Down & Out In A London Kitchen

Esther Walker started a food blog called Recipe Rifle in 2009 when desperate and unemployed. In 2010 she married restaurant critic Giles Coren and far, far too quickly had a baby daughter, called Kitty.

Life outside the daily grind

Posted by Esther Walker
Esther Walker
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on Tuesday, 26 June 2012

My opinion, for what it’s worth, about whether or not you work when you have children, (if you are in the luxurious position of being able to choose), comes from my belief that everyone needs, and everyone is entitled to, some sort of intellectual life.

When I say intellectual life, I mean something that is outside of the daily grind of getting up, feeding yourself and others, fulfilling the basic requirements of your existence.

For some, their working life and their intellectual life are the same thing. But for most, their job contributes to the general grind. It’s got nothing to do with class or with how much you get paid. I have seen well-paid City workers and lawyers cry with frustration at how their brains are atrophying in their jobs.

If you are the primary carer of pre-school children, the amount of grind in your life is probably higher than most. You have a responsibility to yourself and to your family to seek out some sort of intellectual life otherwise you will go potty and make your whole family miserable – but it doesn’t necessarily need to be paid employment. It just needs to be an interest, a fizz, a whimsy that you get a kick out of, which has nothing to do with laundry or playdates or nappies. Television, alas, doesn’t really count.

My mother never worked. She is a painter and sculptor but only ever did it as a hobby to entertain herself in moments of freedom. She never took it seriously, although she is talented. I remember the day the kiln she had had built in our garden, years before, was dismantled and taken away and feeling incredibly sad. It was a sort of admission of defeat. Every new thing my mother made, or drew, brought me so much joy, but she always claimed, with four children, she never had the time to give it her all.

But I don’t think that was true. I think she didn’t want to pursue her creative life because she thought it was selfish. She worried that people would look at her artwork and look at her and say “You abandoned your children to au pairs to do this?” She is no martyr, but I think she believed that she didn’t deserve time for herself. She is and was so wrong! We never minded, after the tyranny of toddlerhood had passed, if she was unavailable sometimes because she was painting. We were proud of her art and wanted her to do more. We told her we did. The au pairs were fine!

My intellectual life has always been writing. I have, at times, been lucky enough to be paid for it. At others, I have done it simply to keep myself sane. I have never taken it that seriously, never felt especially pompous about it, never run at it with any kind of vim. I’ve been very much like my mum about it. But recently I’ve been offered the opportunity to write a book and, although I know it will never bring people the kind of joy a simple, scribbled pencil drawing of my mother’s still does, the loss and sadness I feel at her thwarted potential has made my decision for me.

But my free time, like everyone’s, is squeezed and there is no time for both books and also for whimsical blogs about motherhood.

So this is farewell for a bit, I suppose; I leave you to pursue your own intellectual lives, whatever they may be.

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