We are now into the 4th year since Max left being employed by someone other than us and the fifth year since he worked full time. I feel like, even without all the added complications of the tragedy that then befell us, I’m only really properly recovered from 5 years of trying to be a full time home educating mum as well as a full time business owner now. Looking back on the four years from here, sat on the sofa with our second baby boy beside me, with our growing (growing up FAST) girls all busy around us, it suddenly seems like a very long time ago.
I took a huge risk by setting up that business and carrying on running it for as long as I did. I didn’t intend it to be so all encompassing as it was. It started off as pin money, tucked into a cupboard and generating a couple of orders a day, then turned into something that took up a little too much of my time, but was altogether manageable. The girls were small, home ed was laid back and I’m not really sure how it was that it suddenly became something that engulfed me. I’m surprised, looking back, by the compulsion I had to succeed and grow it. I must have got horribly diverted from my initial goal of being with the girls. In some ways, I resent that I lost that time, because I’m not sure I can get it back now, that desire to home educate in a dynamic and exciting way. Time, circumstance and energy all scattered and collided in a way that broke the excitement somehow. And if the girls ever read this, I’d like them to know I’m sorry that this life, this home ed life, didn’t turn out quite how I planned. I meant for it to be more exciting, more than just protecting a childhood. I meant it to be amazing.
Luckily enough, in among all the twists and turns life took after we moved to this house, we got lucky. This photo, of the living room covered in boxes while I struggled to manage a 200 orders a day Christmas, was the tipping point. Our marriage was in jeopardy through lack of time and understanding and the girls had been told ‘in a minute’ once too often. Max took a temporary cut in hours at work and although I distinctly remember that somewhere in the weeks leading up to Christmas there was a week, from one Tuesday to the next, where I barely seemed to stand up from packing parcels on the living room floor, the girls were no longer suffering too badly. It feels like they had a long time where they came second, but in reality I don’t think it was, just long enough for me to realise that no need for personal success and achievement and self worth is big enough for children to come second to a computer screen and the telephone.
But I’m sorry girls, I really am sorry that you came second. You shouldn’t have. Your faces were always more beautiful than the screen and your voices always more interesting than the ones on the telephone. I just forgot.
In the space afterwards, finally recognising it had gone on too long and too much damage was being done, I drew a plan of the unit we’d moved into in the intervening year and where it had grown into an even bigger business, working out what space I needed to keep, what brands needed to be cut out and what hours I needed someone employed for to run it without me. I’ve still got the plan now; I’ve kept it to remind myself of how wrong I went but that I did try to fix it. I showed it to Max, roughly at the same time we took other steps to fix things too and he looked at it, with Plan A to reduce, Plan B to continue and Plan C to close down completely, all drawn out in my typical, visual mind map style that makes me so different to him with his spreadsheets and databases – and he said he’d make the changes so I didn’t have to throw it all away.
Max went permanently part time and shortly afterwards a voluntary redundancy offer came up at work, which he took and which was a life saver. Had it not been for Freddie’s little life, things would be so different now. I feel like the girls have done 6 years of waiting for me to do better. But then, they are different in their own amazing and worthwhile ways for that, as resourceful and self reliant as they are thoughtful and gentle . it’s not what I planned and it could do with some improvement, but after the next few weeks, I think we can make a start on that.
Leaving work let Max work full time on the business and I enjoy being separate to that now. But the toy industry online is no place to make a fortune any more; gone are the days when it was nearly just me and no one else – now we compete with all the big names and a thousand other small businesses. So I’ve had to move on and find new ways to bring in my half of the income. The trick, I think, is making sure I learn the lessons about balance. And also to make sure that Ben gets better and more of me than the girls did for a while and that I always look at him more than at a screen. If I make sure I learn that, I think all of them will get a better mum. Sometimes it is hard to take the real steps that make change. I feel like I thought “must do better” for 5 years before I actually started to make the changes that I had to make. But just because the girls didn’t always have the most engaged mummy on the planet doesn’t mean they can’t have now. Josie doesn’t remember the business being in the house, or even me running it – for the older girls it is history that seems brief. But they all remember too much about a sad mummy wished for more and cried too much. The next stage in changing our lives is to try and make that fade away too.