I was driving home from work the other day when an elderly tractor driver got me thinking about how far we’ve progressed in terms of women’s rights.
He didn’t have his Massey Ferguson embellished with feminist slogans. He didn’t perform an emergency stop mid trundle to tell me to get all empowered. He simply meandered along the Redcastle road at 10 miles per hour (yes, literally 10 mph) meaning that I was around 20 minutes later getting to pick up my son than I should have been.
Life, since returning to work after maternity leave and moving house, has been about dropping off, driving (lots of driving) and collecting. During the ‘nine to five’ week like millions of other working mothers I get to see my child for around half an hour in the morning before he goes into his car seat and around two hours in the evening before he goes to bed.
I feel good that I have a job. I feel great that I have a career, and a decent salary, and that I can provide for him and I know he’ll grow up in comfortable surroundings where he won’t want for anything.
But it all comes at a hefty price.
In a nutshell, being a working mother means that I’m a permanent guest on my own chatshow. I’m Jeremy Paxman as well as being the poor person at the other end of the desk. I’m constantly questioning every decision I make because ultimately it will end with me spending either more or less time as a mother.
Do I get up early and do the weekly shop before work? If I do that means I give up my morning time with the baby. Do I do the shop after work? If so I’m later getting home.
Do I get my hair done on my day off? If so, I have to hand him over again when I could and should be spending time with him. Do I try and fit getting my hair done into my lunch break? In which case I’m likely to be sporting a half done do.
Do I go to what’s definitely going to be the gig of the year when the Stone Roses stage their comeback in Manchester in the summer? Will I be the most awful mother in the world if I leave him with his adoring grandparents for two whole days? Will he end up referring to that one incident on a psychologist’s couch when he’s thirty?
And those are only the parenting questions. On the other side of all that I am still trying to be a woman, and a wife, and a daughter and a friend. I want to keep those plates spinning too, if I can.
A friend I ran into doing the weekly shop laughed as we met and said she wished she’d had the same life as her own mother had when bringing up herself and her siblings namely a life working in the home. “It was all far simpler then,” she said.
It got me thinking if it might be more simple. Would it put an end to all those questions?
And then I thought of something my own mother told me. Before she died in 1994 I had the great pleasure of knowing her for fourteen years.
“Do your best, that’s all you can do,” she used to say. Whether it was school, or making the beds or learning to ride a bike (which I’ve never mastered) she always maintained that you could hold your head high if you knew you were at least trying.
Somewhere, between the constant questions and the trundling tractor driver and the dropping off, the picking up, the paying of the mortgage, the changing of the nappies and the odd hairdresser’s appointment, I know I’m at least trying.
As women we’ve come a hell of a long way but having the right to vote and have a career doesn’t mean we’re fighting any less.
I think most of my peers would agree we have a little struggle everyday.
But even though I have to sit behind a tractor for a few kilometers here and there, there nearly always comes a clear gap when I can overtake and power on.
There’s no other choice.