Thanks for all the kind words and advice when I was feeling down. Making decisions when we are sick is a bad idea but conversely, I think illness can strip away the veneer of coping and allows us, in our vulnerability, to be more truthful about what we want and what we can have - essentially, it lets us re-think what matters. So there are changes in this household and they were put in place last Tuesday; hey, it'll all be different on Tuesday!
When Al and I had our kids we made a commitment to not having them in child care. This wasn't - and isn't - a reflection on other people's choices; it comes from our own experiences as kids, from our desire to parent our own kids intensively, and it is facilitated by living in a place where it's possible (in theory) to live on one income. But it hasn't quite worked out like that. Some of the unraveling has been easy: Lucy wanted to start going to kinder and we found a really good one, quiet and relaxed, with sofas and yoga, and Lu loves it all. Some changes have been harder: it's clear that living on one income is not possible for us. We have an average size mortgage, no significant petrol or transport costs, a modest lifestyle but still our carefully stored buffer has dwindled to nothing - financially, we can't do what we set out to do. Lots of people do - this is obvious reading all those lovely blogs about parenting and living frugally - but we can't. In the end, we need money in the bank (this is a product of my own childhood experiences) and we like to spend money on some fun things occasionally. Sometimes I am disappointed by this but like most people I'm a product of my culture, and while I can wriggle about in it, it settles on my shoulders and it's hard to shake.
So, we are about to become a two income family, kind of. Al has found The Job, the job he has been looking for since he was seventeen, the job that might finally fit him and make him feel happy to go to work in the morning, and he'll be doing that four days a week. And as for me, well it turns out all those years of working like a man have paid off in some serious long service leave, which my dear and lovely bosses will allow me to take as 2.5 days a week over the course of the next six months, while staying on full pay (don't hate me, please - I am fully aware of just how good my work conditions are). So I get to come back into the realm of the domestic, to regain some knowledge of the routines of our home and the nuances of my kids. Nell doesn't have a lot of words and the words she has aren't clear - Al can understand her and I can't; I want to learn to understand my little one. The girls love to bake and read and play; I want to give them my time to do that. I'll get to pick Lu up from kinder, I'll get to ride the bus with them to the museum with the trains, I'll get to swear under my breath as I push the overladen, hummer-size pram up the hill to our house. And I get to go to work and do the thinking and writing that sustains me in a different way.
This is our way of getting some balance back. More paid work in the household but for me at least, and somewhat counter-intuitively, more space in my days. Al gets a chance to re-engage with an adult world. The girls get happier parents (I never really understood the importance of this until the last few months) and lots more of their mother with very little disruption to their lives. This is not a happy ending because this parenting gig is never going to end. But a hopeful beginning of the next little time in our lives.
These are our choices but they are choices that are bound up in a set of structures: social networks, educational opportunities, class, ethnicity, gender, workplace agreements, local housing markets, government spending priorities. But our particular path is also shaped by luck: I have good, good managers who personally understand the importance of work-life balance; Al happened to meet a person who opened the door to his new employment. It's a reminder that sitting in judgment on other people's choices is an act of ignorance, if for no other reason than we can never be properly aware of the luck and structure that open and close what's available to us.