Day Two: Expert

expert 001Not being a carer means I no longer need the workplace adjustment of flexible start and finish times. This will make it easier for timetabling to schedule my teaching though I don’t expect the students to be enamoured of the earlier start. This week however, on the cusp of a new academic year, it’s staff development activities I get to witness from their opening moments.

I don’t think I used to miss a great deal previously.  Poets have a maxim that ‘getting into a poem’ and ‘getting out of a poem’ are tricky. There is a tendency to spend too long warming up without saying anything and to sum the poem up at the end.  Chopping off the first and last two lines of a poem can be illuminating;  so often I’ve realised, when reviewing a draft, that they are redundant. In this respect, staff development events are not unlike poems.

Had I not been at yesterday’s event for the opening lines, however, I might have been puzzled to find my colleagues wearing sticky labels bearing a miscellany of activities and subjects:  Pink Floyd; David Bowie; DIY; Glass Staining; Blacksmithing; cycling apparel; the Isle of Axholme.  Because it turned out to be one of those activities which wasn’t referred to again; you had to be there at the start to understand the labels (latecomers not admitted).

Although I was there at the start yesterday, in truth I wasn’t clear what the purpose of the activity was. Actually, I’m not sure even today. Peeling my label off yesterday’s cardigan just now, however, gave me pause for thought. We had been asked to identify an area, other than in the workplace, where we considered ourselves an ‘expert’; what outside interests or skills had we developed to a high level?  As I picked up my pen, a colleague turned to me:  ‘are you going to write poetry?’

It hadn’t even occurred to me. The word that came, like a second breath, from my pen was  ‘caring’. The most natural thing in the world for me to think and feel and will: caring for Dylan. Once I’d written it on my label and stuck it on my cardigan, though, I felt uncomfortable. My word was different to the other words in the room. I considered that this was perhaps because ‘caring’ isn’t a noun or a concrete process. And because I hadn’t qualified it – caring for Dylan for example – it had a universal quality:  one, I realised as the morning progressed, I probably did not possess. I couldn’t honestly claim that my expertise was ‘caring’ in general. Equally, I reflected, ‘being caring’ was probably not a quality that was valued in the workplace.

So I went about my business (which wasn’t caring) feeling the gulf between the personal and the professional. More than this, however, I felt a gap inside me opening up.  When asked what I was really good at outside the workplace my first thought had been of Dylan: caring for him was something I could do well and which I felt proud of doing. What would I do with all those years of learning to care, now? What would happen to my expertise?

It wasn’t until this morning, when I saw yesterday’s label, that I realised just how great this new gap is.  I miss Dylan very much but I have a self to miss too: I can no longer call myself a carer. Dylan’s transition challenges my very identity.

7 thoughts on “Day Two: Expert

  1. It seems you are like a PhD student just after the last presentation: a bird in a cage, door opened, but…

    The song that is in my mind right now after reading this is from Pink Floyd, saying “I’ve got a strong urge to fly; but I have nowhere to fly to…”.

    Be strong in this new rediscovery of Liz and Dylan…

    Best regards

    Eder

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  2. Dear Liz, I have also been a ‘carer’. I looked after my wife for 2 years when she was dying from cancer. Of course I didn’t do it all on my own, but I was the constant, the one who made sure (insofar as I could) that other carers, hospitals, visiting nurses etc, carried out the tasks that Gill needed doing for her. You ARE good at ‘care’. One only has to read this blog to be able to say that. You have, to a degree I can’t know, sacrificed your own life for your son’s well-being. If there is a gap between your professional life and your life as a mother, then it is the profession which is at fault. Do not diminish what you have done because it has been focused on your own child. I understand that you miss Dylan very much and I guess there will be suffering attached to the transition to a new way of being. But I feel your identity is well intact. Dylan will always need your caring even if he lives far away. Be kind to yourself!

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    • Hello Tom – it is good to hear from you and so illuminating to read your message. Being a ‘constant’ is something I can relate to and a helpful image – a fixed point, an anchor. And that reminds me that I can still be those things for Dylan – mine is not the greater loss that you have suffered. We often say things are ‘like a bereavement’ but of course it is only death that is like itself. Mine is, as you say, ‘a new way of being’. I’m sorry for your loss, Tom. Thank you for your good words – I appreciate them. Liz

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  3. I’m reminded of how people feel when someone dies, someone for whom they’ve been caring for years, often ‘officially’, so that a small income is associated with the service. A benefit. And then the person dies and the care attendance allowance stops, and the person has to find a new identity and feels (sometimes) as though at the same time they’ve been ‘fined’ in some peculiar way. It is all very strange, the identity of the carer. Towards the end of my mother’s life, my sister was reluctant t be identified as my mother’s carer (or one of them) because that’s not how she felt, even though in many ways it’s what she was doing, or doing more than anybody else. But in Dylan’s case, at least he is still alive and well. And you’ve changed role, but you’re still his mother. So in a way you’re an empty nester, like all mothers when their kids leave home. Only you had a far more intense caring role than most.

    Am enjoying the way you’re watching what’s happening, analysing your own changing role. It is extremely interesting!

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    • Hello Nell – it is interesting that you mention the practical/financial side of the end of caring. I heard a woman make this point in a documentary recently – she was stoical about it but the impact on her life of the bereavement she had suffered was clearly enormous. It must be hard to be obliged to find a new identity on an imposed timescale, rather than to choose it when you are ready. That makes me feel lucky to have multiple identities and options. You’re right – I have stopped being Dylan’s carer but I am still his mother. Ah! Now I am asking myself whether I’ve ever had a chance to be his mother? Perhaps that is my opportunity now – to learn how to be Dylan’s mother. Your sister, perhaps, didn’t want not to be a daughter? Lots for me to think about – thank you!

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