My elder son is now at a stage where he needs and wants to do things on his own. Most of these things I have no problem with (I am happy for him to use the kitchen, if a little worried that he could set fire to himself or others), others are a bit more problematic. He wants to walk around our neighbourhood on his own and call on friends without relying on me to organize and take him. He is a very sensible child (usually) but I must admit that this is hard for me. The area where we live and the area (five minutes away) where most of his friends live are separated by a busy road and, although there are zebra crossings, anyone who has been to Italy will know that this only makes a minimal difference to road safety as drivers do not regard stopping at them as obligatory.
I was thinking of this the other day when I was working on the interviews I undertook with some of the many women who have moved to Italy to work as carers for the elderly. Many of them left behind (typically in Ukraine, Romania and other Eastern-European countries) young children, entrusting them to other family members and following their lives from a distance with only minimal contact (typically going back for a month or so in each year). With the advent of Skype and other technological developments, staying in contact has definitely become easier – just a few years ago, most immigrants (myself included) relied on public phone booths and pre-paid calling cards. Now, we can keep in contact from the comfort of our own homes and also see our loved-ones on the screen.
But keeping in contact is very different to actively bringing up your child, to listening to the minutiae of everyday life; who is arguing with whom in the classroom, who cheated on the test, who gave the supply teacher a hard time. Gleaning any information at all from my taciturn son is hard enough face-to-face, if that time were reduced to a weekly phone call I think we would very quickly grow apart.
And, of course, it’s not just about the small details – what about the bigger picture? Part of the joy of having children is having your input in their lives, seeing how they grow and mature with your help. Watch them do (and refuse to do) things that you and your parents did as children. What must it be to lose that opportunity?
All of the women I spoke to were keenly aware of what they had given up by choosing to come to Italy to work but they also believed that in the long run, their children would be better off for having the opportunity to study (something which was too expensive without their mother’s financial contribution). I don’t know what I would do in the same situation and I hope never to have to make that decision but it puts my own worries about letting my son do things on his own into perspective.
Tackling a PhD with three young children was never going to be easy but, by far the biggest obstacle I have had to face (and am still facing) is finding a place to study. In the first few years after my twins were born we employed a babysitter to come and look after them a few mornings a week. This worked out fine for them but for me it meant that I always had to go out to get some serious studying done – and no, there are no quiet spaces in a small flat with two babies. The obvious choice was the library but this was easier said than done. I remember once needing to urgently finish a piece of work for my supervisor and asking the babysitter to come for an extra 2-hour session. I carried my laptop and all the books to our local library only to find it unexpectedly closed for a staff meeting. With the clock ticking, I caught the bus into town to the next nearest library but there were no seats left, not even one. By the time I had found a place to perch in a third library it was about time to pack up and go home – 20 euros poorer and nothing but frustration to show for it.
Now, with all three children at school things are a little easier but I still have serious office-envy when I see some of the lovely offices that are around! My desk is an old table which is quite nice-looking but, as my shoulders will testify, is actually completely the wrong height ergonomically. It is also in the corner of our lounge/dining room/playroom so I frequently have to work with a background noise of Paw Patrol and (shudder) Dora the Explorer. I also have very little space and everything has to be packed away when the children come home or it gets scribbled on/stolen/made into an aeroplane. I would love to say that this means that as a consequence I have become extremely organized but alas, that is not the case. Looking around my desk today I can see several items that really should not be here including a Horrible Histories magazine, some lesson plans and part of a box of toy soldiers.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Next month I start a new job closer to home where I will have an office! It is shared with two colleagues, has no computer and a lot of horrible furniture. Nevertheless I am hoping to give it a makeover and hopefully it will be a place where I can feel at home.
Yesterday I took my three children to see a great Fantateatro show which roughly translates into English as “Pieces of coal and Broomsticks – the story of the Forgetful Witch”. In Italy on the eve of 6th January, tradition has it that an old hag (the Befana) rides through the sky, bringing sweets and presents to the good children and pieces of coal to the naughty ones. Well, in the show not everything went to plan. A silly prank played by Santa’s elves accidentally led to the Befana losing her memory and completely forgetting that she had to deliver the presents! Luckily, the situation was resolved with a few well-performed songs and a sprinkling of magic.
We all enjoyed the show and walking home afterwards I started to think about the forgetful witch’s memory problems. Forgetting has been one of the biggest obstacles I have had to face in this research process. My memory really is atrocious and I spend an inordinate amount of time rereading articles and books that I have already read and forgotten. On one occasion I was searching online for information about how to overcome a problem that I was having with the software I use for transcription. I found a similar question answered on a PhD forum. It was only after reading the reply posted by a forum user that I realised that I WAS that forum user. Not only had I completely forgotten posting on that forum, I had forgotten that a year ago I had already resolved the problem myself!
I am hoping that my memory problems are the result of trying to multitask and not the early signs of anything serious. I do find it really hard to concentrate on one thing at a time since having children. For instance, a quick snapshot of my brain at this precise moment would go something like this; “Finish blog post…check train times to get to work…have I printed out the essays to mark on the train?…better call the plumber to come back and fix the bathroom…I wonder if I have time to pick up a birthday present for Filippo?….I still don’t really know how Goffman’s frames relate to Positioning theory….if I don’t take that book back to the library by Friday I am going to get banned again….I really hope G has settled at school this morning or if he is still crying…”. Is it any wonder that Goffman gets lost in the fog of all the minutiae of daily life?!
By putting things on this blog I hope I will be able to better keep track of what I am working on and thinking about. That is one of my primary aims of writing things down here. I would love to hear from any others who are having similar memory problems and how you cope with them. I really hope I am not the only one!
Welcome to Raccontando!
This is the blog which will hopefully recount how I manage to successfully complete my PhD over the next year. Yes, I should have started it a long time ago!
My research is based on the stories I have been told by foreign care workers living in the city of Bologna, Italy. I am interested particularly in notions of belonging, home and motherhood.
I first started my research in 2008 but took some time off for maternity leave – my research life is slightly hampered by looking after the needs of three small-ish children, although my “real” life is considerably enriched by their arrival! Writing about other mothers who have combined work and motherhood has helped me reflect on my own experiences.
Finally, I am a “distance learner” and have had limited opportunity to discuss my research with others so I hope to have some virtual discussions!