When I’m stressed or unwilling to face something in my life, I resort to intensive googling of Careers That Will Uncover My Purpose In Life. I go down rabbit holes, researching degrees I would need to make this seismic change; I scour through the job sites looking for that golden position which will use my brilliant skills with the English language, my ability to talk to anyone, my willingness to try new things, my desire to make the world a better place my… my – what is it – ADHD?
I don’t know. I do this as life surges on around me, like I am child’s newly built sandcastle becoming quickly eroded by the tide. Then I’m flat for a while; I let the waves wash over me and swim (or doggy paddle) as best I can over the wild ocean of everyday existence.
This morning, as I steep my middle son’s favourite pyjamas in hot water, in an attempt to get the purple putty meshed into it off before bedtime, I see a giant spider scutter across the floor. As my youngest son yelps in delight, and the middle one startles, I grab a glass to catch it. There the spider sits on the cold hard tiles of the kitchen floor, awaiting its fate. I look away for a moment to scoop out the porridge from the pot, pour milk over cereal, close lunchbox lids – a deft morning dance that takes mere seconds – and when I crouch back down with some stiff white paper to transport this creature into the deep green grass outside, I see it is curled up and dead. Its legs shrivelled in, it looks more like a discarded raisin than the juicy, terrifying arachnid it was just minutes earlier.
I put the paper under it anyway, perhaps more funereally than I might have otherwise. There is a sombre procession to the door, my three sons trailing behind me to see what will happen next. This is important stuff. And it’s not just about the spider. It’s them. Being there for them. It strikes me in this moment, in its cobweb conglomerate of actions, feelings, tasks and worries (what’s the meaning of my life, I need to find a job, what is my purpose, I need to get the boys to school, has the eldest even eaten anything, what do I have to remember today, God I feel foggy, what if I forget something I’ve arranged again, are they dressed yet, who has and has not brushed their teeth, am I doing right by them, I’m worried, so worried about my youngest who seems very angry), that my work is motherhood and that is not a copout.
The truth is, I am finding motherhood so difficult right now that I would find it much easier to run away and retrain as – Christ – anything else, than roll up my sleeves and do the gritty, relentless hard work that parenting entails. I open the front door, and a bright, fresh morning caresses me, as if to tickle me into life, to tease me into the luscious world. The wind will keep blowing and the leaves will keep dancing their achingly beautiful ballet in the breeze. And then the spider uncurls: it isn’t dead after all. It allowed the tide to wash over it for a short while, in order to scuttle to freedom on the other side.
I go back in and feel a shift. Oh I don’t know if its small or big – only time can show that – but this morning, instead of greedily filtering through job sites or flicking through university courses that will unveil my purpose, I just fold the laundry in a sweet way, as Buddhist author Sylvia Boorstein proposes.
These mundane and glorious things make up family life, a place where you are a spidercatcher, cook and mentor all in one – and countless top-level CEO life positions more. A place where the only trainings and qualifications required are love, and patience. And that’s just for yourself. The rest will fall into place after that.