetrable poetry I pretended to understand and an introduction to celebrated androgyny and all its corresponding mysteries I hadn’t the vocabulary to share but intuited somehow. Much like the way I used to well-up to the litany of Phil Collins’s weepy routines without ever having had my heart tampered with In Real Life by then. These mysteries orbit the instincts from the time you’re a nipper.

As for Horses, the cover will never look the same after reading her memoir Just Kids, which illuminated the corners of her inspiration, her daily life during those early heady days of misadventure, and the origins of the iconic imagery that went disc-in-sleeve with the goods.

The prospect of hearing the revered heavy weights (Gloria, Land, the title track) is not without tantalising tingles; but I expect to have all hairs standing to attention by the time the quiet piano notes open the lid on track four.

Free Money: from soft vocal wishing what could only be, to pulsating punk whoops of declarations of what would be if her lottery ticket came in; all while giving a downpour of drums a run for their money in three glorious minutes and fifty-two seconds. Take it away there, Patti..

Nanny state

Not for the first time I pulled away from our one’s childminder’s, relieved she doesn’t require a degree to do what she does so brilliantly. Not for the first time I handed her cash, struggling to square the sums with the sum total of responsibilities, energy and capabilities involved in her job. Not for the first time do I join the chorus of my peers demanding more imaginative, equitable and accessible childcare support policies that account for the diversity of family support needs and the right to corresponding choices.

Not for the last time will I wince when I hear care of those two and under couched in the narrative of ‘early years education’. Not for the last time will I feel slightly nauseous at the rise of the persistent framing of this stage of life within the notion of a formalised educational framework. Not for the last time will I head-scratchingly despair at the subtle expansion of the uniformity of this language to legitimise this pathway as the only available route to validating the skills of childcare workers; or the panacea for inadequate recompense from the state for their contribution to the economy and future lives of our youngest citizens.

Not for the sake of politeness do I show a keen interest in the continuing professional training our childminder is required to undertake to keep pace with good practice and the evolution of standardised care of children. Or the on-going regulations she is subject to. These are critical. Not for the want of devaluing her brilliance do I know it unlikely that she would have been able to access third level education were it a requirement when starting out. Or in the future. Not for the want of deliberately failing to recognise the value of education do I hope this gallop towards third level childcare courses slows down. And catches itself on.

Not for the want of being unsupportive of others choices do I bristle when I hear soundbite after soundbite about the ‘need’ for childcare to be treated exactly like education. Not with any grand teaching insights am I unwavering in my belief that there is surely a cocktail of ways of regulating and elevating early years care in the hierarchy of valuable work without it being subsumed into mainstream education. Our six-month old didn’t need a curriculum, if she enjoyed one by a less formal name. Same when she was a year. And eighteen months. She’ll be in it long enough. Some would say unfortunately. Including me.

Not for the belief that I think I’m right do I feel calls for investment into services only is a slippery slope towards shutting down the variety of childcare options that the diversity of families rely on. Not through any certainty that their voices are less valid do I wish for the validity and legitimacy of all choices to be taken on board and safeguarded.

Not, if we were never to see her again after our one moves on, will we be anything but grateful for the love, care, capability, enthusiasm, intuition, warmth, and empathy our childminder had for her while in her care. Our choice was based mostly on chemistry, backed up by recommendation. Letters after her name would never confer any of these talents on her, and certainly won’t guarantee better terms and conditions, as workers in various other caring and community sectors who require them can attest. And as the latter unfortunately know all too well – there is no utopia in sight where jobs are guaranteed on the basis of the assumed worthiness of the work, and the best learning and skills don’t come from a lecture theatre only. Those who enter it exclusively for purposes of compensation from changing family circumstances, or the need to diversify to fit with family circumstances, are in for this rude awakening.

Chasing postcodes

Back in the boom (shake shake the room), Ardal O’Hanlon quipped that the arrival of Eastern European communities meant Irish folk could finally use the WXYZ sections of their address books. Too late for the tattered book in my folks’ house. You know the one; every household has one. Ours is usually sandwiched between the latest regional phone directory and an envelope bulging with memorial cards passed on from grieving friends and relatives down the years. That dog-eared antique had barely margins available by the millennium, and now doubles up as a whistle-stop tour of the lives of the off-spring.

It’s no coincidence the only numbers scribbled in the back pages next to a ream of scored-through dodgy addresses (up-and-coming actually *flings nose in air*) include: Western Union, PPS numbers, NI numbers, bank accounts, and the numbers of payphones on many a draughty landing. There’s also the number of the local pizza delivery service. Emergency information, in short.

All of page X and most of Y (why? indeed) are taken up with a string of residential dots that join up to my current cell, while one brother squats all over Z. It’s no coincidence either that the more ..shall we say.. solvent..siblings have barely a page between them. Losers. But enough of this exploitation of any opportunity to project my personal failings on to them.

This week’s form-filling tasks involved listing my previous addresses stretching back over various criminally dodgy hair-dos. The final tally came in at well above twenty. Barring the mothership, I’ve been in the current one the longest. It’s no coincidence I’m…etc. etc.

I couldn’t remember if that flat where the crazy Spaniard cut up my beloved Rocketdogs in an impressive act of revenge was number 27 or 29. There was that street I remember because it sounded like vulva, and I still have occasional flashbacks of my first bedsit in Grosvenor Square. Nasty ones that feature woeful attempts at flirting with the professional cameraman who lived upstairs (“Oh, I like photography, too”), and almost killing my landlady who lived in the basement flat with my amateur DIY skills. Yikes.

Turning the corner into our road last week, I spotted the giveaway signs of another house I lived in three doors down even though I’ve never set foot in it. The living room blind hangs at half-mast as a mark of respect to the new arrival, and an invitation to day-light to come in and sit down. The blanket-draped handle of the pram the only visible sign of life.

Late at night, the dim glow from the corner of the upstairs window is barely noticeable. In the mornings, I occasionally pass the same midwife who ordered our blind up, our heating down, and straddled me on my own bed with a nipple protector. Glancing in my rear-view I see her pull up at their driveway.

I’ve heard of folk returning to their former home-places unannounced because they happened to be in the area and fancied a nose-around. I’ve thought about knocking on the door with the offer of something, but I think we only exchanged hellos once by the milk shelf in the local shop. The thoroughly modern neighbourly relationship that could get you reported for stalking if you smiled.

I wonder what she’s done with the place. Moses basket or crib. Does the double-bill of Frasier herald the transition into normal morning time as she once knew it inbetween never-ending rounds of toast? If she’s not dressed by noon will she bother her arse getting dressed at all? If she isn’t dressed in another three months, will she make it out the door confidently by six? Who knows what goes on behind closed doors.

fridge

This fridge has no pâté. Quick! Call the parenting line!

Still, I’m curious if her best laid plans include trips to the cinema; whether she has friends and family nearby, and if she wishes everyone would just fuck off and come on over, at exactly the same time. Does she attempt a few selfies with the child for her mates overseas that won’t ever be sent but will actually look not so bad in hindsight. Will her hindsight rely on these photographic artefacts to jog her memory of these early days when she became a fugitive from certainty. Is she wishing she could sleep when her baby does or has she quit trying to grab hold of that mythical lifeline, and taking perverse pleasure in pâté and re-runs of One Born Every Minute by mid-afternoon instead. Does she wonder if she took a shit during labour and suspects everyone present protected her from the truth, or does she not…give a shit.

Might she, one day, a few years from now, recognise a half-hanging blind in a nearby house. Will she mentally push the door open and step inside to check what’s on the telly, anxiously note the room temperature reading, take comfort in the disarray, survey the contents of the cupboards, check the fridge door for photos of the baby’s Da at knee-level. Maybe run her eye over the CD collection to see how the child is likely to turn out. Will she scan the walls of the nursery for an infestation of animal stickers that threaten to bring her out in a rash. Will she baulk at the notion of calling it a nursery. Will she open the wardrobe to a dose of pink clothes that risk giving her diabetes unless she closes it again quickly? Will she at last be able to put a name on the feelings she felt back then and shake her head at the ruthless competition that ensued between them. Will she curse her inability to curate that phase from anything other than the splinters from mislaid memories?

And will she wonder if she’s the only eejit that looks up a house she’s never been in, longing to sit in it for just a little while longer.

An ostentatious show of faith

Ash Wednesday. A day that separates the hardcore practitioners from the casuals. And the casuals from the ones that desperately needed a school place. One has to admire the willingness of the faithful to conduct their day’s business as usual while exhibiting a blob in the shape of Kim Kardashian’s arse on their forehead. Have you ever encountered road rage from such an individual? Me neither, but I’ve a feeling it’d be funny. (“Oh God sorry, do you need an ambulance? How many fingers am I holding up?”). Or maybe not. I might wear my crucifixes lightly (my job, location, immediate family, motherhood, cheese habit etc.) but can relate to the arched browed curiosity these parishioners are exposed to nonetheless.

Take that first morning of a new job when I had the uneasy feeling the twenty new pairs of eyes were looking slightly past mine. As if the first-day hyena laughter and the overbearing children’s TV presenter enthusiasm wasn’t wearing enough. Not wanting to interrupt my concentration while reading the riveting company policies, and continue with the show of conscientiousness due to expire the following day, I staved off the need to pee until my non-paid lunch break. A double-take in the mirror and a dreaded close-up revealed the remnants of the face cream I’d applied in the car hovering around the nostril area. Children’s TV presenter enthusiasm indeed.

Still, that was nothing compared to the après ronnie job. I’d been in denial for years. Then, one night, several pints in to a conversation on personal grooming with a mix of mates, I called the discusson to a halt and demanded those present to inspect the ronnie I feared I was carrying around. There was no avoiding The Truth. They all leaned in for a gawk. There followed a slow start to the sheepish yeahs before they were all nodding in unison like they’d been wondering how best to confront me on the matter for years. A resounding yes to getting the ronnie off then, and one for the road.

ronnie

Look carefully. Are you sure you don’t see something?

Heading into work the next morning with a rare five minutes to spare, I slid into the beauticians for a quick wax. Nobody told me my lip would be visible from space for the next hour. I landed into what was a pretty tense meeting with one of the aforementioned mates on the opposing side. I prefer to think I unwittingly disarmed her with my radioactive skin.

Don’t try this at work without getting permission from an adult.

A very short, bland, and cranky post

There’s a video doing the rounds at the minute of a two-year old having a tantrum. The responses range from the predictable viral game of pass-the-parcel in the name of bland entertainment, while the more self-regarding sites have ushered in a few revered talking heads to give some consideration to parental responses to toddler tantrums. Which is all very harmless and right-on and will appeal to the mass parenting reading market. But this curmudgeon is sitting tight with a face on her like a badger’s arse and a curled lip for someone to  “weigh in” on the issue of children’s privacy, specifically their right to privacy on the net, irrespective of their age. Especially because of their age.

As you were.

Both sides now

Rows of bowls of Angel Delight and ice-cream hassle free without care

and warm weather companions everywhere that kept the clouds away.

But now they only sunblock their sons, who reign, and grow on everyone.

So many other things they might’ve done but doubts got in their way.

I’ve looked at your life’s dreams from both sides now, from now and then,

and still somehow it’s life’s hard won victories  I recall.

But I really don’t know your life at all.

Moons and Junes and ferries overseas, the dizzy dancing way that you feel

as every football fairy tale trip comes real; I’ve looked at your passions that way.

But now it’s us putting on the show. You leave ’em laughing as you go

Because you care, you let them know, but never give yourself away.

I’ve looked at your love from both sides now, from give and take,

and still somehow it’s your love’s inclusion I recall.

I really think I know your love most of all.

Here, with fears, but feeling proud, to say “I love you” right out loud,

ice-cream and streamers from the party crowd, I’m looking at your life this way.

And now old friends aren’t making strange, you shake their hands,

they say you haven’t changed.

Some have been lost but some others gained from living life faraway.

I’ve looked at your life from both sides now,

from win and lose, and still somehow

it’s your life’s quiet revolutions I recall.

I’m really beginning to know your life after all. ernie

The morning after…