I wanted everything, for a little while


The secret to lasting relationships. It sounds so civilised. The theory is that I want A. You want C. There’s a halfway point, B, that we go for instead. We both get some of what we want. Everybody’s happy.

Except a lot of decisions have no sensible compromise. I want to sleep on the left side of the bed. You want to sleep on the left side of the bed. One of us wins. One loses. Or you tie yourself up in some complicated, but theoretically fair solution: we alternate every time we change the bedding? Or move house (we used to move a lot)?

And even when there is a middle ground, it doesn’t feel very middle. I want to spend a long weekend with my family. You don’t. We could spend the weekend apart: neither of us want that. We could spend a shorter weekend. That works: but then I resent you for the time that I don’t get. And the next time you want us to do a long journey to see friends that I don’t like, I make it more difficult. After a few of these, we learn that the best thing is to each be gracious about each other’s friends and family, and try vaguely to even out the number.

But compromise essentially means losing as often as you win. And I have never really been ok with losing.

The big man and I had worked most of it out, at least on the domestic front. The odd meltdown, but for the most part it felt like the balance was there.

And then the little man came along and blew it all out of the water. We had a whole new list of tasks and decisions to battle our way through. But I think we made it. We worked out who was better getting up at night (me – first by default because of the feeding, then I discovered that I had more patience). And that despite the big man being of fuck all use in the mornings, he was better at dragging himself up hours before the crack of dawn to entertain the little man.

The last few months have felt like I theoretically have it all right. The little man is hilarious. I love spending time with him. It gets easier all the time. And, as long as he’s well, he sleeps. My job is going well. I enjoy it; I’m good at it; I like my team. Money is finally looking better. I’ve lost the last couple of pounds and bought some new clothes.

But underneath it, now that I’m not actively fighting so hard, I ache.

You see, I want more. I’ve always wanted more. That’s why I’m a straight A student, why I’m always on talent development schemes. Why I left the North for the big city. I’m comfortable with wanting more.

Why aren’t I comfortable now? Because the more I want is impossible. I want to be at home with the little man more. I don’t want to miss any more of his firsts. I want to take him to swimming lessons, to sports clubs. It’s only two years until he starts school, and I want to spend all of my time with him.

I want to work more. Work going well reminds me of how ambitious I am. I am frustrated by not being able to do all those extra hours that would make me stand out. I’m doing fine: but fine isn’t enough. I want to be in the big meetings, making the big decisions.

I want more time for me. I want to take up running again. I want to go on diving holidays. I want to rediscover friends and go out more.

I want to do more with the big man, remember how much he always made me laugh. How he made me better.

Normally when I want more, I can make a plan. I can work towards a goal, I can see a path. Here, I’m stuck. I can’t be at home and at work. I can’t have an early night so I have enough energy for work, life, and go out drinking. I’ve abandoned more time for me altogether; and every time I try to pick it back up, I drown in the guilt.

I’ve finally come up against the laws of time, and I will not be able to win this battle. I think I’ve probably got the balance as right as I can: this might actually be as good as it gets. The battle looks like it’s one with myself. Coming to terms with what I have to let go of to make it all, just about, work.

I don’t think I’m unusual. I don’t think it’s just about having children and working – I have a feeling this is what happens in your 30s, when you realise how many vague dreams you have to abandon because you can’t have the time to make them all happen.

I know this is normal. I know people must work it all out. I just don’t know how I work it out. How do I let go of all of these visions of my life and replace them with a “best of” version?


I stand divided

Today was busy. I negotiated through my meetings; wrote a briefing for our executive committee; supported my overworked team and started writing my promotion case. I was on top of my game today. Coffee in hand I ruled my little empire, and I ruled it well.

And in the few quiet moments I had, as I filled my water bottle, or re-plaited my hair, I was completely floored by remembering my little man is being looked after by strangers again today. I kept forgetting about his existence in all the noise. Then I had to hold onto a wall for support as I was overcome with longing for his chubby little hand wrapped around my finger. I found a box of raisins in my handbag, and wanted to rush home and hand-feed them to him.

Maybe all the working parents around me feel like this. Why can’t I ask them? I drop stories about the little man into conversation wherever I can. I’m rare: some colleagues smile at me in relief, and join in. But often we just move onto more important things: meeting schedules and corporate behaviour and what colour the new chairs should be.

It’s all going better than ever before. So why is it still not feeling easier?