On Work, Kids, and Making Time

It’s a cliché – juggling work and small kids is hard. No one denies it, and if they try, they might cop a stray fork to the eyeball.

You stay up half the night rocking, soothing, and occasionally using a snot-sucker to remove goop from tiny nostrils. Morning dawns and the older ones demand fruit – specific fruit, seasons be damned – and the smaller ones cling to you like they’re trying to squeeze your soul out through your gullet, all at a volume usually reserved for Grandpa’s TV audio settings.

Once fed and dressed (the hardest part – a judo black belt would help) you wrangle them into the car and drop them, often wailing for your extended presence, at daycare or kinder. And after the emotional turmoil that was your morning, you’re expected to toddle off to work and file away your children until pickup, so you can concentrate on whatever task you’ve been assigned that day, regardless of your sleep bank or energy levels.

And most people do it full time, with a couple of weeks of annual holidays to temper the strain.

But kids aren’t all snot and squeals. My eldest understands the word googol, just so they can describe how much they love me. My youngest speaks at a pitch so perfect, it gives me unprecedented ASMR. Their skin is the silkiest. Their curls, the dearest. They tell bad jokes that lead nowhere and stroke my face with infinite tenderness. They make me slow down and appreciate the small moments.

The other night during a kid-led kitchen boogie, I turned to my partner and said (in one of my cornier moments), ‘This is the time of our lives.’

‘I know,’ my partner replied.

So, when financial pressure meant it was high time to get back to work after several years of exclusive sticky hands and cries of, ‘Carry me!’, I knew I wanted to find work that wouldn’t take me completely away from the joys and struggles of parenthood. I wanted to find work that would allow me to treasure these few short years of smallness, sweetness and chaos, before the sarcasm and eye rolls officially set in.

I deeply admire the parents who can do it all – work full time and parent with indefatigable energy. But I also admire the parents who find ways to circumvent the constraints of colonial/patriarchal capitalism and make time for slowness. Besides, my constitution demands it – years of low iron and breastfeeding only permit so much. So, in these early years my partner and I have chosen op shop clothes and home-brand over holidays and fancy (or even clean) cars. We don’t buy organic vegetables, go to gigs, or update our technology. Our phone screens have ancient, zig-zagging cracks. We’ve chosen time over luxury at every opportunity.

With that in mind, I set out to find work that suited my pace and scoured the internet for freelance editing opportunities that would allow flexibility and balance.

But in these post-Covid times it’s all about who you know. Maybe it always was. I’m not so hot at the literary schmoozing and event attendance – a must for aspiring freelance editors. I don’t relish long solo missions to launches, fairs or festivals.

I had to look closer to home.

We had recently done the tree-change thing and moved out to Eltham – found a mud-brick home that’s impossible to heat, on a block of oxalis-infested bushland. We have a resident wombat who digs up the path, a family of wallabies who bound across the back of the block, and a feeling that this is where we’re meant to be.

I loved the idea of working near home, so I googled small local publishers who might need freelance editors, hoping that even if they didn’t have work for me, they might take pity on a local and find a moment to offer advice.

The first person I contacted was a bust – she rather aggressively told me that of course she had no editing work and she could meet up to chat about the industry for fifty bucks, if I wanted. I did not, but kudos to her for valuing her time.

The second business I found was an entirely different vibe. The website was a quick giveaway – this is a place that understands community and family. I’ll forever wish I’d met Blaise – her legacy here is pervasive: warm, caring and somehow maternal. And Busybird had everything I’d been looking for. They actually give their interns training and, after the internship is complete, freelance editing work. I had a few gaps in my resume, so I swallowed my pride and misgivings about another internship as a thirty-something mum of two with ample editing experience under her belt, and applied.

It was the best decision I could have made.

In a recent Busybird newsletter, I listed some of the things that make it special, but at its heart is community – people of all ages coming together to share their stories. Kev and Les are the backbone, but people are drawn to share the space, happy to spend an hour chatting over the inexhaustible supply of sweet treats that grace the central collaborative table, keen to have a cuppa and chat books, conspiracy theories, or the latest Netflix binge. And I can’t write about Busybird without mentioning the ultimate sweetheart goofball who graces the space – dear doggo Oscar.

Now, at the end of this experience, I know more. Thanks to Les I’m a better writer and editor, I can make a TikTok reel (albeit badly – I’m a millennial, after all), I understand the industry on a deeper level, and I’ve embraced the Oxford comma. Above all, I have new friends I hope to keep for life.

I’ve found that I love editing self-published work. Everyone deserves to have their story published, gatekeepers be damned. And everyone has a story to tell. Our lives are rich with the strange and wonderful.

I now have freelance work that gives me time. Time for the small, slow moments of parenthood. Time for the larger life events that can so easily pass us by amidst the unending pressures of capitalism. Time to garden, read, and write. Time to wonder. Time to grow.

And when my kids smear snot on my leggings for the umpteenth time in one hour, I’ll chose to thank Busybird (almost definitely) for giving me a chance.

Ellen Spooner
Editing Intern

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