The interpreter diaries commented in my post about what we talk about in the booth. She said that as a mother she often discussed issues around managing your life as mother and interpreter with colleagues who had a similar situation. I said then that it is an issue that deserves a post of its own, so here we go.
I started off as an interpreter 18 months before my first child was born. So clearly being a mother and an interpreter has been very intertwined for me. I interpreted (locally) two days before I went into labour and I started again when my daughter was three months old. When she was five months we went on our first assignment abroad.
Interpreting and free-lancing is a great job when you have children. I have been able to be at home with them for all their holidays. I spend eight weeks of summer holiday, two for Christmas, one in November, one in February and two over Easter – every year. On the other hand it’s horrible. I have lost count of the number of birthdays, school performances, medical appointments and sick days I have missed. For my son’s birthday this year I participated over skype. You feel utterly horrible when your child has a fever and you have to rely on relatives, au-pair girls or at best that your husband does not have an important meeting or is travelling as well. I felt horrible this morning when I had to take my daughter to the emergency room as she had hurt herself and she quite naturally comments: It’s a good thing it didn’t happen on Wednesday when you were away.
The same thing goes for spouse and friend. You need to have a patient partner who is secure in his own role and you need to have good friends who don’t mind waiting. You are the best spouse and friend when you’re not on mission. Long nice lunches with the girls, dinner’s ready for hubby and children are already done with homework and other tasks. Lot’s of time to fix things and hold everything together. On the other hand, when you’re away, you’re simply not there. Hubby becomes the sole provider of dinner, homework support, sick days, parent-teacher meetings and your friends can wait for weeks without a phone call. Now, I’m naturally very bad at remembering birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates, but travelling does not help things.
So, how do you make it happen? Well, first of all rigorous planning and equal amount of flexibility. You have to plan everything minutely and be totally open for all the plans to fail when a child is ill or a flight is cancelled. Secondly, good support around you. My parents passed away early so I have not been able to count on them for support (and maybe that’s not too bad, I hear my colleagues say that they put a burden on their parents they don’t feel comfortable with), but since my second child was six months and the first 18 months I’ve had very nice au-pair girls. Although, having an au-pair girl (or boy) is like having a distant relative living with you. You develop a very close relationship, but it’s still someone working for you. Tricky – but of the ten au-pair girls who has stayed with us over the years I have only had two who resigned early, another two decided to stay for an extra six months. Nowadays, the children are bigger and they prefer taking care of themselves when we’re not around, so far it works out well with homework and so forth. But I also have friends and neighbours who are absolutely great and who come running to our support when things just don’t work out. Like when I was in Spain for 10 days and my husband had a minor catastrophe at work and had to work 12 hour days and week-end. Dear, wonderful Mitt Belgien came every morning at seven to give the children breakfast and see them off to school and came back in the evening to help with homework and put them to bed.
Interestingly enough, the children dislike my travelling more as they get older. When they were very young travelling was sort of something natural and part of what mummy did, but as they grow older I guess they start seeing how other families function and maybe they also get better at putting words on feelings. Maybe they need you in another way when they are older. I have a colleague who once took a term off to support her 13-year-old. Unfortunately for me, they also go to a school where many of the mothers are stay at home mums, so I guess I struggle in headwind there. But as my supervisor once said encouragingly: “You are really being a role model for your girls”. And in case you wonder – Yes, it’s worth every minute of it and all the planning, and all the bad consience. The job is extremely rewarding and I very much like the fact that I can be there for the children so much more than I would have been able to as an employee, although I would probably have a higher “being there on birthdays”-score.