The last couple of months I struggled with ‘not going to work’. One of the reasons we moved here was to experience more of a family life. Being all together, in stead of living four separate lives under one roof. And it worked, we are all thriving mostly functioning as one organism. But it also thrown up a lot of questions about what it has meant for me and for my (quitted) career to not be ‘going to work’. To spend so much time with my kids. Am I still a working woman? Am I a stay at home mom? Am I both? Does it matter what I am?
Back in Amsterdam I was away working four days a week and most evenings when the children were a sleep. On Thursday I would have my ‘day off’, looking forward to it as some much needed leisure time, I still would feel I had to try to and fit in a work-coffee date with my youngest or at least get some work done when she would take her nap. Spending the rest of the day emailing and answering urgent phone calls from the playground. Leaving me even more exhausted than on workdays.
Without knowing why, I just tried to keep them as separated as possible. I tried to work as if I didn’t have a family and tried to have a family as if I didn’t work. Leaving little time to sleep and no time for myself or my friends. At work I used to hide the fact that I had children. I was one of the first in my circle to have a baby and so I tried to hide the fact how time and energy consuming a baby is, so they wouldn’t think less of me in the workspace. For a long time the biggest compliment someone could give me was; wow, I never would have thought of you as a mother. I would hide my bike with children seat (in Amsterdam children ride with the parents on the back of the bikes) around the corner before workappointments. And leaving for daycare pickup, I would say I was running late for my next appointment. I learned very soon never to get my children in the way of my work, because nobody would understand if I would leave a meeting soon because the daycare would close, or that as a mother you really want to bring your own children to bed from time to time.
I remember a lot of women, telling me how they wanted to be like me, working with a family. I smiled and thought; there’s something more wrong here than I thought. Because on a level nobody could see, I was paying the price: no personal life and a lot of panic attacks.
Now I put my children to bed every single night. Then I walk the dog watching the sun go down, do the dishes and get back to work behind my laptop. I’m not bothering anyone with my children. And I’m not bothering anyone with my work. I feel happy and much of the hurry of before has disappeared. But now I start to ask myself if I’m doing enough? If I’m not just escaping? In my heart I know my kids will be a lot bigger soon, they won’t like and need me as much as they do now. And deep inside I know that I hopefully will have another 30 years to work as hard as I like. But my mind keeps telling me I need to get out there. Need to make more films, money, articles. That I’m wasting my time, my education, my money, on what? That soon it all will be too late.
Somehow I’m so infatuated with the protestant work ethos of always having to be being busy on one hand , and the feminist dogma that ‘mom’ should be a four-letter word on another, I can’t be happy with anything less. Where did that idea come from? I know I don’t believe in it anymore. It’s one of those rigid ideas I confront myself with out here. What do I think about it? How does this apply to me and my family?
A brief visit to Amsterdam doesn’t make things easier. When I arrive I find out how relaxed I’ve become. My pace is a lot slower than everyone else’s. And they are all asking me what I’m doing. Wanting me to give them feat of arms and achievements, just as they tell me about theirs. Except I don’t have a lot to tell them. Still settling in. Cooking a lot. Still no new movie, still no progress on the book. At first I felt quite confident with my new life and my new choices. But after two days I feel as pale, hunted and hungry for achievement as before I moved. Except I have nothing to show for myself. When I leave after a week I am convinced of the idea that I am a failure. That I’m missing out. Walking through the mountains again I feel how far ‘off the grid’ I actually am living out here. That I am outside all of that now. And the funny thing is I came here just to be outside all of that. I came here to have the time and silence to think of new ideas, of ideas that would never had come to me if I would have stayed in my hamster wheel.