Post 335.

Today, I turned 45. I’m not sure I feel celebratory. I feel like a survivor. Like the walking wounded. Moving slowly, but surely on my feet.

For all my empowerment, I’m amazed I’m still negotiating women’s timeworn challenges. Like an increasing number of us, precisely because sheer hard work has led to vastly more university educated women than men, I’m a main breadwinner.

At the same time, because male privilege remains so resilient, I also put in the majority of time on child care and carry the majority of responsibility for managing all the logistics and planning related to family life.

This comes at the cost of my savings and my career. It brings the exhaustion that so many single mothers are familiar with, and dust off like just another day.

It’s labour that is mostly invisible, undervalued, taken-for-granted, and assumed to be mine. For the good of my daughter, like so many moms, I do it willingly and wholeheartedly. I’m clear-eyed about the inequalities, but I’m prepared to sacrifice, to provide the absolute best, and to teach lessons of generosity, care and justice with joy.

I’ve started a whole new life. It’s like adulthood, which is cynical at best, but blushed with rose-coloured bliss. Maybe bliss is just a choice. I imagine I’m past life’s half-way mark so, at this point, I have fewer years ahead than I’ve already lived. These days, therefore, I’m just trying to be happy.

There’s debt to climb out of, overdue publications to submit, a house to buy, and ends to meet. It’s the kind of stress that keeps you up calculating at night.

There are also rivers to walk, waterfalls to find and beaches to remind of the wind and the waves, alternately whispering and roaring, as both wash across the shore.

There’s also love which feels like winning the Lotto every day. Maybe past forty you are not looking for perfect, maybe you are not even looking, maybe you just get lucky enough to cross paths with someone committed to growing.

Inside, I’ve turned bountiful like the hillsides after first rains. I awake more aware that love is a harvest you sow each morning. I count lessons about commitment and communication like seeds, in between calculations at night.

Some days, I lift each limb depressed and empty, like Sisyphus waking to discover the boulder he had shouldered uphill had rolled back down again. What working mother doesn’t know the feeling of not having an hour for herself, to breathe, to think, to feel or to stay sane.

I pole dance twice a week now which is both hard and hot AF. It enables me to support a woman-run and women-only small business which challenges women to become strong, to feel good, to recognize their challenges, to value themselves, and to connect to their sexuality. My goal is simply to show up, for me.

I’ve reached here through taking on and giving up, through gathering and letting go. I remind myself that it’s not possible to have it all, at least not at the same time, wondering if men tell themselves that daily too.

Patriarchy, from politician to religious leader to employer to lover, is a killer, but it’s like rising above the falling rain when you finally reach where you know yourself, your rights and your power. Women come into our own because we’ve hurt and healed, stooped and conquered. I hope I can carry my own independence and freedom, for it has been hard earned.

I now understand how women seem to become more certain, more centred, more unapologetic, and more fearless in their fifties, sixties and seventies. They’ve paid their dues pleasing everybody. Having learned through love and loss, they know there’s far less to fear than they thought. Such insight is a trade with age.

I’ve learned gratitude and forgiveness for those on my side, for those in my softly-beating heart, for the giants in my life, for the child who teaches me, for allies and inspiration, for opportunities to become a better person, and for laughter and cool mornings with trees in the distance.

Every dawn, we receive life as a gift to keep opening. Every dusk, women know the weariness from standing tall like a silk cotton tree, carrying our scars and imperfections, worries and burdens.

Over my shoulder, my own jahajin bundle is slung. Thirty kilometres per second on this next rotation of the sun, and blossoming in my own time and season, here I come.

 

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Post 284.

How to explain the exhaustion a mother feels? As I try to keep up with Ziya’s various school projects, and all the items that have to be printed, collected, bought or recycled in addition to completing revision and homework, I wonder how other mothers keep up. I especially wonder how working mothers manage. Families are collective projects, with all having to pull their weight, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

For example, the International Labour Organisation’s report on Women at Work Trends 2016 shows that in twenty-nine countries surveyed, women spent more time on household care than men. In many countries, except for the UK, Norway and Sweden, it was double or triple the time spent.

The Nielsen Global Home-Care Survey, which covers sixty-one countries, also found that women do the majority of cleaning. Men are increasingly putting in care and cleaning time as well as shopping and driving children to and from activities and school. However, for almost all regions surveyed, except for North America, the percentage of women doing the majority of household cleaning is higher than men doing the majority or it being shared when both those figures are added together.

Such women are also working for wages outside the home. Here, in the Caribbean, where women’s employment numbers are lower than men’s, those women may be working informally, in self-employment or part-time, hence their greater responsibility for the home.

Nonetheless, even when women are working full-time or are the breadwinners, they put more time to management and care of household members and to household cleaning anyway.

In Trinidad and Tobago, according to the 2011 Population and Housing Census, between 24% and 45% of households are female headed. So, on average, two out of three households in the country are headed by men. It is likely that women are also in these households, and that responsibility for families is more greatly shared.

It is unlikely that in the households which are female-headed, which are about one third of those in the country, fair share of care takes place. It is also unlikely that fair share of the costs of raising children also takes place.

Indeed, the caseload related to child maintenance, as mediated by the Family Court for example, points to the challenges of equal care and equal financial contribution for children, particularly among middle and lower-income families, who are not only more likely to end up in the court, but also more likely to experience economic insecurity.

This problem of women’s unequal burden won’t change quickly or dramatically. As Caribbean women of all classes continue to pursue higher education in numbers vastly exceeding men, they will increasingly become primary breadwinners even in households where men are seen to be the head, for headship may be based on the status of manhood, not income-contribution.

At this point, it is mainly in energy, manufacturing and construction sectors that men can provide higher incomes on lower levels of qualifications, but outside of those and illegal activities, we can expect lower-income and less-well educated men’s earnings to be less stable and less able to equally meet women’s over time.

It is also reasonable to expect that, at least in the short term of the next decade, many men will not take up the majority of housework, elder- and childcare, even when they earn less. First, globally, this has been delegated to other women, especially domestic workers, aunts and grandmothers.

Second, even where time-use studies indicated the reverse, in a 2015 survey of eight countries from Brazil to Rwanda, between 36% and 70% of men reported a role “equal to” or “greater than” their partner in childcare. In other words, women’s unequal contribution remained invisible, uncounted and undervalued.

The picture of women working full-time, contributing more financially as well as putting in more hours of care, cleaning, cooking and management at home is the near future. It will affect women in married, common-law and visiting relationships, and those that are without partners.

This is one explanation for the exhaustion that mothers feel, and its toll on their emotions and health. If there are any women out there for whom this sounds familiar, know that, my sister, it’s not just you.