Sunday, 27 October 2013

Full Time, Part Time, Total Eclipse - A Decade of Working Mum Life

Forgive the blatant title theft from that fantastic Jaffa Cake ad from the *mumble* late 1990s, but as I start the second year of my 4th decade, I realize that in the last decade of my career I have been full time, part time and unemployed in various measures. 

Having worked in TV drama (as Sara Johnson) since graduation, by 30 I had risen to the giddy heights of Head of Drama at BSkyB.  I had my first child while there and returned full time after 6 months of oft-interrupted maternity leave. When I left that job I took a consulting contract 4 days a week for a big International TV company, across which time I had a very test-ridden and stressful second pregnancy.  I was also refurbishing a house at the time (seriously, why do we do this extreme version of nesting?) but it still all felt fairly doable.

When my second boy was born he became ill very quickly and within a horribly difficult year had been diagnosed with a very rare genetic disorder that readers of this blog will be aware of.  In this period of my career I struggled to see if there was any way to continue working in TV as the mother of a potentially very disabled and confirmedly medically complicated little boy.  This is when I stumbled upon the organisation Women Like Us and took comfort by searching weekly for jobs both in my chosen field, and outside in Plan B Land, should all else fail.

After accepting that I was trained for little else and simply had to make TV work for me again, I gathered my fragile confidence and after 18 months effectively out of the game, got lucky in a full time Head of Development job for a drama production company.  

I accepted the post full time and when I look back, have no idea how I managed while coping with the medical emergencies and traumas of my baby. Leaving meetings to speak about heart problems and breathing issues, learning what the doctors couldn’t tell me about the complications of my boy, playing au pair roulette and running my life by remote control...trying desperately to be all things to everyone while still managing to have a career.

Another 5 years on and I have just started a part time more high profile job, as the Head of Scripted for a UK production company backed by the makers of Prisoner of War/Homeland.  I have an understanding boss who knows the benefits of hiring women in their late 30’s + and the flexibility required for that. I have two thankfully healthy kids and am finally off the red alert that dominated so much of my last decade concerning my youngest.  Life is by no means typical or easy but compared to the last decade, I am lighter of foot and appreciate every milestone we all achieve.

I know that I am lucky to do this present job 3 days a week and pragmatically am ready to consider adding another day should the need arise, but for now I both relish and desperately need that two day break from being Super Sara:  

To attend clinic appointments guilt-free
To speak to teachers who know who I am because of the times I am able to go in and help
To continue my work as a parent advocate and writer on behalf of the charities that help me to retain my sanity
And honestly to do some of the things that capable women shouldn’t admit to needing - walking slowly from chore to chore; staring into space in a supermarket queue; not looking in the mirror before leaving the house; being a bit shouty when working out how to manage lists for the day/week/month ahead and sometimes just crumbling a little and being not at all fabulous, but in private.

Above all else I need time to talk, learn from and counsel the amazing women in my ever-growing network from the last 20 years of my career.  Knowing that in this time of calm for me, anything I do will come back to me in spades as and when I need it. 

I know how to look for the pioneers to inspire me in all the separate parts of my life and I love that there are more places out there to find them.  

You see women like you and me need women like us to help us to keep on keeping on.  Either full time, part time or somewhere in between.   

Monday, 21 October 2013

Weekends With Friends

I went to bed at the weekend dreaming drunkenly about this latest blog post, knowing that I must must find the time and memories to write it when I got home.

I am lucky to have some wonderful friends, but there are 10 very special women who have burrowed into a place of their own, across more than a decade of weekends such as this one, and it is this group who are the ports in the storm that is sometimes my life.

In the year 2000 a random selection of girls got together, all of whom had been at Leeds University at the same time and were either my good friends, or their good friends and those who were free at the time.

We started it because my hen weekend gave a few of us the bug, and to help our other friend who was single mum to a gorgeous girl, and sorely in need of some fun with 10 babysitters on hand.

Those two days and nights of dance routines to learn and wigs to laugh in and food to eat and wine to drink and walks to walk and trampolines to bounce on and laughing and learning and hugging and playing, was the start of something that I think none of us knew would endure as it has.

Each year we gently find our way around the touchy subjects from last time and give those people the space to update us if they want to. We talk constantly together, in pairs, in fours, with the dregs of wine at the end of the night, in our rooms before sleep or with tea in the mornings over the washing up.  We sing and marvel at our ability to come up with fake band names, we write notes and read back and laugh again at what was so funny we had to write it down in the first place.  We share everything and yet miss so much of what goes on, as the group waxes and wanes its way through the weekend together.

This Sunday, in our lovely cottage in Rye, we started to track back to the start - where and when we went each year and who was missing and why.

What struck me as I took notes was the personal history enclosed in that tally.  People missed years because of pregnancy, studying, family illness and family deaths, travelling or moving away, and sometimes just because life got in the way.  Our histories presented themselves both by why we weren't there or what preoccupied us when we were.

And in spite all of that real life stuff that could have derailed us at any time, we have persisted, sometimes via just a sneaky day in London to tide us over to next year; and this long into it I think we all know some things are constant.

That we never ever judge anyone for what they can and can't cope with, how they do or don't feel, whether they will or won't talk, because across this time we've all been the one who couldn't summon up their smile.

As I write this, I am struck by these women, this group, of friends close and some less so and yet who as a group have done so much without knowing it:  Who allowed me to be so troubled, so distant, so stressed and so on the edge for so many years along the way, even when I couldn't even show them how I felt.  Who were the subject of many a session with my therapist, and at least one panic attack that I can remember.  Who allowed me to drown a little, taking turns to hold onto my wrist ever so gently to keep my face out of the water, and who until now have had no thanks or real acknowledgement.

So thank you for loving and trusting me, and making fun of me and appreciating me, and guiding me and putting up with me and for helping me smile and cry and be quiet and loud, and stressed and calm. All just by being who you are, for one precious weekend a year.

This photo is missing four of us but it makes my heart swell with happiness - at the sneaky glimpse of the theatrical world that brought us together at University, at the fun memory of running up the hill and setting the camera on the other side, at the hats and smiles and frowns and poses.

At 11 glorious strong funny wonderful women - both pictured, not and including myself - who I am proud and happy to call my girls.