Labour and leisure go hand in hand

As I held my toddler on the ledge of the balcony so he could optimally view the orange tractor usually parked in the inner courtyard of the winery below our apartment building, I thought about the difference between bodies at work and at rest. He wanted ‘more tacto’. I told them the other two vintage tractors were asleep in the garage. This was not a lie. They were, indeed, in a state of rest. I started fantasising about what that could mean for my body. My partner joined us, and we talked about our farmer friend who we consider a workaholic. Was he taking the day off? Surely not, my partner decided. Labour Day is for white-collar workers, according to this farmer’s logic. It was a rainy day but the skies were not continually leaking, so it was definitely possible to thin the apple trees, unburden them of excess. Sadly, I was also working. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t take the day off. I had too much on my plate that was deadline-sensitive. I was also beginning to crave the feeling of lightness that comes from finishing things, from having fewer pending tasks. So, my partner whisked our toddler off so I could put in more hours.

Later, when I had a bit of downtime to recover, after I had managed to clear two massive deadlines, I invested my energy in cleaning the house. This is a tendency I have had since my bachelor days… when I get too absorbed with work or have too many deadlines, I cannot be attentive to household things. I watch layers of dust accrue on surfaces or see how I need to rotate our toddler’s toys but feel apprehensive about getting into it because it can become a form of procrastination or distraction. The better strategy is to delay dealing with it until I have more mind space. So, yesterday evening, after I felt freer in my head, I went around the house cleaning and clearing, knowing my partner would do the rest over the weekend. Then I heated up the soup I’d made for both our meals and poured myself a glass of wine.

I thought back to a conversation I’d had with another mother on the playground. Her oldest had joined kindergarten last September. Her youngest is a month younger than our toddler. She had been ‘at home’ on maternity leave for more than a year, but until she secured a spot in the daycare, couldn’t return to her fulltime job as an English teacher in an institute in the neighbouring town. She asked if I wrote down in the application to daycare that I worked full-time. I told her I had indeed. It suddenly dawned on me how much I have been working beyond all the labour that is required as a primary caregiver. I felt, briefly, exhausted.

I have been very conscious about telling our child that I work. Because I am sometimes afraid he might think sitting in front of a laptop isn’t work. It got me thinking about what our perceptions are of working bodies. Does that change over time? My mother worked every day of the week for the first two decades of my life almost. I must have resented her being away but I also never got to witness what it looked like to see her at work because her work happened in the domestic spaces of rich people’s homes, since she was a private nurse. I had some inkling of what my father did as an inspection engineer, but even now, I wouldn’t be able to describe it to you. Sometimes I wonder what our child considers as our work. Does it matter?

Following this train of thought led me to how, within South Asian mentalities, the labours of parents are often weaponised by them against their children. The logic is something like ‘we work so hard so that you can do xyz’ and I wonder if what gets passed down is a sense of guilt, if children are made to feel responsible for the fact that their parents have to be away? Do they shoulder the burden of their parents’ obligation to work?

I told myself this morning that I want our child to see the pleasure I derive from my work, especially the vast array of things that demand my labour, from teaching to writing to editing to reading and viewing art. It means I need to restructure my schedule even more so that the volume is reduced, and the quality of my output is enhanced, somehow. Because as much as I want our child to know what a working mother looks like, I also want him to witness a woman at leisure, enjoying her rest, exploring hobbies and being present.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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