Jess Berentson-Shaw lives in on the side of a windswept Wellington hill. Jess has two kids, is a part time researcher and scientist, and runs (and blogs about) her social enterprise called muka kids (mukakids.com). Muka kids is her plan to bring about a sustainability revolution in the world of kids’ clothing production. She has also been known to hide under the bed from her kids during the nutty hour’.
It was my kids that got me into this social enterprise game in many ways. For many women who start social enterprises this is also their truth. It is also their irony.
Kids, as I am sure many of you will know, are a great equaliser. They give many parents (women in particular) this sort of ‘before and after’ sense of life. The stuff that mattered before changes subtly.
For me, what I realised was thinking about going into business, thinking about women in the developing world, thinking about poverty alleviation, and then going back to my comfortable but not hugely satisfying academic life was not really going to cut it. You understand this is not because I had suddenly become a better person by the act of becoming a parent. To be honest, I think I have often become less of a person some mornings and evenings at 5pm.
It was more that I had changed my focus to another generation, and the things that were going to matter to them were different. Also time had suddenly appeared to speed, so thinking about stuff seemed less important than doing. ‘Doing’, I realised, might bring happiness to our family, not as a goal in itself. Rather it might bring happiness as ‘a by-product of a useful, ethical, purposeful and loved life’, which seemed a pretty good model for our kids.
However, in ‘doing’ I had opened a door on the fear , and now I live with the fear on my front steps. I say hello to the fear, I pat it on the head (gingerly you understand) and I respect the fear. And getting back to that irony, sometimes the fear overcomes me, and the kids suffer.
Starting muka kids has not been easy, not a clear and golden path to a meaningful and good life. It has been hard, I doubt myself often, I am not sure our carefully thought out plan to revolutionise kids’ clothing production will succeed. I hope it does, I really do, but it may not.
Failure would be sad indeed, but not a tragedy on the scale that I know is out there everyday for many women in the garment industry where I hope we will make the most difference. It does make for a challenging life for our family, and because I wish not to delve further into the deep and meaningful nature of living with fear, let me instead just show you what it looks like on an average day. Laugh and recognise the pain that is no doubt inherent in your busy and frantic life also.
Children up, make porridge, feed it to children, clean up porridge from hair (mine and theirs), change children, stand on abandoned nappy, trip over the cat, inhale coffee.
07:00 – 09:00
Check emails, respond to emails, play lego with children and get told I am doing it all totally wrong, remember to get dressed. Showering optional.
Do day job. Research consulting and writing on maternal and perinatal health. In breaks check emails for muka, post to facebook, talk to the pattern maker about the precise nature of the type of topstitching detail I want on the neckline of a garment (yes, all jobs have tedious aspects), and stop the older child from killing the student nanny with a bit of electronic circuitry she is building.
Walk older child up the road for first school visit, during which time I am required to come up with semi-intelligent questions that would indicate at least a passing interest in the future of my child’s success at school. I think that was a definite parenting fail. I may have even looked a bit ill when taken into a huge room of at least 50 yelling, shouting 5-7 year olds doing activity afternoon.
Home and more thinking about maternal health data and what it means that our local area has a high caesarean rate for first time mothers over 35 (or, as we disrespectfully term them, ‘elderly gravidas’).
Start dinner for marauding and shouting midgets. Oh, sausages again.
Feed midgets. Less shouting. Also fill out tax return, email mother-in-law (my accountant) about how to fill in business tax return – ask her the exact same question I asked last time I emailed about my tax (she politely does not mention this).
Consider how on earth to develop a technical specification sheet template for the manufacturers in India. Consider that it would be a lot easier if I were not trying to be director, social media marketer, production manager, and sustainability leader for muka kids all at once from the front room. Then recall I get bored having an easy life. Hmm.
Eye martini and vodka bottles with desperation then remember it is only Thursday.
Stop oldest child from killing herself by standing on a chair which she has placed on the sofa next to a large picture window two storeys up. Then engage in a conversation with her in which we determine it was not in fact the llama that were made extinct through hunting and deforestation in New Zealand, but the moa. Oh…
Etc Etc Etc.
Comatose on couch. May be dribbling, just a little.
One thing I have learnt is never to assume that any one else’s life is not as mad or as frantic as your own. So I would love to hear your stories about your great balancing act of trying to do some good (whatever that means to you) and not yell too too much at the kids, kick the cat, or lose it with your family.
If this is the first you’ve heard from Jess, make sure you read about her plan to revolutionise kids’ clothing production in this earlier post.
And if you’re newish to Sacraparental, feel free to check out our Facebook page, which can send your News Feed delightful, subversive Facebook candy every day. I also have a bunch of handy Pinterest boards you can follow, and rant occasionally on Twitter.
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