I am craving a normal office day. A day when you get out of the house, leave everything and everyone behind, get immersed in your work, and emerge on the other side having done your best to finish what you said you would do.
Instead, my work day right now looks much less linear and much more like a zigzag::
- make sure I have breastfed my youngest son León enough so that he is set for a few hours
- check there are enough nappies for the coming days
- go through a pile of León’s dirty clothes trying to get the stains out
- sit down to check what tasks I have ahead of me
- León cries
- the babysitter calls for help because there’s an explosive nappy to be changed and León needs a bath
- help the babysitter bathe León
- try to get the stains out of some more soiled clothes
- sit down at my desk
- figure out where I was at
- I am tired and decide I need a coffee
- realise I have not thought about lunch and should cook something
- León cries — is he hungry? — the babysitter leaves him to me
You get the idea.
Now, is this meant to be a complaint? Not really. Is it an attempt at looking for solutions? Not really. I am aware that I could express my milk, leave the house for the day, get more help, change babysitter.
I am writing the list above as an observation of where my reality is at. I am tired, overworked and don’t know how to stop this. It is such a disruptive cycle that I skipped last week’s newsletter and could not do anything about it.
I have friends around who remind me that having a six-month-old baby makes life messy. That it is understandable that I am tired with the amount of work I am juggling. That I just travelled for work to Colombia with my baby. That I am doing so much already.
I appreciate those friends, and I cherish what they tell me. But there is something more structural that I want to get at.
The art of fragments
The only problem is that I am not sure what structure I am looking at exactly. Is it the invisible load that we women tend to carry much more than men? Is it the lack of paid parental leave for freelancers like me? Is it our modern-day world based around nuclear families where two parents at best are supposed to take care of everything at all times? Is it the new reality of work — hyperflexible and insecure?
I think it is all of that together. Plus my own additions for good measure: how hard I find it to say no and put boundaries around my life. How I think about others’ well-being before my own. How I take on so much until I explode.
I skipped last week’s newsletter, and I was thinking of skipping this week too because I may have taken too much on.
But two things helped me sway me.
One is the idea of fragments. There is a long tradition of people with children (well, mostly mothers) writing in quick spurts and making an art of fragments.
In Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes, Mexico’s Jazmina Barrera writes in fragments (one simply goes: “I forgot to eat breakfast today”) and looks back at all the writers before her who have done so.
She refers, among others, to these words by Ursula K Le Guin, in a 1989 essay in The New York Times: “Babies eat manuscripts. The poem not written because the baby cried, the novel put aside because of a pregnancy, and so on. Babies eat books. But they spit out wads of them that can be taped back together; and they are only babies for a couple of years, while writers live for decades; and it is terrible, but not very terrible.”
Le Guin more than managed to tape those wads together — and I am not sure that every writer can do that the way she did. But at least I can try. I can remember that this is a phase, nothing longer: “They are only babies for a couple of years.”
The importance of the bigger picture
The second thing that helped me is very different. The First 1,000 Days was featured as an example in The Membership Puzzle Project, the ultimate guide for journalists interested in how to run a membership programme. More specifically, it was mentioned in a section with recommendations on how to design and how to grow membership programmes as independent journalists working solo, without the back-up of a team.
Why does this matter? Is it because something that I am doing is recognised within the journalism world? I guess that is good for my ego, but it is something else. This week, with these fragments of work, with the incapability of doing a full office day, I am losing sight of the big picture. Why do I write this newsletter every week (or almost)? Why have I been doing it for three and a half years on a weekly basis?
This guide reminds me that I do it because I trust you readers. I believe we are building something different together. And because I really believe in what I am doing: the youngest children are only a subject of conversation among parents and relatives. But who is thinking about societal structures? Where are the necessary policies to make sure that children do not grow up alone, with only one or two overworked, stressed adults around for help?
So, yes, this is why I am here this week. There is a sense of purpose, which I shared here and I want to make sure I keep that in mind.
With love and care,
📣 The First 1,000 Days is edited by community member and friend, Shaun Lavelle.