I vaguely recall being in my mid-20s, working as an editor on a magazine and having no children barnacled to my ankle. There were several working mums in the company, and rather than thinking ‘how do they do it?’, I would wonder to myself, ‘why do they do it?’
It just looked so exhausting; all that juggling, constantly being on pick-up deadlines, and trying to have it all. They also seemed, dare I say it, pleased to be at work. I remember one going on holiday with small children and coming back looking more tired, ragged and hollow-eyed than before.
Fast-forward 15 years, and the tables are turned. At one company I work for, there’s a 50:50 split between parents and non-parents, and while everyone, for the most part, jollies along together, the divide occasionally widens into a gaping canyon.
Just before Christmas, a children’s afternoon was arranged, in which an onslaught of small kids arrived to wreak havoc in the office. As they drank apple juice in the boardroom, smeared sugary donuts all over the furniture and hid behind the filing cabinets, I sat back and enjoyed the whole thing, mainly because my boys weren’t there to have to supervise.
I loved watching my colleagues – steely journalists – in Dad mode (not many of the mums brought their kids in, can’t think why), but it didn’t go down well with everyone. One young fella, about as far off reproducing as I was in my mid-20s, looked visibly pained by the chaos, and eyed any toddlers who approached him as though they might be carrying explosives.
Before sidling off home early, I heard him say: “They did this last year too. One kid ate so much junk that she was SICK everywhere.” [almost shuddering as he recalled the horror!]
For me, the mix of parents and non-parents is a refreshing change, but at another place I work, it’s a different set-up: the staff are all younger and it’s here that I came across her:
The 20-something career woman with no children, bucket-loads of ambition, two Blackberries and dry-clean-only clothes.
And I found myself working for her.
At about 5.40pm, she (nicely) asked me to make some fairly extensive changes on the project I was working on.
“Ok,” I said, nodding, and because she needed them that evening and DH was already on his way to pick me up, I offered to email it later.
“What time?” she asked, a little sharply.
I made a mental calculation: get home [45mins]; see kids [1.5 hours]; bedtime routine and reading [1 hour]; do work [1.5 hours] … it would be at least 10.45pm.
“Um. About….” I couldn’t say it. “9?’
We locked eyes. I could feel tension. She wasn’t impressed.
“Alright, I’ll stay now and get it done,” I relented.
“Good,” she trilled, and turned on her heel to get back to her desk to start her evening shift.
One day – if she has kids, that is – she’ll get it.