As soon as it became British law that you could ask for flexible working, I was beating on my boss’ door asking to change my hours. My children were in primary school, and though I had more or less managed to cobble together solutions until then, finding childcare was a huge ongoing problem, especially during the holidays. We had been forced to move out of the city by the cost of housing, and though we loved (and still love) living in the countryside, rural areas provide far fewer options when it comes to childcare.
I knew it was a luxury to be able to negotiate my hours down, but it has never been really satisfactory for me: it has always been a pragmatic solution, not one I liked. Over the years I tried out all sorts of combinations, but in the end I settled down with a shorter working day, and term-time working. It was never a good fit for my workload, but gradually I became used to this rhythm of six or seven intensive weeks of work, followed by a week or two off.
It was only meant to be a short term fix for the few years until the children were old enough to be left at home on their own. How I would have laughed if someone had said I would still be working short hours when my eldest was eighteen! But then Julie got sick, I ended up clinging on to my job by my fingernails, and for a long time I was struggling to do the reduced hours I had, let alone increase them.
But suddenly things have changed. “Why are you taking the Easter holidays off work?” asks Duncan. “So I can look after you guys as usual.” I say, surprised. He pulls an incredulous face. “But we don’t need looking after.” And suddenly I realise it is almost true. Finally, I can say, after eighteen long years, that they are both just about able to cope alone. I’m sure I can be useful – making sure they eat properly and take a break from revising for their exams – but my presence is no longer essential.
Julie has just come back from spending a weekend on her own: an amazing feat (for her). I have written a bit more about that and how it feels over on my JuliesMum blog. She does still need me, but I no longer have to look forward in dread to exhausting days protecting her from herself, and trying to occupy her. She is – I hardly dare say it aloud – slowly getting better. Duncan, too, is gradually throwing off his depression, bouncing back, spikily shrugging off his mum’s attempts to cosset him.