My younger sister and I are very different people - in every respect.
While she has a scientific kind of brain which looks for the logic in everything I like to see things on a more creative level. She’ll explain to her three children the actual real reason for things like rain or snow or rainbows. I’ll go for making something up which amuses us all no end but probably leaves the children more confused than ever.
She likes to cook - actually she loves to cook. She even manages to be quite successful at it. Me? I’m a heater-upper. Pasta and sauce? Yep. Mashed potatoes and one of those ready-to-roast joints? Sure thing. But look for some kind of fancy Thai noodle kind of braised or sauteed type of thing? You’d be better off calling over to our Emma’s.
She’s a stay-at-home mammy to her three children - is there for the school pick up, can do activities with her youngest two. She breastfeeds. She does baby-led-weaning. She has lost five and a half stone in a year on WeightWatchers.
Me? I work full time. My aunt does the school pick up and Cara, who is farmed out every morning, has taken to calling her Mimi - only because she knows it would break my heart if she went the whole hog and called her mammy.
My children were bottle fed, and spoon fed jars of baby food (organic baby food, mind. I had to assuage my guilt somehow). I have lost a stone in just under a year at WeightWatchers.
There are nights when I make it home just in time to kiss the baby goodnight before she goes to bed.
As I said, we are exceptionally, very different people. Last week while I was musing that there is much of her life which I am envious of (not least the weight loss) she replied that she admired how organised I was and how she admired my ability to get things done. (We’ll not mention the fifth novel which isn’t quite finished yet).
I replied that I’m not at all organised - not by any grand design or choice anyway.
I’m a working mammy, I told her. If I don’t show some level of organisation the whole world (well, our family dynamic) would fall apart. Organisation is not a skill or an achievement to be admired - in my line of work it’s an absolute bloody necessity. Working mammies have no choice in the matter.
Forget the Boy Scouts, the real motto ‘Be Prepared’ belongs to us working mums. Uniforms and baby clothes must be laid out the night before. Homework must be completed to a high standard. Lunches must be packed or dinner money wallets filled. Adequate supplies of fruit must be bought so as to never, ever even contemplate breaking the school’s strict “nothing but fruit for break” policy.
PE uniforms must never be forgotten under pain of death. Afterschool activities must be A) Plentiful, B) Attended on time and C) Accompanied with requisite purchases of the correct folders/ sports kit/ accessories which must always be clean and ready at a moment’s notice. Working mammies must never, ever run out of the three essentials in life A) Milk, B) Bread and C) nappies. (C is only applicable if you have a baby or toddler, naturally).
We must also have perfected the “calm and in control” smile as we haul our reluctant offspring through the school gates and deposit them in their classroom while mentally trying to work out just how late you are now running for work without showing even one ounce of panic.
We don’t do any of this to be smug. We don’t do any of this to win any parenting awards.
We do this because we absolutely have to or else everyone will point the finger of blame simply at the fact that we work - and are therefore lesser mammies because of it - and not just at any inherent general fecklessness.
We can just imagine the shaking of heads of teachers and others mammies if our children arrived at school poorly shod and with *gasp* a Tracker bar or some other such abomination in their school bags for breaks. “She works,” we imagine them whispering before turning to look at our poor, neglected children with a sympathetic tilt of their heads. “The critter,” they mutter.
Or at least we think they do - because as well as being queens of enforced organisation we are also queens of carrying the guilt factor around in our overpacked bags (loaded with something for every eventuality - mine currently has a school tie, a toy mobile phone, a nappy and some calpol loaded into it).
We can’t afford to let things slide.
We have to master of all tasks. We have to keep things moving at all costs.
And sometimes - just sometimes - what we’d really love to do is to sit on the floor, play with our children, experiment with our cooking and tell the whole world that really we’re just about keeping all those balls up in the air.
So dear sister, I can assure you I’m not all that organised really.
Like many other working mammies, I just put on a good show.