Waiting for the Beast from the East

trees forest snow winter cold


It’s been a week of looking at the sky and wondering what on Earth is happening. One minute it’s snowing, the next it’s bright sunshine. Sometimes both at the same time. I said goodnight to the kids on Monday with the words “The Beast is coming”. The younger ones were excited, the older ones looking forward to a lie-in. We watched the news. There were people in hard hats and gritters everywhere. The local weather forecast went by too quickly for us to be able to work out if we were directly under the snowy bit or were somehow going to swerve it. The online forecast was for hours of snow in the night.

I had a morning meeting in London, but I was pretty confident I would wake up to white stuff up to the windows and a Siberian landscape. I woke up at 5am. No snow. Should I risk going to the meeting, given the online report now said it would snow from 9am-10am? My neighbour said she’d heard it would start snowing at 9.01 and keep snowing all day. The schools would surely close and I’d be stranded in London and I was on pick-up duty. Days ago the primary school had sent a ping message warning of potential closure. The secondary school sent an email. “It’s sunny, but it could snow…” it announced ominously.  I rang my mum. She is 40 minutes away and had woken up to several cms of snow.

But how can you stay home when there is no snow and it is bright sunshine all around? So I caught the tube to Westminster. My meeting was in one of the government buildings. There was a long queue outside. It moved at an excruciatingly slow pace. A rumour went round that one of the security machines wasn’t working. I regretted my decision to dress for smartness and not for warmth. By the time I got into the building my fingers had gone numb. As I spotted the security sign showing the things you are not allowed to bring inside [a bomb, a gun, tools, etc] I cheerfully said to the man behind me that on a previous visit I had somehow forgotten that I had a screwdriver in my bag [I was having problems getting into my car] and had had my bag confiscated. Two minutes later I was being body searched after my earrings set off the security gate. I had put them on in a forlorn effort to look smarter, given the regular ones I wear are daughter two’s comedy moustache ones.

The meeting was on flexible working and parental leave and how to create more family-, indeed human-friendly workplaces. At the end some quotes from men who had taken Shared Parental Leave [SPL] were read out. One was from a man how had been given a lot of hassle and had effectively been sidelined because he asked to take SPL. Yet he said he did not regret his decision and it was the best thing he had done for his family. I’m not sure why, but this kind of stuff always gets to me. I read an SPL case study on the way home. The dad mentioned how his own father had commented that his son had probably spent more time with his daughter in the first six months than he had spent with him in his first six years.

I barely spent any time with my dad as a child, given my parents divorced when I was four. I published a feature recently on young people’s views of their parents’ work patterns. So many said they rarely saw their dads and when they did he was often grumpy.

I support sharing parental leave as a mum because I believe equality at home is necessary for equality at work. But mainly I support it not so much because I am a parent, but because I have been a child. I can see a lifetime’s pattern being set up from birth and I know how much dads are missing if they don’t – or can’t – take it.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

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