Ok, work equals identity. We all know that. I have a family member that really goes with this idea. Duh. I used to go with this idea. It was no big deal working in your twenties. Add a couple of kids to the mix, a professional move from London to rural Wales and hold on. Now make one of those kids disabled. Hospital appointments, therapy sessions for years. Thanks forever to the Disabled Children’s Team who propped me up as much as they did Delphine. Ten-years later the local secondary school has nose-dived into only looking after its high-achieving-end pupils. Thanks again Austerity the Victorian bitch. After you’ve taken the air to breathe, what has happened to your work-based identity?
Don’t get me wrong. I like this family member. But man, she is forever comparing herself to me. I can hear it, smell it, feel it. ‘You have a big boat,’ she snarks, ‘and lots of time off.’ Comments go like that across the kitchen table like little missiles. She’s right; we do have time off and the big boat. We constructed our lives this way. Almost from the day Jack got his iPhone 3S, the door swung open for us. I remember the stupid looks imprinted on our faces.
‘You mean you don’t have to be at home when an email comes?’
At the time, we might have had one kid who couldn’t really see and didn’t walk so well (the other was just peachy; love you Lu :)) but we were still punch drunk on freedom. The house got sold that very summer. And step in Grandpa. Bless his shock-speaking, sometimes expletive-based and wonderful soul, he gave us this little bungalow to live in while we blew our own house money on a boat. Bang, bang, bang. Like salty dominos.
So, exciting right? But still, I don’t ‘work’. I don’t make any money. Years later with greying temples, I’m staring at things from a slightly different angle. My life has rotated. I’m not freaking out about the silver streaks. Clothing-wise, my mum and my aunty (genetically identical to my mother so she’s like a mother-in-waiting) give me most of their clothes. And they’re awesome shoppers. So I’m lucky. My lack of personal resources only becomes a bit of a pain when I do things like buy avocados that refuse to ripen. Then I might get the whole ‘You-didn’t-pay-for-it’ lecture that makes me want to puke. Happily this brand of husband despotism is getting less frequent. Life is rotating for him too. It’s ok. We’ll go easy on the breadwinner.
Recap time; used to work, used to be independent. Now I’m not. Boy am I the stuff of inspiration!? What have I learnt? Basically that if you don’t work, you give up all rights to materialism; the stuff that is exclusively for you. Luckily I was born pretty though. It’s like free money, right?
And the family member who compares herself to me? Let’s just say I don’t come out superior. My working status in her eyes gives me a special brand of worthlessness. This isn’t just a comment on women’s lib though, it’s also an urban reality. The city girls that stay at home are the richest ones, the spinning, lunching circles. Me? Wearer of my mums’ clothes and avoider of the mirror. Lover of a boat called Quest.
This is the eternal modern problem. If you go to work and can’t see your kids enough, you risk losing their respect. But if you stay at home and fail to provide aspirational quota, what message are you sending? The best I can come up right now is worthlessness. And a little side-eye across the kitchen table.