Playing Hooky-Sort Of…

It’s Wednesday afternoon in Amsterdam and the kids have a half-day from school. I’ve organised a babysitter for the first time ever on this half-day wonder of the Dutch school system. And am sitting in a cafe about 500 metres from my home. Decadent! I’ve decided lately to orient myself towards someone in need of new focus and attention–me. So much of my life for the past 15 years has been spent thinking about, caring for and strategising for my family. With four kids, it would be hard not to. It’s what we do, parents. When my second child was born, I decided not to return to work after maternity leave, generous though it was at 6 months. Childcare options in Ireland were horrendously expensive with no tax breaks. I had my lovely neighbour lined up to take care of the kids on an informal basis. But at the fifth month–I pulled out and tearfully told her I couldn’t do it. I had a really strong desire to be with my two babies all the time so I handed in my notice and settled into motherhood 24/7. Sounds idyllic, right?

And some of it was idyllic and some of it was hellishly hard graft and other times it was ok. But I knew it was the right decision and I haven’t regretted it. Despite living close to the breadline sometimes. Despite the loneliness and relentlessness of caring and the occasional raging voice in my head saying Why?! Why didn’t you keep your hand in and work part-time at least? Why did you have to go 100% into this new…thing, this new life at home with two kids under 19 months–who were the most beautiful and engaging little souls I had ever met. I was besotted. That’s why, I guess. I couldn’t bear to be apart from them so bet everything on my emotional reaction being the right one. And my husband supported me whole-heartedly whatever I decided.

It sounds so dramatic, thinking back to those early days from my 40 smth perspective. Older definitely and wiser…perhaps. I remember my mother suggesting I re-consider. To use my education and my skills and stay in the workforce. She didn’t have the opportunities for third level education that I had and urged me to not waste my talent. She was right and I was right. I understand her viewpoint totally. But I decided my kids would get the benefit of my education so it wouldn’t in fact be wasted at all. And when I look at my kids now, I am so very glad I made the decision I did. I didn’t miss much at all of their early lives and I guess I was their primary influence for three years. They’re good kids, right? It was worth it.

But they also would have been good kids if they had been in the care of another kind person. And possibly different people and in what way? It’s a sliding doors scenario. So many unknowns. And yet sometimes, I still wonder…should I have kept my hand in the job scene? I wouldn’t really know how to advise younger women now if I was asked. It’s so incredibly personal. So, please don’t ask me. Or if you do, expect wildly varying opinions depending on my mood or alcohol level!

So here we are, living in Amsterdam going on 7 years and my youngest child is a new school recruit. I’m looking outward and thinking about the next 30 years of my life and how I want it to shape up. This morning, I met up with mama friends ( all internationals ) from a baby group that my good friend Anna started a few years ago. It’s been a while since we met as a group. We met back then for conversation and coffee and wine to get us through the crazy, hazy baby days. And even though we have all moved on a degree or two ( and two are living abroad now ), the need to parse and discuss has not waned. It’s my favourite thing about women, this ability to engage and get real.

But today instead of babies and sleep routines and crazy quick planning of nights out ( before the baby freaks out get it in the diary!), work and self-determination were the hot topics. Trying to re-establish ourselves as working women in this new country that is now home. Building up networks and our dutch language skills is key. Being open to starting again perhaps at entry level, returnships or starting our own freelance business and hoping to move up/sideways quickly to a position we are comfortable with and which works for us. Other friends are also in that zone and it is so comforting to hear from my fellow travellers and mamas who are also daring to think and dream about the next stage in their lives. Every win for my friends feels like a little win for me. We are in this together and I am delighted with the stories. Sterkte en succes! It’s a wide open road.

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