I’m writing this two weeks into a definitively empty nest, my younger son having finally left home, after graduating this year, to a new flat and job in Reading. It’s a funny old feeling knowing that’s the last time this will really be their home, so I’m determinedly keeping busy and trying not to think about it! Allison Pearson’s article in the Telegraph, “My angel grew wings and flew the nest” really didn’t help the morning after I’d helped settle him into his new place, but I’ve been determinedly keeping busy and trying not to get maudlin. It’s certainly a far cry from the days he objected vociferously to being left in a crèche for me to go to dance class when he was a toddler, or when I ended up staying with him at playgroup for six weeks because he refused to be left on his own… How times change – and just as it should be.
Thinking along these lines has made me realise, though, just how lucky we are as freelancers to have the option to fit our work around our children. I really feel I’ve had the best of both worlds in being able to stimulate my brain by translating, a job I love, and be there to bring my children up and see them grow and develop every step of the way.
I worked as an in-house translator before I had my first son and left on maternity leave back in 1988, fully intending to be a stay-at-home mum. Fortunately my previous company were very accommodating and happy to send me assignments to fit in with my new priorities – preferably nice, long deadlines! I was even in the middle of a translation when I went into labour a week early (quite out of the blue: those who know me will appreciate that punctuality is not my strong point!), and they very kindly accepted (and paid for) what I’d done. Son No. 1 was a dream baby, sleeping long hours during the day and night, so I was able to continue working on a small scale, picking and choosing what I did, mainly from my former employers, but also by word of mouth from other companies they referred on to me.
It was a bit of a shock when Son No. 2 came along 3 years later and was quite the opposite to his brother: rarely sleeping for more than 20 minutes a time during the day – just enough to snatch a well-earned cup of tea or whizz round with the hoover – and having to be on the go the rest of the time! Needless to say I did no work at all for the first year of his existence – life became one long round of playgroup, toddler groups and coffee mornings: anything to keep him stimulated! Gradually, as he started to walk, a routine of sorts established itself and I was able to start accepting assignments again, very slowly at first, and gradually building up as the children passed the next milestone. But all the time, apart from that one year with two of them quite small, I felt I was using my brain, doing what I loved to do AND bringing up my children and doing all the lovely things we did: baking, painting, feeding the ducks, making Lego creations, playing in the garden…
As they became older, I was the mum who was always there to wave them off on school trips before trudging home with the dog to get on with the day’s translation. I even accompanied them on many a trip (gin & tonic and darkened room at the ready when I got home!), including one to a woodworking workshop with my younger son’s class the very morning after my husband had announced he was leaving us and moving in with his secretary. That was a very surreal day….
When I subsequently got divorced and my ex-husband tried to put pressure on me to go out to work full-time, I stood my ground, with the help of a brilliant lawyer and barrister, and steadfastly maintained that the best thing for OUR boys was for me to continue working from home and being there for them. By this stage we’d moved down to England from Scotland and had a big house out in the sticks, so my job involved a lot of chauffeuring around to school, sporting fixtures, orthodontists’ appointments, friends’ houses – time-consuming, yes, but I loved those opportunities for one-to-one chats in the car when they tell you things that wouldn’t otherwise come out into the open. I can’t tell you how many tennis tournaments and cricket matches I’ve watched, proof-reading my latest translation on the sidelines!
Of course, all the time, as the children become more independent, you are able to take on more and more work, but the boys were always my Number 1 priority. I loved going on the university fact-finding trips with them, trying very hard not to influence their choices and only offering advice when asked! And the beauty of working for yourself is that you are there for them when there’s a problem, if they’re ill or being bullied at school, or forget something vitally important (like their football boots…!). Yes, it might mean you end up working at night, or catching up in the early hours of the morning, or over the weekend, but at least we have the flexibility to do that. I was on the school PTA too, something fewer and fewer parents seem to have time to do now, but I felt it gave me an entrée into the school and a better understanding of what went on behind the scenes. It also gave me an improved relationship with teaching staff and a sense of involvement. The opportunity to have their friends back after school was great too – interesting to observe the relationships developing and I’m sure that exposure to all those young people keeps us forward-thinking too.
Hardly surprising, I suppose, that this suddenly empty nest has come as a shock! I’ve been in trial mode for a while as they’ve been away at university, and my younger son spent a year abroad as part of his degree. My elder son had two years living at home while he saved up for a flat after graduating, which softened the blow somewhat, but this time, it’s for real. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hugely proud of what they’ve achieved and moving on to the next stage of their lives is absolutely the right thing. I’ll just keep my head down and work and play hard in the meantime – perhaps focussing on the rather fuller state of my fridge and the lack of boys’ stuff cluttering up every surface of the house! Thank goodness for dogs – if only because I’m sure the boys miss the dogs more than anything else about living at home, so at least I’m assured of frequent return trips to get their dog fix!