With her wife away, Hannah experiences work/life balance as a single parent
Running a business and bringing up two under-fives is often full-on. Rowena, my partner, is contracted to work four days a week but, in her demanding job, most weeks she seems to cram five days work into four very long days.
We have a child-minder (Jane) and so long as all the adults are present and on time things work smoothly. We have breakfast, making sure to empty the dishwasher (very important) and the litter trays (I wish our cats would go outside), Rowena shoots off, Eli (the two-year-old) and I walk Noah (the four-year-old) to school and are back by 9.15am to meet Jane, Eli is handed over and I sit down at my desk for a full days work.
It’s only since having kids that I have realised how short the working day is. When I had an office in town I started resenting the 30-minute bike ride. With a child-minder on the clock I was losing valuable time. It made sense to move the magazine into the house (waving goodbye to the spare bedroom) so I can be at my desk within minutes and pick up any loose ends after we’ve put the kids to bed.
Our growing team have fitted into the household well. The office is big enough for all of us and Eli loves lunchtimes when he can head up a full table of people who are there purely for his entertainment! We’re one big family, which makes sense at a family magazine.
Having my work in my house is not ideal but the magazine is like a third child and still young; keeping it close works, for now. Going straight from parenting to working to parenting can be tough sometimes. The evenings are particularly challenging. At 5.15pm I go downstairs to be greeted by hungry children and a chaotic house. Jane shoots off and I hurriedly prepare some food before the mood deteriorates further. No sooner have I served fish fingers or spaghetti to the kids than the cats are screaming at me to feed them too. And all I really want to do is sit inert for a moment and take a breath. But there are no spare moments.
Today Rowena arrives home from two-and-a-half weeks in Madagascar, a work trip and an incredible opportunity that she could not refuse. I also felt I couldn’t let her refuse. I now realise, at the end of her trip, that the last time we spent more then five days apart was not long after we met, fifteen years ago. Fifteen years ago when children were part of a flirtatious conversation about some far away world. Now that the delightful force of Noah and Eli has arrived and our unstoppable, finely-tuned treadmill is in motion, experiencing the absence of one vital parent has been a little harrowing.
Rowena spent the weeks building up to her trip trying to do more then her fair share – jumping to feed the boys and put them to bed, clearing up and trying to give me time alone at every opportunity; a physical enactment of continuous apologies. Her guilt and concern that I wouldn’t cope got me worked up. I was apprehensive. It turns out I needn’t have been.
The first fortnight after Rowena left went really well. The first lucky strike was the mini-heat wave marking the beginning of spring. The sun was out for almost two weeks, putting all of us in good moods. The boys played outside, the blossoms were out and the sun was warm and bright.
My second reprieve was my children’s good moods. I was expecting cranked-up emotional demands, more bickering and fighting, them both acting-out the emotional strain of missing their Mumma. However Noah, four, has been a loving delight and Eli particularly engaging.
I put the smooth sailing down to one-less-adult-means-life-is-less-complicated, but 14 days in the boys woke up on the wrong side of the bed and stayed there for 24 hours. They fought, they grouched, they bickered, they whined and they clung. Suddenly I was aware just how lucky I was: they had been at their very best for those first two weeks.
That is not to say they haven’t missed Rowena. The evenings have been the worst. On a few nights Noah has spontaneously burst into tears for no obvious reason. Then he admits he’s missing Mumma. And the longer her absence, the worse Eli’s behaviour has been – throwing, hitting and laughing insanely. It started after her first phone call home. He’s articulate for a two-year-old, able to put complex sentences together, but he’s no master of his emotions, so his confusion and insecurity erupts into physical violence. But all-in-all, nobody died, the house is still standing (it’s actually quite tidy), I kept up with the washing and I was able to focus on my work as much as usual. And strangely I got some time to myself - but don’t tell my wife!