I work too much.
I am a high achiever, naturally prone to listening to others and somebody who cares a lot about how things are done. My day, like many other women, starts with an intensive session of cleaning – it’s more giving an order to the universe, starting from my bathroom. Tagged along with a man who looks a million dollars as he wears his shirt, I have learnt he can’t change a light bulb without ending in the hospital or wishing me dead, so if I want something done, it is going to be me the one performing it, from tiding the fridge to stocking up detergents. He has got style, and apparently this involves changing three or four times a day – I wouldn’t know, I own few items which all look the same and (hopefully) get along together. I have noticed that style and cuisine become less interesting as you are the one to pick up the clothes from the ground or cleaning the kitchen after meals.
After a quick remise-en-place, I switch on my computer and check my emails with a big cup of coffee. It is hundreds of them and they intensify during the night when I am asleep, because the majority of my clients is American. I am very pleased about it, for we have created this vital business from scratch: it’s been debts, wet pillows, sentimental rampages, stomach cramps for at least three years. No money, worse, no recognition, for almost twice the time. It is working fine today, yet it requires a level of care, attention and discipline that can exhaust any mental resource and, most important, my capability to be empathic towards people that are the closest to me. As lionesses get in the savannah at night hunting for preys, equally I get out there in the luxury rental world in search of customers every morning. We both are at risk of starving our puppies if we fail and we both end up full of scars anyway. I guess I am a light-weight entrepreneur, one of a small company, but the size of a business doesn’t determine people’s involvement: you just want to make it work, rise and succeed.
People who live with entrepreneurs and are not involved in their business rarely understand what’s really going on behind certain facial expressions. It is not easy to imagine the amount of anger, happiness, adrenaline that our keyboards can get us to release: one email brings you up to the sky, one call makes you devastated. One new business lead gets in, two old problems come to the surface. It’s partly a fight for bread and mostly an itinerary of self-definition.
All we want when back to ‘family mood’ is happy faces in functioning families – it is incredible how good we are at organizing a whole network of international teams and bad at the simplest of family chores: trying to spot the business mum at the kids’ school picnic? Very easy, she is the one with the worried, blackberry-illuminated face and the supermarket sandwiches on the blanket.
Men of a certain position often get themselves what we unkindly call a trophy wife: a devoted partner who will manage home like a little soldier and will look appropriate. All these men want is a second in command who doesn’t dare to differ, a functioning unit in a functioning world, somebody who doesn’t question every minutia, for that has been done all day long already in the office. It’s not male chauvinism, it is survival. When exposed to such stress one needs to have it easy, at least when it comes to choose holidays, suppers and clothing. It doesn’t matter which level of success has been achieved, really, for entrepreneurs do not measure things like others - in fact they see flowers and opportunities whereas ‘normal’ people see pollution and a dead end. What really matters is to have a safe zone where none wants to fight with you. So, shall women get trophy husbands as well? I don’t think that can be a solution, I still think a feisty, authentic relationship is better than a Stepford one, however I too understand the need of tranquillity, the sirens call for a peaceful home.
Us women are coming a long time seconds in this type of marathon, so we still need to re-balance the whole thing. It is a mess: our husbands feel neglected, our kids are often thrown in the group of those who attempt to plunder our energy reserve, the house is yet an other thing we need to get together not to mention that our sexual life is flushed down the toilet when an important deal is gone off the table. When embracing this career we lose part of our blandness, because we need to get tougher to remain alive – and I guess men do too, but we somehow feel like for them it’s natural.
We are never fully forgiven for trying to make it to the top, for devoting such energy to our personal race rather than playing in the garden with our kids. Resentment is an angry beast that gets easily fed in families like ours, the bottom line being why did you get yourself a family if you wanted to play like the boys? The answer is because we wanted and are entitled to both, like men are. Because we have seen our mothers suffer from the economic-administrative despotism – or inadequacy - of our fathers and have decided we will be responsible for ourselves. Because we too have the right to be confined in a room working hard all day and come out at nine pm asking 'well, what's for dinner?'
I have noticed it is easier for men to embrace feminism when it involves girls being shirtless and singing about equally free sex (fun!) rather than supporting women who, in fact, are empowered like men and don’t feel the urge to take off their bra to prove it. Women like me are heavy duty, I completely understand the burden and would like to step back if only I could – I can’t, it would be like asking a runner to stay put for ever.
Men can compartmentalize, women can’t - at least - I can’t.
If during the day I have had to be naughty, I end with a bag full of sadness in my pocket. If somebody has tried to bypass me, I take it personally. So at dusk, when I feel that I have done what I needed to do, when kids are fed and husband has been talked to, I must release the stress somehow. I tried Bikram and thought I was surrounded by the mentally ill. I attempted jogging and decided it is not nice to have boobs stretched down to your feet. I can’t play any sport without looking hideous, really, so a glass of wine at the end of the day it is.
Often one glass becomes two and two becomes three, when that soave buzz takes all the trouble away. It’s a motherly caress, a unicorn and a fairy all together, always accompanied by plenty of water so the morning after my head won’t hurt. I have a limit which I don’t trespass and this too is part of my own discipline or, as my partner sees it, obsessive compulsive disorder. So, there it goes: not only I work too much, I probably drink too much too. Please note I am Tuscan, detoxing to us means no trippe for a solid week.
I admire diversity.
I think that women who bake cakes and look after their homes like I do with my business are fantastic. I think that men who surf are great as well as those who manage a bank. I have nothing against my daughter getting married or having children by the time she’s twenty, as she announces frequently, in fact I can’t wait to see what she will become and support her all the way like my parents did with me. I think respect is the true core of love and expectations are the scum of sentiments, especially those we put on our beloved ones to get back at ourselves. I think we all shall be doing what makes us happy - me included.
Sunbury-on-Thames is minutes from Richmond, half an hour from Notting Hill and one life away from London as a single. It’s a place where you get to know your neighbours and food is great for less. The fact that our new house faces the Middle Thames Yacht Club together with the best summer in England in years all add to my adoration for it. My daughter gets to leave home by herself and comes back sharp three thousand seconds after to inform me she’s still alive. She calls this exploring. We could have never thought of such a liberty for her back in the centre, nor letting her walk alone would have never been allowed – are you crazy? It’s full of predators out there. It is such a shame I had to explain concepts such as paedophilia and gang violence to a seven year old, but there you go: life is what it is.
My little one and I will have tea with cakes together on a Sunday at the Sunbury Embroidery Gallery & Café inside the Walled Garden, a place that you will only believe as real when you see it or if you were born in the eighteen century. It is spectacular, with bees and lavender, manicured gardens of roses and squirrels. A lady with magnificent blue eyes says “You are lucky to have moved here” and I nod ‘I know, I absolutely love it’.
My little Cecilia asks me the questions when there.
She knows we won’t be spending a lot of time together during the week and she takes this opportunity, some hours of full attention, to investigate deep-meaning subjects such as ‘mummy can we buy rollerblades now’ or ‘was your bum always this fat, mum?’ - bless you, no, it was agile and round, then you came and it became humongous. She laughs hard, I am her favourite toy. See, I take no offense from her.
We never really plaid together Cecilia and I, as I believe in the power of idleness as the best humus for a bright intelligence, so whenever she wanted to be entertained, I sent her off. I also think empty spaces shall be filled with one kid’s fantasy, rather than through a lists of planned activities: take a stone, find a stick and get amused my dear, it will help you when you are older. We two are one, however she knows that when I am on Skype with clients she can’t breathe too loud: that’s how I make money, this is how we buy our way through the skies of England and Italy, this is how I made space for myself on this planet - she better learns independence now, so she won’t be trapped with a partner unless she loves him, or her, profoundly.
So we gather at the Café and eat a lot of cake, biscuits, cappuccino and hot chocolate for less than seven pounds. Here we can be two friends who happen to be a mum and her daughter, we are companions, souls who met up again after some reincarnations. This place is magical, my scars are gone, my anxiety is placated, I can focus on beauty and scents. The cafeteria smells like your mum baking a cake for you, no matter if she really did or not - the apricot cake, by the way, is a further serious attempt to my already bloated, happy bum.
(Credits: For the mothers who want to have a fiabesque Sunday with their kids and a ruthless Monday in the office www.sunburyembroidery.co.uk/gallery.htm )