You know that horrible twist of self-loathing you feel when you’re doing something you don’t really believe in? That sickening sense of the brick in the belly, the invisible snake that tightens around your throat and stops you from swallowing? Well I had it yesterday. Why?
Because I was writing my CV. My curriculum vitae should be my ticket to paid employment, my calling card. This mysterious document is meant to be a summary of my ‘relevant’ experience and skills; a list of the things that make me employable. Forty-four years whittled down to two sides of A4. And I’m livid.
Curriculum vitae is a Latin phrase which roughly translates as ‘the course of [my] life’ but what I just wrote on that ridiculous document is a load of piddling pish. It has nothing to do with who I really am or indeed, the course of my life. My CV does not mention the thing that really moulded me, the thing that gave me inner steel, forced me to perform immeasurable feats on little-to-no sleep, to be impulsively creative, a multi-limbed juggler of good and bad like Kali. I cannot say on my CV, ‘I am as real and persistent as a wasp in your pants’, but I am. It doesn’t say that I am a mother.
The thing that set the throat snake unravelling this morning was the moment I found myself trying to justify long periods of ‘absence’ in my working life. Gaps that mess up the linear trajectory of work experience that the majority of employers expect. I found myself writing apologetically that I had taken ‘career breaks’ around the births of my two daughters. I did not write in big, bold letters ‘Mother’ the same way I wrote ‘PR Manager’ or ‘Copywriter’. And the more I didn’t write ‘Mother’ in big, bold letters to explain the years 1996-1998 and 2005-2009, the more furious I felt.
There are no gaps in the ‘course of my life’, but there have been long periods of time when I have chosen something else over economic independence, my children. Oh, how naive I have been to think this is allowed! Those gaps on my CV loom like huge, gaping mouths; monstrous voids where it is assumed I was brain-dead and milk-sodden, capable of nothing but talking goo goo la la and doing laundry. Women who have had children know that motherhood IS work. Motherhood is difficult work, it is valuable work. Some of us are shit at it, and if we could, we’d fire ourselves. When I’m working I feel like I’m letting my children down, and when I’m not ’employed’, I hear Emily Davison whispering in my ear about horses. Why does it feel like motherhood is a dirty secret we have to hide when we need to rejoin the sodding linear, patriarchal world of paid employment?
During those ‘gap’ years, those ‘lost’ years, those ‘breaks’, mothers learn a fuck of a lot of perfectly valid skills. We learn the depths and the limits of what it is to be human, resilience, sacrifice, persistence and grace in the face of many small defeats against nits and greens. The physical pain of labour is an agony that catapults you out of your body and your old life into an unknown place you both fear and desire. Mothers know how it feels to face their own mortality and have someone wholly dependent on their every breath. We tightrope walk between the old and the new, shapeshifting, crawling between all the roles we must play. We can make 50p packets of pasta interesting, magically turn leaves and sticks into games that last for hours and placate, console, smile, enthuse, teach, nurture and heal even when we feel like we’re dying inside.
I have worked, yes WORKED damned hard every day of those ‘gaps’ at bringing two daughters into the world who will hopefully contribute to this planet, not just take from it when they become women. I learned to love, to love, to love beyond measure and then love some more even on those tough days when I couldn’t feel my own heart. And I did all this for absolutely no renumeration. Imagine what I’d do if you paid me! I say the world needs more jugglers, tightrope walkers and magicians; the last time I looked, the old model of a single-track career path of ever-increasing pay and hierarchy until retirement ain’t working out for too many of us.
How about this dear reader of my CV: How about you don’t ask me where I have been all this time and I won’t ask you why so little has really changed after all these years? How about you take me as I am, caesarean scars and all.