“But what do you do all day?”
Oh. This again. The dreaded question. The one that strikes when new mums mingle with well-meaning but ultimately clueless child-free friends or relatives.
It usually goes like this: your coffee catch-up is going fine, and then that irritating thought-bubble emerges from their impossibly groomed head. It dampens your mummy mojo and causes you to cantankerously reflect on the miracle that brought you together - the perfect timing of the morning nap, the strategic feed in the passenger seat of the car, the endless rocking in the pram. Meanwhile, this Judgmental Jennifer probably rolled out of bed, jumped in the car and bowled up, oblivious to your efforts and eager to ask impertinent questions.
Another version of the same thought is the assumption that new mothers do nothing much at all. After the birth of my son, one friend offered me a hard drive full of movies to help pass the time. Another, who came to visit when my son was six weeks old, said she couldn’t wait to be relaxing at home with a baby. I pointed out that it wasn’t actually very relaxing and she responded, in a matter-of-fact tone, “Yes, but more relaxing than work”.
Personally, I can’t think of anything more relaxing than caring for a seemingly fragile little being, who you love in a petrifying way, while in a state of constant sleep deprivation. What a cinch.
But before I call on the mummy mob to tear these ignoramuses apart, I should probably admit I have wondered the very same thing.
When I was pregnant the idea of being at home all day with a mute little human was excitingly novel, but also terrifyingly flexible. Now my baby son has come along, my world has imploded and re-formed, and I find myself with less time to perfect the art of baking than I imagined. I marvel at how time disappears and even I have to ask myself the question: what do I do all day?
In my case, the myth of spare time was based on mothers who work and have a baby. My logic was that if they can do both, then having a baby can’t be very time consuming. Yes, that's obviously flawed. Women don’t usually look after their baby and work for someone else simultaneously. Unless you’re born with octopus arms and have a cone of silence available, it really isn’t practical.
So are we busy? In my view (and it should be noted that I only have one child), “blurry” seems to be a better word. “Startlingly inefficient” is another description that springs to mind. I’m not sure if this is a common phenomenon, but a significant portion of my time seems to be spent sitting in the car or driving around aimlessly while my son has unscheduled naps.
In defense of Dreaded Questioners, mothers always seem to be flitting around shopping, going to the park and meeting other mums for coffee. What a life! My Facebook page is full of these fun adventures. What may not be quite so apparent is that no matter where we are, the nappies, nursing, naps and tears come too. We escape the house not because we have nothing to do there, but because doing the same things in different scenery is refreshing. Or, to put it more negatively, we fear that a cloistered existence will leave us as jabbering desperados by the end of the day.
In my previous life as a lawyer, I recorded all of my time. If I did such a thing now, a time entry would look something like this:
- Take baby to car for mother’s group (first attempt)
- Attend to unexpected “Code Brown” incident
- Take baby to car (second attempt)
- Consider pervasive smell (baby vom down back of shirt)
- Consider moral dilemma re leaving baby in car during shirt swap
- Remove baby from car and return to house
- Change shirt
- Take baby to car (third attempt)
- Total: 0.5hr
So what did I do in the morning? “I went to mothers group” just really doesn’t seem to cover it. Well, it does, but only in the same sense as swimming the English Channel can be described as “having a swim”.
It seems there are a number of ways to answer the dreaded question, ranging from annoying and mumsy (“you need time to grow a little human”) to vague and unsatisfactory (“you’d be surprised how babies just gobble time”). Personally, I favour sarcasm. It may be the lowest form of wit, but it tends to soothe the fury.
What do I do all day? This motherhood gig is such a snore ... I’m considering taking up macramé.