Taking shelter in the William Morris gallery on a rainy afternoon, my eyes alight on my favourite quote from the great man, displayed on one of the walls: “If a chap can’t compose an epic poem while weaving a tapestry, he had better shut up, as he’ll never amount to anything.”  

This usually makes me chuckle, but today quite unexpectedly it touches a nerve. I stand in front of it for a moment or two, rocking Moe’s buggy slowly back and forth, and trying to work out why. The words have tapped into a current of thought running through the deeper waters of my brain: will I ever amount to anything?

On the one hand, I know full well that it’s a ridiculous, self-flagellating question – I’m a mother to two wonderful boys, I have great friends, a career of sorts, and what does amounting to anything even mean, anyway? – but on the other, I can’t deny that it’s there.

And really, who can blame me? Let’s look at my day so far. I have put in a solid two hours playing Larry’s new favourite game, ‘animals on the boat’, which involves sitting on a cushion while he conducts a long and rambling nonsensical monologue about whatever happens to be passing through his head, all the while pretending to steer a ship filled with stuffed toys. Meanwhile Moe was screaming ‘CAW! CAW!’ and clonking himself repeatedly over the head with a dinky car. (Small children really are a lot like mad people, or vice versa.)

I have changed a shitty nappy. I have cleaned the kitchen twice, and it’s already filthy again. The closest I came to engaging my brain was a valiant attempt to write some Christmas thank-you cards, which was hastily aborted when Moe emptied all the earth out of a large plant pot and massaged it into the living room carpet.

It seems pretty safe to say that my name will not be troubling the canon of great epic poets, or indeed tapestry weavers, any time soon.

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. I’ve chosen to have children, and I’ve chosen to prioritise caring for them over pursuing a full-time career (as has Curly – we both currently work part-time). I am as sure as I could possibly be that both of those were the right choices. But that does not mean that I don’t notice the impact they have had on other areas of my life. Does it bother me when I see people who used to be several rungs below me on the career ladder streaking blithely past? Does it bother me that I no longer have the right credentials to apply for jobs I once would have walked into?

Of course it bloody does. It hurts like hell.    

 Perhaps, I think idly as I amble back to the tea room, I should have just put the kids into nursery and done the whole “lean in” thing. The problem is that as soon as you step away from the professional world you see it for the rickety edifice it really is. Before Moe was born, I had a very respectable job, which consisted of having to say and do exactly the opposite of what I really wanted to, at all times.

I’d find it hard to go back to that. Caring for children, for all its many boredoms and challenges, is an occupation that engages one’s whole heart and soul – which must be why so many people still choose to do it, despite all the economic and social pressure to the contrary. I have a sneaky feeling that Morris would have approved of that, after all. 

AuthorAlice O'Keeffe