Full-time to Furlough

A Guest Blog from Janey Fry, my sister-in-law, friend & Design Director in a large London agency.

My husband brought back a bag of rice, some kitchen roll and a few various cans of, well I’m not entirely sure. Just to make sure we don’t run out of anything. This was in February and I was convinced he was being over cautious, even a little bonkers. I probably said as much. It couldn’t effect our country that badly. This is life ‘BC’, Before Corona.

Fast forward one month and we’re both working from home full time, the nursery is closed and we’ve never felt so anxious. Our son had just turned 16 months old and was being pretty tricky. Fussy, teething, teary, independent but needy. Like so many people, we wondered what the hell we were going to do. The balance we had as full time designers and loving parents was gone without childcare: our new and impossible job description included childminder cum teacher amongst all the household chores, walking our dog and gardening that we used to squeeze in after work and at weekends.

The week after lockdown began, our boy took a little tumble during my ‘morning shift’ with him, and I cuddled him better. Feeling his tiny, warm body nestled towards me, by contrast I felt joy in being able to be 100% there for him. A calmness, completeness and closeness that took me back to when he was first born alongside those special, magical moments every parent keeps close to their heart.

This bliss very quickly disappeared: endless piles of laundry, cooking meals (with never ending washing up) beside a screaming toddler coupled and a casual, daily argument with my husband under the stress of it all and I’m back to feeling guilty, frustrated and ready for nursery to start. I love being a mum, but I love my job and it feels like I have to choose. I’m scared for my parents who live in Cheshire, for my parents-in-law who live in Sunderland, for my brother and his family, for my cousin and her husband who are both front line ICU consultants and countless family and friends alike. There are many people, families, communities even who are worse off than us, that have lost those dearest to them. Knowing this, I often shamefacedly ended each day with a glass of wine and FaceTime with our loved ones.

Skip to May and I’ve been furloughed. It happened. I was devastated when my Creative Director told me. To be fair, it’s a tough time for commercial interior design right now… our company’s clients aren’t looking at their store portfolios, exhibitions and retail experiences when the world has essentially closed down. I try and console myself as my new unofficial job description got a little easier, even if financial strain would increase.

But here’s the thing; I really love what I do. My job doesn’t define me but to an extent my creativity does. It’s part of me but I felt ashamed that I missed work so much, even when I have an incredible opportunity to spend more time with my beautiful boy.

So as we head to our nursery reopening there are few things I know in my heart.

First of all you cannot do it all. Teachers don’t teach, clean the house and cook at the same time. Handymen don’t fix a fence, change nappies and design stores at the same time. It’s impossible, so do your best at one thing. Together, as a team, my husband and I have learnt to shrug off what we couldn’t squeeze in each day and try to feel proud at what we could do. Even if that’s making sure our son is happy, healthy and wearing vaguely clean clothes.

Secondly, loving your job and career isn’t a crime. It’s okay to not want to be around your child all the time/when they’re acting up/when you want to have some me time/have a wee on your own. Having some time each week to call your own; to achieve something, or nothing, really is truly a gift, but also a necessity to mine and my husband’s wellbeing. We love our boy and each other but we can’t give enough if we don’t take care of ourselves as well.

And lastly but mostly, I know gratitude. We’re lucky to have each other, our health, our home and hope. We have had an incredible opportunity that we couldn’t have dreamed of. As full time employees we had to surrender spending as much time with our darling child as we wanted to. Now we’ve reconnected in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And maybe that’s the biggest gift of all.