Instructions. Please. 

I am good at following instructions. It’s a pretty boring skill, but it helps navigate through this complicated life. I can negotiate opaque beurocracy, fill in forms, pass exams with ease.

But sometimes it lets me down. I’m not great at cooking or baking. I can follow recipes to the letter; but they need a bit more, a bit of inspiration to know how much beating is too much, what “season according to taste” should feel like. Back in my clubbing days I always wished for more choreography, less freedom of expression.

And now, in building this life, I cannot find any instructions. The big man and I don’t have a template for a working couple with a young child to follow. Neither of our mums worked. Mine had particularly strong views about mothers who work: I know, in retrospect, that these were a line of defence for a situation she felt she had little control over. But at a tearful drop off it’s hard not to hear your mum shouting at women on daytime television that if they wanted to work, they shouldn’t have had children. That the balancing act is selfish. That I am selfish, an unforgivably awful mother.

So I try to talk about it. But I can’t find anybody who is, or admits to being, as torn in two. The mums I know who are progressing work harder than me; see their children less; have no hobbies or free time, just work and children. They don’t seem to be weighed down by self doubt and suffocating guilt for every hour their child is with somebody else. Or, they work less hard than me, but throw themselves into home life with a contentment I cannot copy.

Maybe this is the point where I accept that I’m just not willing to work hard enough. That the sacrifices you need to take are a step too far for me. I’ve done well so far; I could just settle here, with my lovely little man and reasonable career and happy husband. I am lucky. I know I am lucky. But I cannot get this life to feel as though it belongs to me. I don’t want to battle to define what my happy is: I am tired and I want somebody to tell me what to do.


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