Women eh? Honestly, you just can’t trust us to know what we want. Even after 38 years of being one (that’s my whole life, I haven’t switched), I am no closer to understanding what women want – not for more than about 20 minutes at a time, or the distance from Selfridges to a strong cup of coffee.
I have, for a while now, been complaining that working from home is not what I’m good at –that I miss the free posh water, the fresh-from-uni eye candy and the unmanageable hours of office-based earning. And then last Friday happened. Give me a rare chance to get out of my trainers and away from my lonely workspace and into a pair of heels and onto a train to an actual face-to-face creative meeting, and I spend the three preceding nights fully awake worrying about it. Not the creative meeting bit. I can do that my sleep, if I could get any. The heels bit (specifically which ones and how high is appropriate) and the train bit (specifically the inevitability of missing it after dressing three children, throwing out placatory pain au chocolate and leaving them with their father for the school run of their lives). What’s wrong with me? Isn’t this the dawn of a new life I’d been longing for? And do the answers to these clearly rhetorical questions involve the words controlling, neurotic, contrary, or is this just what motherhood does to us?
I remember going to meet my first new client after the babies were born (actually, two years after they were born). I spent the entire train journey close to tears after realising that my nail varnish was a bit chipped, and obviously the man I was going to meet was going to see this as a direct indication of my working style – sloppy, inattentive and possibly a little slutty. In retrospect, I’d be surprised if he even knew what I was even there for. Poor makeup application was not his concern. And the look on my husband’s face when I told him of my honest fears was not kind.
Having said that, as I left for my train on Friday, he suddenly announced his firm belief that I should go back to an office job. Based mainly on the heels. Actually, I think based entirely on the heels. It was clearly a while since he’d seen me face-to-face and with a hair do sans Weetabix. And while I don’t want to get all ‘Mad Men’ on you and imply that my day can be made perfect only by the wink of approval from a man with his own expense account, it did make me feel good. In the same way as I liked my daughter seeing me in a proper working outfit, heading off to save the world from the scourge of bad website copy. And I liked being let-off the school run for once, and turning left not right outside the house.
But I didn’t sleep for fear of all these changes. And this is when I have to admit that, for me, the working mum question is purely and simply one of routine. Going back to an office would offer me the glorious predictability, time sheets and weekly childcare schedules I can only dream about. However, if I work from home, I can earn, shop, lunch, web surf, spend every afternoon with the kids and still have precious time for all those domestic chores. I just need to embrace the randomness of each day, which after eight years of organising my life around the unbending schedules of mealtimes, nap times, snack times, playgroup times, bath times and over-night clothes washing to save any accidentally unstructured day time, is making me feel light-headed. It’s going to take some practice to remember the genuine pleasure of wearing heels before 8pm.