We are currently mid-birthday season.
And I am questioning the amount of work I am putting in to keep the birthday season rolling smoothly.
Birthday season involves an insane amount of thought, effort and time. There is present research, present buying, present delegating – keeping track of who’s bought what from the birthday list, then liasing via email and text to update on status of all present buyers. Event planning – deciding with the child what they would like to do for their party. Then gradually getting them to change their mind to something that doesn’t involve phenomenal sums of money, or potential disasters. Inviting the kids – getting the numbers of parents, then chasing the already busy mothers to confirm if their children can come. Working out how all these children are going to get to the venue and back. Planning the food plan for the day. Wrapping said presents. Making a homemade card, because ‘bought’ is a cop out. Piling up the presents into a present pile, decorating the entire present area with bunting, candles and flowers. And I haven’t even got to the cake.
I mean writing it all down, it does sound ridiculous.
My husband finds the WHOLE thing baffling, and consequently does absolutely nothing. In our house this is an accepted turn of events because the whole birthday ritual is something that I have instigated, therefore, it’s MY fault my children look forward to their birthdays, ipso facto, over to you, lady.
I blame my mother.
Because, growing up in a family of 5 children, there wasn’t often undiluted attention coming my way. But my birthday was an exception to the rule. On that day it was all about me, there were cards, presents, flowers, a birthday cake and sometimes a birthday outing. Those birthdays are enshrined in my memory in a little haze of excitement, blossom and fairy dust. And although Dad always contributed to the present pile, the legwork was done by Mum.
By way of contrast birthdays were not a flurry of creative rituals in my husband’s childhood home. Although not in any way deprived of love, the sum total of his birthday treats seemed to be the odd book (usually pre-read) and a cake. He had a party once, and hated it. His friends all played with HIS toys and the whole experience was baffling and noisy.
So, for him, marking our children’s birthdays with anything more than one or two presents and a cake is just unnecessary fuss.
I don’t know if he’s right or not. I do know that my daughter is literally alight with joy from about three weeks before her birthday. That she made a countdown calender. That she noticed every detail, every effort and bubbles over with love on the day itself.
But I do feel that things have got a little too one-sided. And after a bit of research (a.k.a. googling) I have discovered that the work around birthdays is just one example of a whole field of work called ‘emotional labour‘. Or, in feminist speak, ‘repeated, taxing and under-acknowledged acts of gendered performance’.
According to journalist Rose Hackman, emotional labour is the next feminist frontier. Taking care of birthdays is the teeniest tip of the iceberg when it comes to the organisation, care, time, thought and effort that many women I know put into keeping not just their own nuclear families ticking along nicely, but the lives of their wider families, their friends and the communities in which they live.
When David Cameron patronisingly launched his ‘Big Society’ idea back in 2010 (crikey, that’s gone fast) every full time, part time and working mother I know rolled their eyes in response. They were already running the Big Society, while washing up, on the phone booking a Drs appointment, and breastfeeding at the same time. But it needed a man to label it so that he could claim it as his big idea. Swear words come to mind.
The problem is, I’m not saying that I don’t want to do it anymore. It would just be nice for the emotional labour to be shared a bit more, to be recognised for what it is – love made manifest. The problem is, that like the fridge fairy who fills the fridge with everything the family desire BY MAGIC, as long as we keep doing the emotional labour, no one is going to be rushing to take if off our hands.
So, in a bid to get it noticed I am tempted to hand over the birthday reins to my husband next year, let him do it his way. Because, ladies, we are our own worst enemies. We need to relinquish our desire to control and stop bearing the brunt of emotional labour. And won’t it be interesting when one half of the population starts to notice all those invisible jobs that make life special and the home tick with love?