Things we can do with money, and things we can do with time

At the end of last year, back in a life that seemed full of now obsolete concerns like train delays, I was thinking about giving up work. It has been some time since I found work fulfilling, and the sense of purpose I used to derive from it has been eroded by three sets of maternity leave (or the contractor’s equivalent). I can never explain to myself what it is about maternity leave that makes me think I should aim lower, to accept a lower rate every time I come back. It’s not so much imposter syndrome, as an inability to dissimulate any more. I don’t want to pretend that the company’s mission statement inspires me; it never did, but I guess when you have kids, the cheesy truth is that a lot of professional life seems even more hollow. I just straight up tell people that what I want from the role is a pay cheque. And because they know I have kids, they are very accepting of that. People like the “lady providing for her family” deal. But they also don’t take someone who won’t play the game as seriously. Or I don’t take myself seriously, I don’t know. I’m a bit drunk.

Anyway, so I made a list, back then in November, about why we lived the way we did, and what we could do differently. It’s kind of funny now, because of course we don’t quite have those choices any more. I’m still working six months after I was going to start looking after our children, and everyone I speak to says, “Yes, just say yes to anything. The next few years will be bad, earn while you can”. So I guess it takes the pressure off any guilt, but anyway, here is the comparison, just for fun.

Things we can do with money

  • Private schools, maybe
  • Pool holidays in Med
  • New kitchen
  • New thatch
  • Improve heating
  • New bathrooms
  • Short holidays overseas
  • Employ gardeners etc
  • Fix unexpected problems easily
  • Parties
  • New bike
  • Fix teeth
  • Holiday in Japan

Things we can do with time

  • Do outdoor activities
  • Camping
  • Cooking
  • Maintain house and garden
  • Book things in advance
  • Buy stuff on ebay
  • Teach kids violiin
  • Teach kids German
  • Get to know the kids

So I basically managed to observe that you can buy stuff with money, but that we do not have any input to our childrens’ lives.That after all the sleepless nights and the handwringing about trying to take the best of our parents, and avoid their mistakes, all I’ve done is pretend to myself that small children don’t need my specific input, they just need a loving nanny. She was loving, and I still miss her in our lives, but all the input matters to a small child. In these days when we all work from home, their little faces are still lighting up when they see me at the school gate. Or maybe I flatter myself, as their first question is always, “Can we go to the shop”.

I suppose most people don’t really have that much choice about working anyway, and they will have had parents, or certainly fathers, whom they barely saw during the week. I have the luxury of my parents being academics, who always picked me up, or at any rate my father did (my mother was mostly late). I have all these memories of long conversations, where they would want to know what I was reading, or what I thought, and all those trips across the world, to their friends in Hong Kong, the holidays in Thailand, Hawaii, all over Europe, the US, Canada, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan. I guess that’s what I wanted to give my kids, that’s what I thought mattered. I have no idea how they afforded any of it. I’ll be giving my kids my time, and camping holidays.

I’ll also let them participate in popular culture, like play sports, watch commercial TV shows, own a Transformers toy. That used to upset me as a kid, the otherworldliness, as if things that were popular were per se worthless. The biggest argument I’ve ever had with my father was about the relative merits of Mozart and the Beatles, in the context of their contemporaneous popularity. I argued that given we don’t know how the Beatles will be perceived in 200 years, and given they’re still popular 30 years (it was 1991) after they were first famous, it’s hard to argue that their popularity makes them less talented musicians than Mozart – because there isn’t really such a thing as talent that isn’t popular at some point. Van Gogh was famously unpopular in his own lifetime, but we wouldn’t even know who he was if he hadn’t become popular, so we also wouldn’t view him as talented. All art is always in the eye of the beholder. My father went ballistic, and said there was no way that any musician alive today could ever be as talented as Mozart, and that it was their popularity itself that disqualified them from true talent. He seemed to be saying that only the patronage system produced real art.

I still feel like he rather missed the point. So whatever decision I make, and whatever fate throws our way, I’m fairly sure they will find something they didn’t like about it, as I have.

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