First, there was the letter; then someone invented the fax machine, and from there on it was all downhill (or uphill, depending on your perspective). Email, text message, and finally, WhatsApp. Somewhere in between, there was Viber as well, but it soon became eclipsed by WhatsApp.
It took me a while before I joined WhatsApp, but once I did, there was no escaping its clutches. At first, it seemed innocent enough; a convenient app for communicating with others without having to pay. But it didn’t take long before I became part of a WhatsApp group (made up of all the parents in my youngest daughter’s class) and then another and another and another.
The constant tingling sound notifying me of a new message was soon driving me to the brink of insanity, so I tried to mute my account but to no avail. Every single misplaced school uniform item was broadcast on WhatsApp, questions about homework, reminders about the next gym session for parents (a class I never attended by the way), messages of encouragement from my daughter’s self-defence teacher (a lovely young woman) and so on. I seriously considered getting rid of WhatsApp altogether, but then again, it is a useful app for communicating with others, only the communication never ceases. Which brings me to the broader problem, that of constantly being reachable.
For that’s the thing: I don’t always want to be available to others. To be honest, most of the time I just want to be left alone, but on the rare occasion I turn my mobile phone off or deliberately leave it at home when going out, I am bombarded with frantic messages: are you ok? Call me! Where are you? Has something happened? Are you dead?
No, I’m not dead, yes, I’m ok, no, nothing’s happened, I just need a break. As a married mother of two, I constantly have to be available, and it’s exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing track of who I am in the midst of all my motherly and wifely tasks and obligations. I love my kids, and I love my husband, but I am more than a mum and a wife. I am me, whatever that is. And I need the time and space to be just that and nothing else: me.
For the past few years, I’ve had a recurring dream featuring my mother who, dressed in her shabby fox fur from the 70s, declares she’s giving everything up – work, family, friends – for a life free of constraints and obligations. She then climbs into a beat-up Volkswagen minibus and drives off into the sunset. The dream, I’ve now realised, isn’t about my mother; it’s about me. I’m the one who wants to drop everything and just go. I’ll never do it of course, but I dare say I’m not the only mother in the world feeling this way.
In the end, I left one of the WhatsApp groups, the gym one, because I knew I would never attend and frankly I was put off by the sprightly, sporty 30-something mothers trying to convince me that I should join them. One of them helpfully told me, ‘not everyone is young who attends, you know, some are in their fifties, so you’ll be in good company.’ I could have strangled her on the spot. Besides, I’m only 45.