A Day in the Life of a Working Mother

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I wanted to whinge about this crazy week but ended up penning down a story instead. I plan to slow down but here I’m 1am and still going. One day. Soon.

“Kids get your bags and get in the car.”
Amelia recites this phrase every morning, except the days she works in the office. Those days her husband deals with the morning chaos.

“Being late is a bad habit.” She says running upstairs, two steps at a time, almost tripping over the last step. Steadying herself she glances over her room, looking for her bag. It must be in the wardrobe. Amelia notices the kids’ flannelette pyjamas still on the floor and squints. They never pick up their clothes. She wonders if it’s worth yelling again asking them to come clean the mess. Why bother, we will be even later. This is just an irritation, a minor irritation. Her spacious bedroom looks small with all the clutter. She walks over the jumble of clothes and stops in front of the sliding mirrored doors of her robe. Before she slides the door open she notices the face starring back at her. Her eyebrows climb, there is no spark in those eyes. She looks tired and her hair hasn’t seen a brush yet. Amelia pulls an elastic band from the pocket of her blue Nike jumper and quickly ties her short, unruly hair, into a ponytail. That will do.

Amelia races downstairs, this time holding the rails.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” She instructs the kids, who don’t seem to hear, they are totally absorbed in their game of Pokemon cards. Amelia always repeats ‘let’s go’ three times. A single ‘let’s go’ doesn’t express her sense of urgency.

“There is no canteen money if we are late.” She warns them and this time the kids get moving.

They drive to school talking about Pokemon and the upcoming birthday party that she hasn’t started planning yet. She printed extra copy of the invitations to send to their family overseas but unknowingly to her Steve distributed every single invitation to his friends at school. She is uncertain of who or how many kids have been invited.

“Mum can you pick us up early?” asks Steve.
Her heart feels heavy every time she hears this question. She wonders if she is giving her children enough quality time. Is car time quality time? She read somewhere psychologists saying that car time is part of the equation. She finds this reassuring. She is focusing on the traffic ahead but notices Steve is still staring at her.
“I’ll try.” Amelia says unconvincingly, she knows she won’t be able to.

She finds a spot in front of the school.
“This is our lucky day!” Amelia cheers up.
“A school day is never a lucky day.” Steve mumbles.
“Common, you enjoy playing with your friends, don’t you?”
“Mum, no child likes going to school. We just go because we have to.”
“Ok but you have to hurry now, the bell will ring in a few seconds.” Steve’s mouth is a horizontal line now. She immediately regrets saying the word hurry and gets out of the car to kiss them good bye and straighten their hats.
“I love you.” She shouts as she watches them climb the fence. Her boys never use the school gate.

Amelia drives off waving at some parents chit-chatting at the gate. She sighs. She doesn’t want to be a stay at home mother but she wishes she had time to chit-chat sometimes. Her days start early and are full. Here she is, not quite nine in the morning and has already done one hour of work, before the kids got up.

The school traffic steals a couple of minutes from her morning. As she waits at the pedestrian crossing, she notices the blue sky dotted with a few specks of fluffy clouds. The thermometer in the car’s dashboard displays 18C. The perfect weather for a run. But she has so much on at the moment, she has to resist. She is hopeful that she will have a break for a run later in the day. That’s why she is wearing active wear and her GPS sports watch.

But the day doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. There were no pit stops. The only break she’s had was to scramble some eggs for lunch. She spent the whole day staring at the screen in her computer. It’s already time to pick up the kids and she still has emails to reply. She will have to return to the computer at night. Her eyes are red and sting. Amelia puts her elbows on the desk in front of her, holds her head with her hands and massages her temples with the tips of her long middle fingers. I’m working too hard.

On the way to school she sights runners pounding the pavement and wonders how they find the time. Don’t these people have mortgages to pay? For a moment she wishes her life was different. Amelia stops at a set of red lights and spots her birds. The common birds that are always there performing a synchronised dance across the sky, in perfect harmony. Amelia thinks they are pigeons but she isn’t certain. It doesn’t matter what they are and it doesn’t bother her that she has to stop at these lights for two whole minutes. She enjoys the show. She tries to count them, 25, 30, more. More than a messy sum of birds. This is a self-organised dynamic system showing cohesion and movement of a group without a leader. A show of competence and cooperation among birds, qualities she admires.

She arrives at after school care and from a distance she spots the boys playing soccer. Amelia worries that her kids don’t spend as much time at home as they would like to but she is watching them play in the soft rubber field, they tackle, they dribble and they don’t seem in a hurry to leave. This makes her feel better.

Amelia signs them off and they walk to the car talking about Pokemon and the homework that still needs to be done. But not tonight. They are now heading to music lessons and she will be there replying to emails while she waits at reception for thirty minutes. If the lessons were longer she would go for a run instead. She is still in active wear and wearing the GPS watch. She is not the only mother waiting in the tiny reception at the music school but she is the only one working on a laptop. The others are reading Women’s Weekly and those types of magazines. She wanted to reach out for one too, just for a bit of entertainment but she knows her night will be even longer if she doesn’t deal with the emails now.

Thirty minutes go by and the boys are back at reception before she sends the second email. “Just a minute boys.”
“Mum I’m hungry.” Whinges Jack.
“Just pressing the send button… now.”
She looks at them. “Ready to go.”
“Mum, can we stop for hot chips, I’m starving.” Jacks insists.
Stop? Stop? Who has time to stop. “We’ll have dinner shortly at home.”

They are walking across the footpath of the quiet shopping village. By now a cafe and a take away shop are the only stores open.

“But mum I am hungry now!” Jack doesn’t give up.
Amelia raises her arm to check the time and calculate how long it will take to whip up dinner, quickly read the kids a story, have a shower and go back to the computer. She feels a drop of sweat running down her back.

“My stomach is grumbling mum, please?”

Amelia stops walking and stares at the trees at the end of the road soaking up on what’s left of the sun in this gorgeous spring day. Even trees do a better job of looking after themselves. She wonders if she will ever finish reading the book she started last month. Amelia doesn’t give her kids junk food very often, she thinks this is lazy parenting. But she is too tired today.

“I just had an idea.” She says putting her arms around the kids’ shoulders. How about we go to Macas and grab a take-away dinner and you can eat in the crèche at the gym while I do my exercise?”

The boys don’t like going to the crèche. They say creches are for pre-schoolers.

“Only if I get a milkshake with my meal.” Jack tries to negotiate a deal.

“Ok, you choose your dinner tonight.”

The kids arrive at the gym carrying a brown bag in one hand and a clear plastic cup with a cold drink in the other.

“I’m sorry but the creche no longer opens on Thursday nights.”

Amelia gave the receptionist a blank stare, she could not believe it. Maybe she didn’t hear the girl properly with the thumping sound coming from the treadmills behind her. The girl showed Amelia a copy of the gym’s timetable, circling the creche’s opening times.

“Really? I rushed so much.” She didn’t mean to say that, the words just came out of her mouth, she could not hide her frustration. It was her fault, this is what happens when you are too busy, sooner or later you make mistakes. Why am I cramming in so much? Why do I have to be so productive?

She turns back to look at her boys and they smile.
“Mum, now this is a lucky day for us. Can we go home?”
“Ok, let’s go.” This time she only said it once.

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Give them time to be kids

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The daylight slowly fades in the small backyard of our suburban home and the house is filled with the sounds of birds and children. The birds are retiring for their nightly rest but the kids show no signs of getting tired – or hungry! It’s 8:30pm and if I don’t insist they won’t come in for dinner.

Through the kitchen window I see my backyard transformed into a magical classroom where the children are exploring and learning and destroying my herbs garden. During daylight saving the kids end up going to bed at 10pm, but I don’t mind. At the end of the day I know they’ve been exposed to more sunlight than blue light from electronic devices and they’ve exercised their bodies and minds, not just their little fingers.

There is no denying that technology is an important part of children’s education but it saddens me that most children are spending more time staring at a screen than playing outdoors, reading, playing with friends or even interacting with a parent. The Department of Health recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for children aged five and up but research suggests that over 58% of Australian children spend more than two hours per day consuming screen based media. The older they get the more they consume.

Those two recommended hours include screen time spent both on educational and recreational purposes but judging by my own kids, most of the time spent staring at a screen is unlikely to be on educational grounds. And what’s worse is that it’s more likely to be at the expense of time they were supposed to spend on good and old ‘free play’.

Free play for many children today means time on electronic gadgets. We all know they want and need to play with their devices – using their tablets, phones and computers wisely can be beneficial. But I think there is so much over parenting and over scheduling these days that children don’t have the time, and sometimes the freedom, required to strike a good balance between electronics and traditional play. And with limited time it looks like electronics always win!

As parents we have to think critically about how much we schedule or allow our children to cram in. My son this week announced he no longer wants to play soccer and I immediately went looking for other sports options. Thomas has turned down all alternatives, he said he just wants to be home. And that’s how it’s going to be. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my children won’t be traumatised or disadvantaged if they miss a sport’s season.

I don’t know if it’s just in my home but I find that when kids are not deprived of free time it’s easier to negotiate with them a better balance between screen and non-screen play, and once they engage on play that involves all their senses they end up forgetting about their devices.

When I look back at my childhood my happiest moments weren’t those in front of the TV watching The Flintstones or playing pac-man. One of my favourite memories is of my friends and I bringing home a litter of six kittens that we found in the neighbourhood. Childhood was about playing with other kids, exploring, getting into trouble, was about having time and being allowed to be kids.

Surely, we live in a different world today but while technology is an integral part of our lives and it is not our lives. I fear that without enough screen-free play our future adults will look back in their childhood and say that the best moments of their lives were spent on Minecraft. This will be a dull, conforming world, full of people disconnected to themselves and to others. But I still hope it won’t be so. I hope when the daylight slowly fades in the backyard of my grandchildren’s suburban home the house will be filled with the sounds of birds and children.