Tomorrow I start a new life. I am returning to full time work. How am I feeling about it, I ask myself?
The answer comes back: tranquil.
For the first time in my life, I have taken a step towards making a separation between life and work. Life will take place outside work. Life will be where my deepest ambitions are, where I keep the repository of my emotions, where my children and husband are. Work will be where I am driven, assertive, pro-active, determined, quick-witted, efficient, ruthless, and analytical. Work gets all that. I get a lunch break, to cycle into central London, and to be a working mother.
Life gets the best of the rest. Life gets loving mummy (no stress because she cycled it out on the way home); life gets cooking, and reading, and gardening, and writing a blinding best-seller. And children's clothes, and ironing, and deciding which of my many travel, holiday, house extension projects and gadget purchases I will make in the next decade.
For many years I viewed compartmentalizing as the enemy of creativity. To create meant internal fission, a fluid interconnectivity, a blending of self with the world to find a new emergent thing. Compartmentalizing meant IKEA cupboards, filing cabinets, lists, odd social habits, poor emotional intelligence, the male brain, and nerds.
This year I am releasing my inner nerd. I like it. I kept a desk at school neater than a display in the White Company. I revised using coloured highlighters. They dissolved the blue Quink ink in my Parker fountain pen, with its left-handed italic nib, that made my teachers ask whether I was having sight problems. I went to every lesson in my timetable, and did the same at university, although I pretended so hard I didn't that I even fooled myself. My inner nerd made sure I rose at 5.30am as a child to do extra schoolwork in bed, then practiced the piano as though I actually liked playing it, then made my own lunch, and had my bag packed in the hall on time every single day, including adolescence.
For a long time, I confined my clearly delusional, and deeply uncool, inner nerd to the recesses of my psyche. Which is why it took me so much longer than it should have done to write my phd. The protesting nerd who squeaked for filed notes, and set times in the library, had to do constant battle with the caffeine-addled, frenzied wannado, who needed to be out there partying, acting, engaging in deep conversation, chain-smoking (none of my friends could ever believe I was a smoker), and involved in the cultural life of whichever city I was supposed to be studying in that year.
In 2010, after a final year at home with my pre-school little boy, in which I worked much less than usual, and learned how to grow tomatoes and do mambos, I have decided that Inner Nerd may actually be what will save my bacon. It is perhaps possible to divide my time: "she currently divides her time between central London and the suburbs".... and become more rather than less writerly.
The proof will be in the unmade puddings of the year to come: whether I really have the mettle to cycle ten miles a day; whether I really can be Gracious Mamma after 7.75 hours at a desk; whether the children really can adapt to the home cooking of my gorgeous Italian nanny with her Masters degree in mechanical engineering (I kid you not: I hired her on the spot); whether my husband really can realize his own dreams around the anxiety of the mortgage and the recession.
Yesterday we rounded off a rather wonderful year and a bit with a Naming Day, to celebrate our son's life, and send him off to school. Difficult when one is not religious, but we gathered together friends and family, and forced them to read and sing to our son, then decorated fairy cakes, and set off wishing balloons, many of which landed in our neighbours' gardens.
It was fantastic, I burst with pride at how full and complete life can seem from the vantage point of forty-two years, a husband, two young children, a little house, and a tiny garden. Just over a year ago, those same items seemed tarnished and rusty, arduous, and ennervating. Yesterday, and for quite some time before that, I found my heart aching with happiness. If it is all to be taken from me, then I have had this.