lifestyle

Is this really the only flexible job for working mums?

Rebekah Turner

Of late, life has taken an unexpected turn for me.

I’m barreling down the motorway in my brother’s bomb of a car, heading towards training to become a cleaner. I’ve only ever worked in corporate jobs before, so I’m well out of my element and feeling a little raw. My brother’s car is a six-cylinder behemoth with an engine that loses power now and then, just to keep things interesting. I’m waiting for it to break down at some crucial place where I can’t pull over and have a cry.

I listen to Courtney Love through one earplug from my iPod, since the radio drains energy and I sing-shout along to the lyrics. It’s hot in the car but I’m too terrified to use the electric windows, in case I stall the motor. My brother has instructed me to just call him and he’d come and get me. This is little comfort, as there are many fine places to breakdown and clog the already congested Brisbane morning traffic. I have visions of the Seven News helicopter reporting on the traffic jam, showing shaky images of me on the roof of the car, giving the sky the finger. Somehow, this disaster of a car feels like a big stupid metaphor for how I feel. 

In a past life, I worked as a graphic designer in a large engineering firm and life was gravy. Sure, there were ups and downs, but just like high school, all I can remember were the glossy good times and how well I was paid. Then I had kids and since my husband earned a nice wage, I didn’t return to work for a couple of years. One day, reality penetrated my kid-soaked brain that financially we needed more money coming in.

I applied for part-time jobs but got no call backs. I practised about what to say in job interviews when I was asked about the gap in my employment. Raising a family, I’d reply. Then there would be the dreaded pause, maybe punctuated by pursed lips. Eventually, I realised I needed something. Anything. I finally decided the only job with the flexibility I needed was as a domestic cleaner. A few phone calls later, I was signed up for training and since my husband needed the car, I resorted to borrowing my brother’s death-trap-on-wheels to drive myself to the training.

“One day, reality penetrated my kid-soaked brain, that financially we needed more money coming in.”

The instructor is a well-dressed woman with heavy silver jewellery. All I can think while she’s talking is that I want her job. There’s about fifteen other women in the training session. Nearly all are mums and most are, as it was so succinctly put to me, ’on the wrong side of forty’. As if the years of sacrifice they’d made to look after their family made them a liability on the workforce. It reminded me of the time an employer told me: hiring mothers was a pain in the arse.

While the instructor demonstrates how to make a bed, I tell myself if this was a Martin Scorsese film, then I’d be Al Pacino and I just needed to find out who I had to metaphorically shank to make it to the big time. Then I’d rise to power, face full of cocaine and a fistful of bullets, telling everyone to say hello to my little friend. The instructor moves on to cleaning products and regales us with some horror stories of what can happen when you don’t read the instructions properly on a bleach bottle. I firmly put aside fantasies of fortune. This was a real job and it was going to be hard.

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There’s a gallows humour among the women training with me that strikes a chord. It feels like we’re extras on the set of Roseanne. Every woman has war stories that curl your toes and give you a belly laugh. They have a practical, no-nonsense approach to life that I need to bottle and put on Etsy. Then I’d make the money. When I’d got the money, then I’d get the power. When I got the power, then I’d get the holiday in France. 

I’m told, by a woman who used to run her own company, that jobs are hard to come by of late. She’s got this hard glint in her eye that tells me she’s going to kick this job’s butt. Me? I’m not so sure. I’ve realised a little late I’m a spoilt wuss. I tell myself there’s dignity in every job you do but I know I might have a hard time remembering that when I’m cleaning a toilet with a toothbrush.

“I finally decided the only job with the flexibility I needed was as a domestic cleaner…”

Later, I call my mum and blame her for giving me a secure, happy upbringing WHICH DID NOT PREPARE ME FOR THIS SHIT. Mum just laughs and tells about the night shift jobs she used to pull, just so she could study and look after me. This is what some mums do, she tells me. They do what needs to be done. And the thing is, the more mum’s I talk to, the more stories I hear about their years of cleaning while they juggled the demands of the family. This makes me feel better and less like I’ve failed by not pulling in the money I used to.

I’ve finished my training now and the work is just fine. I get to pick up my kids after school and that means a lot to me. The people I’ve met are nice and the company is supportive. I’m also plotting out how to approach the next five years and a different career path entirely. But no matter what I end up doing, I will make it work. Even when I have a Transformer stuffed up my nose and peanut butter in my hair, when my kids look at me for reassurance, I’ll tell them everything’s going to be okay. That I’ll be there for them and I’ll do what it takes to make family life work, because that’s what my mum did for me.

Rebekah lives in sunny Queensland with her husband and two kids. An avid writer since she could scrawl all through her dad’s expensive encyclopedias in crayon, she has progressed from writing unicorn rainbow stories to tales of dark fantasy with lashings of romance and a sprinkling of horror.

If you’ve had children, what was your experience of returning back to work after having a baby? What other parts of motherhood changed your life completely?

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