A moment to daydream, if I may, to a time when all the little people in my life will sleep at night. To a time when all those same little people will have busy days of their very own, leaving me to mine.
“Picture this,” a little voice inside my head says, when another night’s sleep has been punctured, sliced straight through. And so, then, I picture us further ahead to the years when our lives are not defined by hours of sleep. To a time when I won’t have to snatch seconds, one eye on the clock wondering how long I’ve got, half holding my breath in case the door bell rings with a parcel for next door that might [will, definitely] wake my sleeping baby up.
I am not wishing time away, nor am I complaining for my very blessed lot (a lot which I hold close and fierce to my heart). I am simply allowing myself to linger for a bittersweet moment on what the future may be like, when I have uninterrupted quietness and the precious promise of productivity balanced with messy cake bakes, park dates and bedtime stories with my boys.
This time next year, Jude will start Montessori and I will - for the first time in five years - be alone for entire mornings at a time. I am aware of the very many, many privileges in this. We are privileged to be able to choose a Montessori nursery. I am privileged to even have the choice to be with my children in their early years, to drop and pick them up myself from school or nursery and still be here for them in between (because I want to). I am privileged in that I have the opportunity to explore work that is meaningful for me and it is a privilege to even have a chance to voice all of this right here on a blog. None of this is lost on me. Yet still, the possibilities of what the future may mean for me seem endless, compared to now.
Not even so long ago (and this is an ugly thing to admit) I envied those who were achieving Great Things in their work and I found myself all too often living in the past, defining myself by an interesting, coveted job at an important place which I held once upon a time. But as my husband always points out, those doing Great Things whose successes I craved either had no children or fewer children or older children whose needs were not quite the same as the needs of our three, all under the age of five. He’d tell me this, but I still felt I was failing or faltering or falling and somedays, all three.
But I don’t mind anymore. I don’t mind what other people are achieving with all their Great Things anymore. I don’t know why or how, but something has changed.
Maybe it’s the softer edges of the darker nights drawing in or maybe it’s because this year, my older two boys started school and nursery and I miss them so I don’t want to wish this time away. Or maybe it’s the balance that yoga teacher training brings, or the wonderful feedback from the students on my writing course, knowing I’m making a difference to their confidence, or maybe it’s because I know I wouldn’t swap my kids for a byline any day. I can’t quite put my finger on why my thoughts have shifted, but they have, like passing clouds. It no longer feels quite so urgent or necessary to keep up with everyone else’s achievements anymore.
It has taken me a long time to think these thoughts and hold them in my mind, knowing I’m okay with where I am. I’m starting to believe that my own Great Things will come in time. For now, I’m okay with just day-dreaming about the future but I am also quietly setting things in motion for when those days arrive.
In her book The Skills, Mishal Husain writes about finding balance both in family life and in work. She talks about how she came to understand that life is cyclical and comes at you in stages; you just have to learn to go with, not against, it. She says:
“The single most useful thing I have learned goes back to that sense of a life in phases: there will be periods when your hands may be full in the most literal sense, with little creatures requiring feeding, changing and bathing… Thinking through the capacity you have at any given point in time really does matter… I love what I do now, but I don’t think it would have the right place for me either earlier in my career, when I had less experience, or when my children were still waking up in the night. At different points, I’ve tried to find solutions that worked for our family and put them into place not forever, but for as long as they made sense.”
With my children being so small, it makes sense that my capacity to earn or work or be known for my writing is lower than it once was and lower than the capacity of those people I look to, the ones who are seemingly soaring ahead with unlimited time at their fingertips. It’s a reduced capacity but not diminished. It’s why I can only write one long read a week. So it’ll take me a little longer to get to where I want to be; that’s okay. Because one day, my children will be older, and while I’m under no illusion that that means life will be easy (it won’t), I do believe the clouds will shift again.
I don’t know how you juggle motherhood with a career; it would be presumptuous of me to assume I have the answers (not least because in a way, I opted out). I am acutely aware that not everyone has the choices I have had; life would have been very different had I stayed in traditional employment with a conventional maternity leave (I had gone freelance before having children and as a self-employed writer, I took two incredibly short maternity leaves before getting back to book writing and journalism). But when you’re working for yourself or trying to forge a new path or simply trying to explore something new, all the while raising a young family, it’s okay to not always be on top in every part of your life. It’s okay to shift your priorities. It’s okay to listen to what your heart says, to go with the warmth of a child’s cuddles instead of fighting to be the best in a less forgiving, more competitive world. It’s hard, sometimes, but it’s also absolutely worthwhile.
Because even if it feels as though the world is spinning madly with the successes of everyone else, good things will come. I know this because good things, such astonishing things, already have come - not least the three magnificent creatures who are asleep right now, as I write this late into the night. Now that I no longer define myself by professional success alone, I realise that good things happen every day in the quietest of places; in a baby’s first steps, in the triumph of a five-year-old completing a set of reading books, in the curve of my toddler’s early penmanship.
Sometimes, pieces of this odd little puzzle called life fall into place quickly, easily even, with a satisfying snap. Other times, you spend a while searching for those pieces that are lost or missing, or else you hold a piece in your hand, turning it over and over, placing it here and there into jagged corners that don’t quite hug it into position. You grow frustrated, wondering where the awkward pieces are supposed to go. But it takes time to get things right. It takes time to get to where you want to be. And, truly, it’s okay to take all the time you need.
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