I leave home to start prep in two and a half weeks. I’m almost ready. I’ve decided to leave my 3 year old behind.
This is definitely the right decision for us, and it may have been obvious to others from the outside. I mean, what was he going to do all day while I was busy shooting? Hang out with a nanny he doesn’t know in an unfamiliar place? Cling to me maddeningly every time he saw me on set? Wake in the night just so he can come and pee in my bed to get me up for some quality time? Probably. The more I thought this through the less appealing it was for both of us. This way he gets to stay at home with his father who is taking time off to look after his big brother (who is at school and so can’t come) while I’m away, and hang out with all the people and places and things that make him feel good – except me.
Preparing for my absence from our lives has almost certainly been harder than the absence will be. Every time I hang up the washing, I realise how much I love doing it for my family. Every meal I put in front of them, only to scrape off the floor a few minutes later, every smoothie popsicle that goes into the freezer and is forgotten (as quite frankly it’s never hot enough for us to remember them), makes me understand how this is all the work that I am proud to do. These are things that I didn’t love doing, I have to confess, when I first became a mother. I felt compromised, unwilling, trapped. But now I’m about to leave (even just for two months) my heart aches each time I do it. Will his father remember to turn the Spiderman costume inside out when he washes it? Do I need to put that on a list somewhere? Can there ever be enough lists?
I realise two things – first how tempting it is for mothers not to go back to ‘work’. The work you do for your family is so important, and can be so satisfying that by the time you start getting good at it, it’s tricky to imagine handing it over to someone else. Why give up the rewarding job for the precarious, often unrewarding one? This has made me realise how, as important as maternity leave is, paternity leave (or shared parental leave) is crucial if we want to create a society where workplaces are gender-balanced. Setting up your family life is hard work, and it is work that is undervalued and most often done by the mothers. It can feel insulting to be told to think of returning to your career as ‘getting back to work’ – as if what you are doing at home isn’t important. If we want women in the workforce, then we have to acknowledge that running a family is work, and work that needs to be shared by all the parents.
Second, I realise that I am not everything to my son. And, grudgingly, I am happy about this. When we started development on this film, he was just two. He had not long stopped breastfeeding and due to some challenges he has, his walking was new and hard. I couldn’t imagine making a film where I would leave him for weeks at a time. And if we had been doing it then, I would have taken him with me and we would have done it differently.
But time has passed, and here he is, in love with his big brother, confident, big, stubborn and ready for his own challenges. He will come and visit me, they both will, and they are looking forward to that. They are also looking forward to time with Granny, and Nana Ouch, and their father, and the team of people who are standing by to look after them while I’m away. And then I’ll be back and we’ll swap stories and they’ll come into my bed in the middle of the night and it will be like I’ve never been away – but better because I have been away and we will have grown as a family because of it.
So I’m not crying when I think about it, not anymore, not much anyway. As I say, I’m almost ready.