In this last year we’ve gone back a hundred. There have been points in the pandemic where I felt that my life has been a waste. Moving back to the place I was born, I expected a regression but more of the listening to The Smiths on repeat rather than the familiar feeling that I’m about to be outed just for being myself.
My sister pointed out the other day that I’d decorated my hometown house as if a version of my childhood bedroom. I can take an unconscious communication on the chin but it touched a nerve that I hadn’t noticed the repeat of a pattern from my past.
It’s fair to say I live a life that I witnessed other women bearing in my rural childhood. We whisper stories from our domestic enclosures, eyes to the floor ashamed. We quietly ask if it’s the same for each other – do you feel it too?
One of the unbearable paradoxes of the pandemic is how so many women feel they have failed at precisely the time when we are doing the impossible. All those months of child-care free working life, of isolation and anxiety, caring at a time when it has never been so undervalued. Watching the data roll in about women’s job loss combined with quarantine triggered by a few degrees on a thermometer is vulnerability to the nauseating point of overwhelm.
I can hardly see what’s in front of me, so imagining a time when we can look back at this and see it as a fight we won (yet again) seems insane. But with decades of working life ahead of us, we have no choice but to claw back what we have just lost.
The thing that is different from my childhood is that I now have the benefit of other women. Let me spell them out for you.
On motherhood, I have the women with children who understood the violation of advice and let me ask the questions that I wouldn’t raise with a professional. And the women without children who listen from another place to my struggle with mothering alone. My dear J who loves us even when we are a kitchen sink drama. Thank you for not looking away and for the jumpers.
To E the midwife who navigated me through a maternity service appalled at my age and defiance and A and J the two young black women doctors who delivered my child safely and with joy in stark contrast to the consultants who talked slowly and too simply to me about complex risk. For R who kept us alive in those first six weeks and never shames me for needing to learn how to parent. You’re literally the only person who has permission to tell me how to do it.
To my beloved S who was the first person to see my son. You always wanted mother-love for me, and only ever told me the down side when asked. I cannot tell you how much I admire you for your generous careful love of your three boys.
To my M who is kind and just wants everything to be OK.
To A who carries on as an activist despite the attacks and threats and who is literally the smartest woman I know. To C who keeps on running at the class war in mental health and who I wish I’d met when I was a teenager as we’d have been able to talk for even longer. To M whose political instinct is natural and put to good use and to R who is writing the book about why nurses don’t get paid enough to live.
To all the women who contacted me and chivvied me along on social media, wading through the trolls and misogyny, I cannot tell you the power of a few short well timed generous words. Thank you.
To J who always inspires me with her love of the universe, from single parenting to climate coaching I delight in knowing you. For M who refuses to be de-sexed and demeaned by dating in lockdown. To A who loves jewellery and her cousins as much as they love her.
To A, S & M who offer a history of 9 decades of radical feminism tucked away in my small town.
To B and R who carry loss with such dignity and humanity.
To the many feminist women who actually help other women at work – for U, M, I and C who saw my research as valuable. For U and D for championing and loving me at work. For N my old union rep who represented women being bullied by a bonafide sadist hell bent on ending our careers, pushing against the resistance within our own union to defend us.
For the women who have cared for my son at his three nurseries – his first loves D, S, S, M and M – who without any evident bile or hatred kept our lives going. We do everything we can to keep safe but I will never be able to thank you enough for allowing us to keep the show on the road. It’s not your fault that our society doesn’t recognise these early years as the most important job in the world.
For my C, who prioritised me when her beloved nephew arrived. Who protected me from regretting my life choices and made sure I always had high quality cosmetics when I couldn’t afford toothpaste. You have always built me up, never down.
It is in all ways always about love. Thank you for keeping that love alive in me.
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