Chatting with a friend after school drop-off this week we wondered how on earth we ever managed to work full-time and still do all the other stuff which seems to take up so much time these days. So what do I do with those 50+ hours a week I used to spend in paid employment?
Some of it, of course, is work that comes directly from having a child – school drop-offs and pick-ups, extra cooking, cleaning and laundry, not to mention actually looking after said child when they’re not in school.
Some of it is that I guess my values have changed a bit. When I last worked full-time it was a busy job, at least 10 hours a day, plus an hour each way commuting, I didn’t really spend that much time at home at all. Certainly not awake. On a typical work day I’d have left the house by 7am to go for a swim before work, and I rarely got home before 8pm, and that was assuming I wasn’t going out for a drink with friends or colleagues after work, or having a job-related crisis which demanded a late night in the office. I’d be home long enough to heat up whatever I’d chosen from the M&S Food Hall on my way home, maybe to watch a bit of telly or phone a friend, and then to crash in bed. At the weekend we’d sleep in late before heading off to meet friends for a lunch/brunch which invariably segued into drinks and dinner.
As typical DINKYs (Double Income, No Kids Yet) we just threw money at any problem which lack of time presented. When I got my last promotion I decided (with a huge amount of Northern Protestant guilt) to employ a cleaner for a few hours a week, and suddenly the post-lie-in Saturday morning cleaning session could be abandoned. Although I thought I cooked, at least 90% of the time I didn’t really. Breakfast was either a bowl of cereal at home or something picked up from Pret a Manger and eaten at my desk, lunch was grabbed (time permitting) at one of the many sandwich bars around my Central London office and eaten, yep, you’ve guessed, at my desk. If dinner wasn’t a meal out or a takeaway it was something like M&S fishcakes with salad or pasta with a tub of ready made sauce. Even when I did ‘proper’ cooking I thought nothing of short-cuts such as ready mashed potato, ready grated cheese or ready prepped veg.
Now it horrifies me to think of spending £2 on a 2 person serving of pre-mashed potato when for that amount I could buy sufficient potatoes to keep all three of us in mash for at least six meals. Pretty much everything we eat is now cooked from scratch with ingredients close to their natural state. I do keep a jar of pasta sauce in the cupboard for emergencies (definition of emergency = my husband needs to cook dinner!), but I’ve discovered that in the time it takes for a pan of pasta to cook I can chop a few tomatoes, crush a garlic clove or two and cook them down in olive oil, bunging in some dried chilli flakes as I do so. Hey presto, penne arrabbiata for about 50p per serving. A lot of this kitchen activity is cost motivated- giving up a £50k salary means cutting back on the ready meals too. But also, I wouldn’t dream of giving Anna ready meals every night, so it seems hard to understand now why I ever thought it was a good idea to eat like that myself.
I really enjoy cooking, and my confidence and repertoire has grown considerably now it’s a day-in, day-out routine rather than for a once-in-a-blue moon dinner party. And I think, on the whole, we generally eat a lot more healthily and enjoyably than we’ve ever done. I can’t really say the same for cleaning. The luxury of 3 hours professional cleaning a week vanished at the same time as my maternity pay did, but unfortunately I don’t enjoy cleaning any more than I’ve ever done, and I’m not much better at it. Being at home all day means a) more mess made and b) no opportunity to walk out in the morning, close the door and forget about it, so it has to be done, and, as I’ve already discussed on this blog, it seems to take an inordinate length of time which I resent every second of.
Ok, so cleaning, cooking and childcare takes up a fair amount of time. How very progressive. What else? Well, there’s my writing, of course, and that’s fairly self-explanatory. And after a very intense period finishing my second novel I finally dispatched it to my editor, and so am enjoying a few blissful weeks of enforced leisure before she comes back to me with her comments and I need to start work again. During September I kept saying “When the book’s finished I’ll get round to…”
And the last ten days has been a complete whirl doing them all. I had a leisurely lunch with a good friend, and then we went to see the Lowry Exhibition at Tate Britain together. The art was amazing, and by the end of the afternoon my friend and I had literally talked ourselves hoarse with all the catching up. We went home physically tired, and with sore throats and feet, but mentally revitalised by the break from our normal routine. I went for lunch with another friend and her baby, making the most of the last little bit of R’s maternity leave, and I had a lovely time playing with gorgeous baby Lizzie as well as chatting to her mum. I had dinner with a friend from my graduate trainee days; glugging wine in an after-work venue again felt like stepping back to another self entirely. A mummy-friend babysat while my husband and I went out for a pop-up Eritrean meal in a local pub. I’ve had at least three coffee-and-gossip sessions with different friends I hadn’t seen much of recently. More prosaically I’ve chosen and ordered a new gas-fire, looked at stair-carpets, taken the kittens for their booster injections, started the first tentative forays into Christmas shopping, given all our paperwork a good sort out for the first time since the pre-baby bit of my maternity leave, booked a solicitor appointment for us to update our wills, tried (and almost certainly failed) to register for tax self-assessment, brought my bread-maker out of retirement and eschewed Warburton’s entirely, attended a school workshop on supporting your child to learn synthetic phonics and am due to give blood tomorrow. All interspersed with the Groundhog-Day-style laundry, cleaning, cooking, food shopping, and sweeping up of dead leaves from the front path.
I still have a long list of projects I haven’t got round to, but they, and everything else, are on hold now because next week is half term. Anna has almost completed 1/6 of her Reception year. She’s still absolutely loving school, but is also completely shattered, and I am so looking forward to a week of just hanging out together. She’s requested a visit to the Museum of Childhood, there’s a local pumpkin carving event, I have a recipe for chocolate-orange cobweb cakes, and we’ve got a couple of play-dates planned – all the things which used to form our old routine now feel like special and exciting treats, and I can’t wait. Turns out those 50 hours a week are pretty easy to fill really.