The role of your life

Rachel McNae addresses the modern woman’s dilemma, can she have it all?

The metal gate swings open. In one hand I clutch a tin Batman lunchbox, a raincoat and a schoolbag shaped like a crocodile. I hold a crumpled, signed permission slip for allowing peanut consumption at meal times (OMG, what is this world coming to?) between my lips. It’s stained with coffee on one end where my cup over turned that morning and now has lipstick on the other. I inhale the caffeine through my teeth, feeling like a drug addict in need of a fix. “Oh well, they are lucky to even get it back today,” I think to myself (it has been sitting on the floor of the car for over a week now). In my other hand I hold the soft, warm hand of my son, Benjamin. He skips along beside me. “Heeeellooooo Leeeeeo,” he calls out to his friend. Children run up to the gate to greet us. Shrieks and yells get louder. I feel like I am visiting a zoo. Not so much because of the animals jostling for a space at the gate to greet us, but more so because we have become the attraction, just for that moment.

Ben heads off with Leo in the direction of the paint table. I watch him go. He’s getting taller each day (apparently, but it’s hard to tell). His blonde head bobs behind the playground in search of a bike to ride (they say he is the fastest here on the bikes). Turning, I head inside and deliver food supplies to the fridge, replenish nappy stocks in the change room, sign rosters to say Ben is there, catch up with a teacher about sleep times and request they lay off the face painting for a week or so in order for Ben’s rash to clear up.

I head back outside to say goodbye. He runs over and clutches at my skirt, begging me not to go. Tears well (mine), tears fall (his). He hiccups, “Mummy stay with Ben.” I reply, “Mummy has to go to work.” A crèche carer comes and picks him up (my heart hurts – that should be me). She waves goodbye and says “Mummy will be back later.” The gate shuts behind me. I can still hear him crying as I cross the road. Ten minutes later, I am standing in front of a class of 160 first-year trainee teachers giving a lecture on building relationships with students and the importance of the ethics of care.

Many would consider me lucky. I have my dream job – well, the job that fulfills my dreams right now. I teach – something I have wanted to do since I was 12-years-old. But really, since when did I want it all? How and why did I make this choice? Am I doing the right thing? I ask myself these questions most days, sometimes more than once.

From my office I can see the crèche building and playground. I watch my son catch and throw, run and jump, dress as a lion and explore the garden. He falls, someone picks him up. He pushes someone off a bike, someone reprimands him.

I feel like a fraud.
I feel guilty.
I feel heavy in my heart.
I wish things were different.

What is it that makes me feel that working is more important than caring for my son, teaching my son? What has made me choose to teach others during the day instead of my own? I reflect on the role models who have influenced the way I think. How they have shown me to strive for anything and everything. Is this the best thing to do? Perhaps I never really questioned it before. Until now. Until children.

It seems at each turn on my life’s pathway, at each chapter – childhood, school, university study, motherhood – there have been amazing women in my life, all capable, talented and seemingly invincible. Some walked alongside me; some are a constant presence; others fade in and out. I have been blessed to have these wonderful strong women in my life, who have shaped the way I see the world and how I can contribute. Perhaps the collage of these women has shown me what is possible.

They have taught me that I have a choice about who I am and what I can do in the world. They have modeled an amazing level of kindness, nurturing, caring, knowledge, friendship, morality, gentleness, strength, passion and desire for fairness and social justice. Some have saved my life; some have saved my soul and others just saved me the last biscuit on the plate. It made me realise as I started reflecting on my role as a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a teacher, that I have been in a truly privileged position and not all women have these opportunities.

In seeing such wonderful women in action, I have also come to question some aspects of how I now view the world and how I want to participate. It has been these experiences – both positive and not so positive – that have taught me about myself as my ‘self’ continues to evolve and morph into new shapes (literally and physically!), new identities and shifting desires.

I am grateful.
I am privileged.
I have been lead.
I have been taught.
I hope I do the same for others.

Perhaps this story also creates a new starting point to seek and become conscious of being within my own skin. Especially now that I have a second child, a daughter. I want her to know she has a choice. She also has the right to choose. Most importantly everything she sees me do shapes how she sees herself, the world and her place in it.

I am a woman.
I am a mother.
I am a wife.
I am a sister.
I am a teacher.
I know envy – what is feels like to seek and crave.
I know guilt – the weight of a heart, a tear in an eye and a hand in my hand.
I know influence – of what not to do, a shifting identity.
I know experience, privileges, pathways – what opportunity provides, takes away.


Photography: David Prentice  

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