You’re so lucky!
If I had a dollar for every time someone threw that stupid line at me, I would be running my own America’s Cup team by now. People have always had this fallacy that I’m lucky, that I have the life I do because it fell in my lap.
Let me tell you a short story.
Me – I’m not much. I started with nothing. My parents, though fantastic, divorced when I was very young, providing me with two great role models, and two parents who were best friends, but a few poor choices led us down the path of being ‘broken’. We had little money. When they found their only daughter wanted to do nothing in life but make sails, they were confused. We lived inland, in dairy country. I had never been on a boat in my life, and no money to afford to go sailing. There was no fat inheritance coming my way, my grades wouldn’t get me into medical school and I don’t have enough bimbo in me to bag a rich husband. (In fact, I was a feminist as a kid, no stereotype went unchallenged).
I needed a strategy. Not luck.
At age 15, I was visiting Auckland city with my father, who somehow had heard my favourite boat, NZL32, the boat that won the America’s Cup for NZ a year earlier, was back in home waters. Dad took me and my little brother to see it. When my father’s back was turned, I jumped a security fence and made run for the boat. On board at the time was Sir Peter Blake and (and now Sir) Russell Coutts. For non-sailors/non-kiwis, they are national heroes, those who could do no wrong (then at least). I made no bones about my ambition to be a sailor and sailmaker, despite the obvious fact I was female. After a dose of amusement and handy advice, I learned what I already knew – luck was not going to get me what I want.
My father was exceptionally proud that day. He wished he had his camera.
Fast forward to 2003 and things had changed. Not luck but ambition and bloody hard work meant that I had done time as a sailmaker, been through the world’s best match-racing school, married a fellow sailmaker, competed in my first America’s Cup as a sailmaker, become sailing manager at a yacht club, and been a supportive wife through a tough AC campaign for my husband. A few weeks before my 23rd birthday, I gave birth. If I ever had luck, it had run out.
Our son, G, was born with a mystery shock of red hair and fat and well. Or so we thought. By the time he was two months old, he had amassed $250k worth of medical care and suffered the horror of heart surgery. He was born with two medical conditions – one of the heart and one of the lung. The odds were a million to one, the experts told me.
Plans were destroyed. Moving to Spain for the America’s Cup? Gone. Returning to my career? Gone. Happy future? Not with infant death hanging over us 24 hours a day. With my family unable to help much thanks to geography and my in-laws nowhere to be found, we made a plan – I would stay home full-time as our son endured medical care and isolation from others, and my hubby would make enough sails for us to cope. We were broke. There was no luck.
That didn’t stop the pressure. When will you go back to work? … Must be great to sit around all day and not have to work… Yeah, it’s great to administer ten medications to a sick baby all day long. It’s great to be in isolation day in, day out. I was so lucky? I had so much time free by not working – time to sit in intensive care all day long, not even get to shower or sleep in a bed, so I was free to deal with everyday baby troubles like adrenaline shots to the heart and tracheal intubation. I had been the youngest mother in antenatal class by fifteen years, and they all went to work after their kids were born, back to established careers. They talked of feeding and sleeping. I didn’t have their luck. Thanks to isolation we parted ways very early on. In fact, I parted ways with everyone I knew, and everything I had ever done.
I decided it was my time to have a new career – I was making time.
One person, little G, needed me and he was my job. I’m proud to say I was there, 24/7. A person relied on me to stay alive and that seemed enough. When G survived to six months old, we decided to have another child, that way, they could be raised together while I was in forced isolation – the future had no plan. Exactly nine months later, T came along.
Now I had two kids and people asked me constantly – when will you go back to work? People just don’t get it. I started studying again, thinking that would be a good use of free time (a sick 16 month old and a newborn – what free time?). I started my bachelor of arts via correspondence so I could make time for my boys. To me, there was no greater job. Would I be good enough, now that I had two boys and doing university study? Yes, seemingly, studying quelled the masses from their questions.
As soon as T appeared, we left New Zealand for Spain. You’re so lucky!
No, my husband is incredibly successful and worked damn hard for his job in Spain. Am I grateful? Of course, but he didn’t get all those perks by luck, he secured a future of us by being intelligent, hard-working, polite and being an A-Class top all-round gentleman. Suddenly, I was in a country where I couldn’t work, but still, being a mum never seemed enough. People (me included) studied, travelled, learned the language,
complained a lot, made time for marriage (stop suggesting my marriage needs work, by having time-away-from-the-kids!). Baby E was born, followed by baby L. Suddenly, I had too many kids to love properly, so they said. (Woman can’t catch a break!) My reply – I can love them all, because my job is to make time. Not time for a job, not for my personal interests, nothing but my boys.
I returned to New Zealand in the intervening years, and my parents both passed away. The toll of pain and time knows no bounds. I finished my arts study and moved onto and finished a business diploma (got to be doing something other than child rearing – apparently). But through the bulk of 2008 and 2012, my days were filled with the worry, grief and pain of cancer in my parents. First my mother and then my father were gone.
You’re so lucky, Mrs. Baker. You don’t have to work.
I DO WORK. I don’t have to, but I do. I make time for those around me. I filled my days with study, then writing novels. What about sails? How often are you in the sail loft? It never ends. I have four sons in school now, and I am (in one classes case) the only mother not playing desk jockey or equivalent. Hey, I have nothing against that, my mother raised me and my brother on her own and worked full-time. Big ups to mothers who work for others or from home (all mothers are working mothers).
But I’m not lucky. I am here for my boys all the time. Every swimming class, every school trip, every reading activity, every speech/running/cultural dance day, I’m there, giving my time. There’s no price that can be put on the effect it has. Can all parents do this? No, of course not. Those who can’t are not lesser parents. I was cornered a few months ago, by a teacher in the staff room at school where new parents were waiting to send their offspring to class for the first time. I was introduced as supermum, because I have four boys and an author. The fact that being a parent never seems to be enough really grates on my nerves. I was asked to provide the secret for success. In my blindsidedness, I said “my job is to make time. I don’t drop my kids at the gate and leave. I see them in each day, talk to the teachers. I’m always here at 3pm. It’s better to make time than to find time.”
I was written off as a ‘lady of luxury’. Having time to go to the gym, lunch with friends and shopping.
My husband deserves a lot of credit at this point. He works damn hard, long hours at a career he loves. When we were punched in the face early in parenting, he worked through and raised us up to the fabulous life we have today, all done my his single efforts. I was told by one doctor that not many marriages last through these disasters, much less to have three more kids in the ensuing three years. Much success credit goes to my husband his ability to earn so much. People say I’m lucky to have a husband that earns well. Luck didn’t earn a penny of it. We were married when we were broke and clawed our way up. The only advice I can offer in that regard is don’t marry a douchebag (admittedly, they can be hard to spot).
I have been writing fiction nearly four years now and my fourth novel is nearly ready. I have worked my ass off, in the hours that my children don’t need me, and I’m ashamed to say, some when they did need me. But now, I’m stepping back, working less hours as a writer. I’m not concerning myself with sails anymore, either. I’ll be damned if people want me to feel guilty for making a job out of ‘making time.’ Baby G, who will turn ten soon, is still very sick. We nearly lost him to pneumonia just a few weeks ago. Next time some self-righteous mother wants to call me lucky, maybe I’ll just smile and agree. Maybe I am lucky, because I’m prepared to forego some dreams in order to make time for four little people who will probably won’t appreciate it until I’m dead. I don’t care in the least.
My name is Caroline Angus Baker, and I’m a qualified expert in making time, which is now 100% guilt free.
To finish off, a fun article by Maya Middlemiss – You Know You Are A Home-working Parent When…
(Disclaimer – this is not a high-and-mighty rant on how to live life. This is purely about MY circumstances)