I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Lucky to have a husband who earns enough to support our family. Lucky to have sold our large house in exchange for a more modest abode, leaving us mortgage free. Lucky to no longer need to be in full time employment.
I’ve written about this before. So many times. My long time readers are rolling their eyes, and saying “for God’s sake, Katrina! Don’t you have anything else to talk about?”
Well I do. Honestly. This time I’m not talking about how rubbish my old work life was, and how it nearly broke me (although I can if you like). This time I’m talking about the challenges of reintegrating into the non-working community.
It’s a strange time. 18 months into working for myself (a combination of stay-at-home mum and cottage industry writer/food producer), and I’m slowly acclimatising to life outside the office. But it’s taking longer than I’d thought it would. It’s surprising how significant the impacts have been and how strange.
What to wear?
I wouldn’t have thought this would be a thing. But it is. It really is. And the most challenging bit is I can’t even tell you what you should be wearing because in all honesty it depends on your neighbourhood. It also depends on how involved you are in your child’s school (more on that shortly), and how much you care.
Certain neighbourhoods are all about the active wear as day wear. The look that says “I’ve just been to yoga/the gym/power walking”. Except strangely, their faces are never flushed and there’s zero sign of perspiration. Like many other fashion tribes, the label is critical. Nothing last season, nothing from The Warehouse, Cotton On or any other bargain establishment. Lululemon is universally acceptable, Nike at a pinch.
Other neighbourhoods are well practised in the art of “I woke up like this”. Bed hair, strategically ripped jeans that cost more than my unripped pair, “no make-up” make-up, “it” shoes and handbag de jour. Basically the off duty model look in the suburbs.
More than anything, it’s the time and effort everyone is putting in to look as good as they can. I once made the mistake of going to the supermarket unshowered, dirty hair pulled back, make up free. Never. Again.
The school network
Apparently some people actually make friends with the other parents from their children’s schools. There seems to be quite a network of school parents who all know each other well, and like to hang out together. I know. It’s weird.
All my years working in an office instead of at home while my kids were growing up meant I never spent time standing at the school gate. My kids were either picked up by the nanny or their grand parents, and if I was picking up/dropping off, it was via the drive through so I did’t have to leave my car. The whole experience was an exercise in optimal time management.
Now that I’m not working (or rather working from home), I don’t have that network to fall back on for coffee mornings, evening drinks, barbecues, and so on. Many of my former work colleagues have drifted away, unsurprisingly, and most of those who have chosen to retain a relationship with me are working during the day, so catching up during school hours can be challenging.
Sadly I think I may have missed the boat on this one. To be honest, I still can’t be arsed putting the effort into making a bunch of new “friends”, and life is busy regardless, so ce la vie.
Loss of stature
When you work in the kind of world that I did, you have a certain stature. I was a senior manager in an advertising agency, and I had some clout.
Or at least, I imagined I did. Increasingly I think that people were just humouring me. I can’t blame them. I think I may have been quite obnoxious on occasion.
I haven’t quite worked out yet that I am no longer as important as I think I am. I keep trying to pull rank with call centre staffers, who have the misfortune to be rostered on just when I happen to call. It helps that they’re on the other end of the phone likely on the other side of the world.
It’s a shock to realise that the mere sound of your name doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That people don’t spend their days trying to find ways to make yours better. It’s frustrating, sometimes infuriating and always humbling.
Loss of stature: part 2
The reduction in standing doesn’t stop with faceless, nameless service providers.
It carries on into your personal life. It really came home to me when I was at a workshop last weekend, where a multitude of women described themselves as “just a stay at home mum”.
I do it myself, but in a different way. Members of my family openly joke about my work status, wondering out loud why my garden is in the state it is when I don’t work. Question how I fill my days. Laugh at the daily minutiae I now find interesting and important. Flaunt their disapproval that I am no longer flogging my guts out for a global corporation, but have chosen to prioritise myself and my family instead. I’m lucky that I got to choose.
But I still find myself justifying what I’m doing. Rather than telling people who judge me to “suck it”, I say that I’m working, never wanting to admit that I’m now a stay at home mum. For goodness sake, I can’t even write it on arrival/departure cards, choosing “writer” or “cook” instead, which sound far more lofty.
I am lucky. But I have made my luck. I chose to leave a life that I wasn’t enjoying to pursue a life I love. I get to see my kids, my husband, I get to write, to cook, to walk on sunny days, to do all the things I enjoy.
I forget to wear make up to the supermarket, I never made friends with the other school mums, I yell at the call centre people (ok, I feel bad about that one). I’m a stay at home mum who’s trying to build a small business largely for myself.
If you don’t like it, suck it.
FIVE SPICE BEEF BRAISE
This is the kind of dish I can create now I have some time on my hands.
2 tablespoons flavourless oil (vegetable, canola or rice bran)
750g stewing beef (blade, chuck or gravy beef is good), cut into 5cm chunks
1 onion, skin removed, cut into wedges
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup chinese rice wine or sake
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 star anise
2 teaspoons five spice powder
1 1/2 cups brown rice
3 long Asian eggplant. cut into 2cm slices
200g shitake mushrooms, stems removed
3 spring onions, sliced
- Heat olive oil in a large, heavy based pan with a lid. Add the beef in batches and fry until dark brown. Remove and set aside.
- Reheat the pan, adding more oil if necessary. Add the onions and cook until soft.
- Return the beef to the pan with the beef stock, rice wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, star anise and five spice powder. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.
- Stir in brown rice and cook for another 30 minutes.
- Add eggplant and shitake mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook for a final 30 minutes.
- Season to taste, stir through spring onions and serve.