I’ve been thinking about writing a “blog” for a while, but finding time to even go to the toilet is difficult in my situation, so sitting down to type something pleasurable became a sort of fantasy; a nice thing to think about on my commute to university. Yet, the urgency to write about my experiences has been increasing and I vowed to myself I would do it! I was then reminded by my partner of six years ( I thought it was five years but after some careful memory recall and calculation it’s actually six years in May that we met!) that there is a certain irony to writing a blog about the intricacies of juggling being a mum, having a house and being a student. Unfortunately he is right…. Firstly, because the purpose of this spiel is to highlight how being a working mum is an extremely busy role with “downtime” being a thing of the past.
By the end of the day there is little fuel left in the hypothetical tank, other than to crawl into bed with the intention of watching a happy, ‘don’t have to think about anything’ programme with my partner, yet usually falling asleep within about three minutes. The good thing about my situation is that I usually sleep very well – the kind of sleep I associate with being dead. I feel this may need a little more explanation…you sleep without dreaming, without remembering falling asleep without stirring, until you wake up and wonder where the time has gone. That kind of sleep. When I get the chance, I’m pretty good at that (thank goodness!) Needless to say the opportunity to sleep like I’m dead is rare with our four year old (soon to be five…where has the time gone?!) son. We had a pretty good routine going with regards to bedtime, until we went on holiday and I wanted him to sleep in with us for safety reasons. Since that holiday in 2013 He has slept in our bed every night. The routine is rather hilarious when I think about it/ write it down. Noah has to start his sleep journey in our bed. When he falls asleep we have to wait for a little while to move him into his own bed, because if he wakes up then we have no chance of getting him there. Once he’s in his own bed, I quickly jump into my own bed to enjoy a couple of hours of space…because Noah then comes back into our bed for the remainder of the night. This means that I spend the rest of night dangling off the edge of the bed with a small corner of the duvet for warmth! On these occasions, when sleep is off the cards, I often think back to the days when I was first at Uni and would come home for about 4pm and get straight into bed to watch countdown. I would fall in and out of sleep as I when I felt like it…often staying up late because I didn’t have to worry about lack of sleep. Nowadays, I’m preoccupied with getting to bed as quick as I can to get as much interrupted sleep as possible before the nightly ‘routine’ commences.
So, some contextual background (forgive the academic terminology). I am a twenty-eight year old woman; I have a four year old son, a partner, a cat and a sausage dog. I am also a full-time PhD student. I feel extremely privileged to have been awarded funding to undertake my research and having the opportunity to do something that I am passionate about. Of course, everyone who has done or is doing any form of study will know, there are always peaks and troughs in the journey, times of high stress and overwhelming guilt. Guilt which is not only associated with being a working mum but also guilt about not getting enough words on paper (or rather word document)! As I’m sure will resonate with many of you, the prevailing feeling in my emotional bank is guilt. Added to this is a dollop of worry, flavoured with relief (at making it through the day) happiness (that I’m managing being mum and student at the same time and most of the time do it well) and contentment at the end of that long day when the house is calm (but always untidy!!! NOT DIRTY)
So a day in the life of being mum, partner and student goes something like this…. I always feel like I’ve done a day’s work before I get to university, resulting in the need to lie down in the common room with a cup of tea before any creativity can begin! A morning alarm clock is never needed; Noah is up in plenty of time. I negotiate breakfast for Noah (and Bunty and Vegas), while pulling washing out of machine, re loading it, emptying and re filling the tumble dryer. I do make myself a cup of tea and carry it from room to room taking sips when I can, although it usually ends up cold. I have a shower, get myself ready and then negotiate getting Noah ready. Now this is not an easy task. Noah, although a very bright young chap, is not a big fan of school. I don’t think that it has anything to do with the education side; he just wants to be with me at home. He is very good at making my heart strings pang and the guilt gates open. “Mummy why do you have to go work?”, “Mummy can I come to work with you?”, “Mummy don’t go to work I’ll miss you too much and my heart will hurt”, “Is it the weekend yet?” …just some of the statements my son says to me on a morning. My standard response to this is you know mummy has to go to work so that I can pay for nice things for us”, “If I go to work we can afford to go on holiday”, ” mummy can afford to buy you birthday presents and pay for swimming”. This final statement usually does the trick. So I drop Noah off to school, and then drop Bunty off at my Bampis (Welsh for grandfather). It is at this time, I take a deep breath, a sip of my tea in my travelling mug and a long drag on my e cigarette. This is one of the nicest feelings in the world. I begin my journey to Uni. Now this is a very interesting part of the day. I do a lot of my thinking in the car. I start writing paragraphs In my head, and if I think of something good I record myself or if I hear an interesting word on the radio I record it! I always wonder if anyone does this…I know I’ll forget it by the time I get to Cardiff otherwise. I wish these thoughts would come to me when I’m sitting at my desk trying to write!!
Now driving back and fore to Uni has its ups and downs. It’s been great for getting some down time before and after Uni; an opportunity to have an hour with myself uninterrupted and a chance to catch up on Radio’s 4 Woman’s Hour (yes since starting my PhD I have become a self confessed Radio 4 addict). However, I have witnessed some of the most extraordinary driving. As the months have passed doing this commute and negotiating the M4 I have decided to take a more laid back approach to other drivers. They were driving me nuts (no pun intended!), so much so that the commute to work was putting me in a bad mood – I was having to de brief with colleagues in the office before I could get down to any work. On a daily basis I gave myself a pat on the back for making it to work in one piece!
So, how do I negotiate my time to ensure that I am first and foremost mum to my little boy while keeping the house in a habitable state and getting down to studying? The answer to this question is easy for me! I have a rock solid support network and parents and in laws who adore our son and love to spend time with him. My mum is my wing man. Not one day has gone by where my mum has not helped me – practically and emotionally. There is not enough space to write down the things she has done for me and my family and I am eternally grateful to her for supporting me to pursue my dreams (I can’t help but be soppy when writing about my mum!). I am also extremely lucky that I get most of our ironing done by my mum and my partners mum! In my defense I am useless at ironing – I have ruined many clothes in the process! So for the sake of my partner and sons appearance (in school and work) this arrangement is helpful for all involved! I don’t want readers to think that the only way to negotiate this situation is by having amazing support…because I know for a fact that there are many students who do all these jobs by themselves and do it well. I have tremendous appreciation for those who pursue their dreams whatever their circumstances, and it is this point I want to finish on. There have been a few people who have said to me things like “I don’t know how you do it!”, “when do you find the time?” and “maybe you should have waited until your son was older! I just laugh out loud (literally lol) and say “It’s easy!!!!!”…The look on their faces is priceless!
PhD student, Cardiff University