I was talking the other day to a single mum about the dual lives working mums lead. She was talking about how she can be in the middle of a serious negotiation at work one minute and get a phone call about something entirely domestic the next and manage to deal with both in expert fashion. I recalled being rung at work at the time of the swine flu and being told by the school that my daughter had thrown up and was running a high temperature. I had an important meeting to go to. In two minutes’ flat I had arranged for my mum to pick up my daughter and got her a doctor’s appointment, fearing swine flu. “Text me what the doctors says,” I told my mum and went into my meeting, put my phone on vibrate and sat on it. I figured if it vibrated I would be able to secretly check if there was an emergency at hand during the meeting and no-one in the meeting would be any the wiser.
This is the kind of quick thinking and sheer cunning needed to be a working mum. Half of our lives are spent dealing with total chaos at home and yet we glide into the office as if there is nothing more on our minds than the contents of our in-tray. I may be exaggerating about the gliding, but you get my drift.Being a working mum is an exercise in subterfuge. Sometimes, when I used to work in an office people would ask how I was. This may have been immediately after a night spent lying on a bed with two buckets and two children throwing up every 40 minutes. “Top of the world,” I would answer on occasion, depending on who I was talking to. I figured they might be appalled if they knew the truth or, at the very least, think I was about to hurl myself, despite the fact that I appear to have developed some sort of iron immunity to the norovirus over the years.
I have spoken to women who are running their own businesses with children on the side who have conducted negotiations with a baby on their lap or in the garden with a child’s nose pressed against the window throughout. I have noticed that my interviewees are also often in interesting situations if I ring them on the phone, and not just the parents. The smartphone has made people contactable just about everywhere. I have been contacted at the weekend in a forest and had to run up a hill very fast to find a clearing so I can get reception. I have also conducted interviews on a football pitch, in a cupboard [don’t ask] and in the car with a child circling it on a bike and an ice-cream van in the background. In all events, the job is done professionally and on time.
It would just be a bit too easy now to just focus on one thing at a time.