Tomorrow I start to leave Harris. He goes to daycare, to the ‘soft start’ where I watch him play and hope that he seems normal and acceptable to the nursery staff and his peers. By the end of the week he will be spending hours without me. The nursery think this will be traumatic for him and me, but largely they are wrong. He will mind, a bit, but he’s a happy child who likes socialising, he will find rewards in his new days. For me, well – I have been a fiercely loving but ambivalent mother. The real me was in many ways at work: Essi was in the analysis and the balanced decisions, she was perhaps sometimes hard-to-like but fair, and effective, people said nice words like ‘integrity’ and ‘high-performing teams’. Motherhood swamped me in the ceaselessness of its demands, the emotional whirlpool of unconditional love and curiosity and concern and boredom and loss. Loss of friends, whose friend Party-Essi had gone underground and not in the underground party way. Loss of faith in the world of work from everyday sexism such as the interviews at the Climate Group where they asked me twice how I would manage the (risible) travel demands of the job while having a young family. Loss of interestingness – moving to Finland and our new friends asking my husband what he did at work, whereas my role was obvious, nappy-filled and devoid of potential.
I cannot wait to hand my beloved child over to near strangers and find myself again, to write up the presentations I have promised various people, to write as many letters as it takes to convince someone to pay me again for being work-Essi and to develop my Finnish past this language I acquired as a child based on my grandmother and things my mother remembered and puolukka, juolukka, mustikka, berries, ask me anything about berries and I will reply in Finnish.
I am now up against the State for a while, as my motherhood grant ends and I apply for jobseeker’s allowance, a much more questionable and suspicious being in the eyes of the State. Mater certa, Jobseeker incerta. Am I really a jobseeker or a lazy-ass scrounger determined to find a way to freeride and freeload and cause anarchy in this place that depends on a fine balance of work to create its welfare. The kinds of job I can do don’t even feature on the drop-down menu. I do not know forestry or asbestos clearance nor am I a teacher or a technology manager. The 10 digit me that is my personal identification code is in 1996 again, being told by a temp agency hack that ‘the trouble with you is, you’ve got no skills.’ And the one person in the world who is completely and blithely assured of my value who cries for me the way he cries for reasons as fundamental as hunger or loneliness, has no say. Think of the reference he could provide for me.
The indomitable food provider, forbidder of bins, gatekeeper of the noisy saucepans and wayfinder in the great outdoors. Plus of course all the roles he does not see, the Listmaker, Button sewer, shopper and parcel collector, medicine remembrancer and hygiene monitor, social support seeker and offeror, place-maker and family activity resource, walking google map for child-friendly toilets. He does not know what will happen this week. The closest relationship he has ever known, the relationship which overwhelms all others in his need for our closeness, our staring into each other’s eyes, joint exploration of a cardboard box, is changing. He wouldn’t want it to, although nobody has asked him, and I am ambivalent. That’s my cardinal quality, ambivalence. And he has no ambivalence – he wants, or he doesn’t want. And tomorrow, he doesn’t know what it will bring but I do. Tomorrow.