You see me I be work, work, work (Rihanna)

I am bereft. And spent. So this was my first five-day week at work since coming back from mat leave in December.  LORDY. I am the human equivalent of a deflated balloon; prone on the party floor, covered in fag ash, a little bit of vomit and specks of glitter. Now all I want to do is flop onto the sofa and have my mind numbed by bad TV.  Possibly whilst drooling on my own chin and necking wine like it’s juice. How do people do this every week?

 

It also feels so weird to not spend Friday with my little toddler buddy.  Fridays were like all the best bits of mat leave condensed into one day per week.  A shot of maternity leave or maternity leave lite.  On the weekends every play area is teeming with 50 different versions of Conan the Rampaging Toddler.  You take your life into your own hands if you venture into the ball pit. Who knows what is lurking in the depths? Definitely e-Coli.  And lets not get started on watching 50 toddler-divas try and share one plastic rocking horse (because of course they all want the same one). Formal hostage negotiation skills are needed.  On the weekend it’s Lord of the Flies.  But on Fridays everywhere was empty.  We frolicked round the soft play venues and parks of SW17 with gay abandon. It was nothing short of fabulous.

 

Going back to work five days a week has also prompted a hefty dose of mum guilt.  As mothers we not only get to push our babies out of our vaginas, forever ravaging our bodies, we also get mum guilt, forever ravaging our minds. As you tiptoe the fine line between your needs and your child’s needs it can raise its head at any given moment.  And putting Bella into nursery for five days has unleashed THE GUILT (Caps Lock required). My rational brain tells me that she is really happy there.  In fact she cries when we come to pick her up now (which is dispiriting in a whole new way). My rational brain also knows that as nice as our flat is, we don’t have 20 different baby dolls (THANK GOD, TERRIFYING), a bubble machine, a host of dinosaur toys, or daily singing time (well technically I sing, but it could also be classified as inflicting ear torture).  In the blue corner we have the rational brain, in the red corner we have mum guilt.  And mum guilt wins every time.

 

I also now feel a pressure to make the weekends EXTRA SPECIAL, as we only get those two days with her.  And that means not just sitting in front of the “TV babysitter” watching back-to-back episodes of Hey Duggie and Justin’s House.  (Incidentally, Justin, AKA Mr Tumble, seems very asexual, like an aggressively cheerful Ken doll.  I am positive that if I took his clothes off there would be a plastic mound where his man-bits should be).  However, thinking about it, extra special is all relative these days. Bella is a cheap date at the moment. I am an exceptionally cheap date.  So extra special can be nothing more than going to the playground and letting her go on the slide 500 times in a row.   And then the swings.  500 times in a row.  And then the roundabout.  500 times in a row. Whilst I watch on, taking the millionth video of swing-time, and devouring all her rice cakes (the apple ones are JUST delicious). So that’s where I will be every Saturday and Sunday from now on. It’s a done deal.

 

swing 2
Swinging. That’s where we will be…

I’m lost in the world (Kanye)

So when I was on mat leave I became good friends with the guy behind the till in Aldi. Well, as good a friend as you can be without knowing someone’s name. And that was for two reasons. Firstly, we were in there pretty much every day. It had all the heady excitement of Supermarket Sweep for the new mum (how many value treasures can you find before your baby gets bored and starts throwing her toys out of the pram? Literally.)  And secondly, whilst on maternity leave I became a chit-chatter; a small talker; a purveyor of “isn’t it hotter than the surface of the sun/colder than the Tundra” (delete as appropriate) bants. I would sidle, nay, scuttle up to other mums in the park, like a hopeful crab, prepared to coo at length at their little ones. I did this in supermarkets, coffee shops, on the train, everywhere (except on the tube, I drew the line there, I didn’t want to get shanked).

 

Before Bella I wouldn’t talk to a stranger, I wouldn’t even make eye contact, this is LONDON and I am BRITISH after all. But that all changed on mat leave because as well as being one of the best years of my life it was simultaneously one of the most lonely. Suddenly I would talk to anyone, ANYONE, just to hear my own voice. I was used to spending twelve hours a day with other adults, dashing all over London like some kind of human pinball. Then overnight all that stopped and a tiny baby whose only words were “dada” (traitor) and occasionally “mama” (punches air) became my constant companion. There were days when my voice went all Mariella-Frostrup-on-40-fags-a-day because I hadn’t spoken actual sentences in hours.  When I started engaging in out-loud debate with ITV’s Loose Women I knew I was in real trouble.

 

This isn’t apparent at first though. At the beginning you are besieged by visitors, visitors with cake and/or booze (FYI the BEST kind). Not only that, when babies are vagina fresh they are super transportable, so you can travel far and wide to see your mates and fam.  Then this furore tails off; everyone goes back to his or her normal life and you are left in the confines of your immediate postcode with the days stretching out in front of you, tumbleweed heavy. And it’s worse in London, where your friends are scattered all over the place by the time you get to your mid-late 30s (OK, late). Gone are the flat share days when your besties all lived but a room away; the days of five bottles of pink wine on the Ikea sofa before you even leave the house, of guessing if someone has got lucky because there are MEN’S SHOES by the door, of picking the vestiges of last nights kebab off said Ikea sofa in the morning. Now my best mates all live over an hour away, in every far-flung corner of London that’s not SW17.

 

So mat leave life was solitary at times. Many a moment was spent trudging solo round Tooting Common staring at groups of people frolicking with gay abandon and wishing I was one of them. And it was difficult without my normal support group front and centre, especially when you think about the monumental changes your body and your mind go through having a new baby, and how you need mates there to help orientate your sense of self as everything else shifts. Then add into that heady emotional cocktail a regular dose of confidence crisis. Some days I worried whether I was doing ANYTHING right (the days of brushing my own teeth with Sudacrem as Bella cluster-fed like a rabid terrier) which meant I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone for fear of being judged heartily incompetent.

 

However I was saved from becoming a full time street-mutterer by the gorgeous ladies I met through NCT. We joke that we are the best mates we have ever bought. The course itself served to scare the bejesus out of both Phil and I, specifically with the graphic vertical diagram of the baby coming out of the uterus stage by stage (both of us felt faint), and allowed us to establish that we were the only ones who hadn’t even agreed what hospital I was going to give birth in. Great. But more than that it gave me amazing friends who have been there day and night for fifteen months. Having mates who are going through EXACTLY the same things at EXACTLY the same time and who live within ten minutes of me was invaluable. Who else could you text at 1am, 2am, 4am, 6am with the WHY IS HER POO GREEN questions, sometimes complete with pictures (sorry for that in retrospect)? In fact we probably sent at least 700 WhatsApp messages a day. We have also all met up pretty much every week since our babies popped out. This has taken us from inhaling vats of caffeine with our sleeping, drooling newborns strapped to our chests, to chasing our rampant snot-ridden toddlers round the fetid soft play venues of SW17.

 

So now, as I re-integrate into work, a big part of me still misses mat leave, despite the loneliness. And I must say a massive thank you to my NCT friends for saving me, or as they have now become, just friends. And of course the guy behind the till in Aldi. Maybe tomorrow I might even ask his name.

 

NCT
Wine Wednesdays. What a great mum-concept.

 

 

Work, work, you better work – Ciara feat. Missy Elliott

So I have been back at work just over a month and am really enjoying speaking to adult humans all day.  I was vastly out of practice at first. Turns out shouting at TV’s “Loose Women” doesn’t count as actual human interaction.   For the first couple weeks I crawled home exhausted, nay spent, at the end of each day. I would lie in a foetal position on the sofa, drooling, staring at the wall, unable to cope with any stimulation at all.  But now I am acclimatising and I am glad to be back using my brain on a daily basis. I am also getting used to compartmentalising my two lives, work me and mum me.  (I sound like a really dull, domesticated double agent, who goes from the thrilling world of Powerpoint to the equally thrilling world of changing nappies.) And actually having both lives makes me appreciate the other one more.  HOWEVER, saying all that, there are four things I have not enjoyed about leaving mat leave life behind, four thorns in my side, four constant niggles.

 

Mum guilt

The mum guilt is the hardest thing.  It’s always with me, like Quasimodo’s hump, bowing me low by the weight of my own expectations. After a year spending every day with Bella we have effectively achieved an emotional symbiosis, where we are like two halves of one person.  So when I left her for whole days at a time it felt like I had torn off my right arm and left it in the sand pit.  I can’t think about her when I am at work or I would just break down and slowly weep, like a leaky tap.  And mum guilt is such a strange beast.  I feel bad for leaving her, even though she is having the BEST time.  Let’s face it we don’t do singing time, story time, bubble machine time and light display time at home…we put the tele on and hope for the best. I also feel bad that I actually enjoy myself when we are apart.  So it’s a tenacious double hitter that keeps on giving.

 

It’s Relentless

So when we were little we had a hamster, called Hammy (yep, see what we did there).  Most of the time Hammy was trying to gnaw our fingers off with his razor sharp needle teeth, but when he wasn’t doing that, he was on his tiny hamster wheel.  And on that wheel he raced, his little feet moving so fast we could barely see them, his eyes bulging, his expression one of delight and stress in equal measures.  And he thought it would never end. This is me.  I am Hammy on his wheel.  Being a working mum can feel absolutely relentless.  Although I love both parts of my life, I feel like I can never get off the wheel to just have a little rest.  And maybe a Jaffa Cake.

 

The Commute

The thing I loathe most about being back at work is the commute.  The northern line between 7.30-9am is like the start of an Armageddon movie.  “London was saturated, BURSTING at the seams, when one day an evil corporation tried to get numbers down by turning them all into zombies. The end.”  I did not miss being squished into several armpits like human Tetris.  I did not miss folk standing so close that I could feel their breath on my skin.  And I did not miss getting buffeted by the dirty breeze, which surely carries the dead skin cells from all Londoners since Victorian times.  And don’t even get me started on the commuters who have what must be Tuberculosis and cough into their hands and then PUT THEIR HANDS ON THE POLES. Patient Zero, keep your mucus-covered mitts to yourself. (And I can say this as someone who has had a non-stop cold since September thanks to living with the human petri dish that is Bella.)  Last gripe. Since when did trains start stopping three times between every station so your ten stop journey becomes thirty, inching forward at a jerking yet glacial pace.

 

Nursery drop off and pick up

So yea, commuting is NOT fun.   Nursery drop is also not fun.  Not because Bella cries, on the contrary she now leaps from my arms into the waiting bosom of her favourite carer, Odeffe, with gay abandon.  But they keep the nursery at sub-tropical temperatures at all times.  So you arrive all freshly coiffured and with your face plastered on, and leave sweaty and dishevelled and smelling slightly of the dish of the day.   And the pram room.  The pram room.  Which is basically a “how many buggies can you fit in a cupboard” challenge, where if you snooze you lose.  Last in ends up having to construct some kind of winch out of their scarf and the rain cover and hoist their prams onto the ceiling for safekeeping.   Nursery drop off also has its challenges.  Bella is apparently fine there all day, doesn’t sleep too much as she is TOO EXCITED to close her eyes and miss anything, (ahhh I have a FOMO baby). But she eats everything, plays with everything and generally romps around after the other kids trying to gum their heads. But the moment I get there….BOOM….floods of tears, prompting a fresh bout of mum guilt for leaving her. So racked with sweat in the morning, racked with guilt in the evening. Great.

I feel like that (Kanye)

So a bout of mega anxiety snuck up on me a few weeks ago.  I was merrily plugging along, eleven months in, adjusting as I went to the ever-changing task that is looking after a baby.  I wasn’t smashing it by any means but we did have some great days.  One day we discovered Babease food pouches for 4p (4p!) in Boots. Another day I caught (not literally caught) a giant turd JUST before it leaked all over her clothes, the new pram liner and probably me.  Things were ticking over.  Things were good. Then all of a sudden I turned into an anxious mess.

 

When you have a baby there is always a base level of “what the fuck” and “shiiiiiiiiit” as you adjust to the weight of first growing another human inside you and then continuing to grow that human outside you.  You gradually accept that responsibility whilst at the same time thinking  “pretty sure this is not what I signed up for”.  You agree to make sure they are fed, watered and developing into a well-rounded person who doesn’t want to set fire to ants and turn them into necklaces to sell in the school playground (I have gone a bit Silence of the Lambs meets Richard Branson there, sorry.)  And you start to get into a unique rhythm, where you bumble along constantly searching for reassurance but at the same time growing more confident.  So I was shocked when I suddenly turned into a gibbering wreck of a human.

 

I think it was triggered by Bella’s nursery insisting on FIVE WEEKS of settling in prior to her official start date. That meant that my head, which had been firmly and happily planted in the sand, was suddenly wrenched out and made to face real life.  Nursery was not happening in five weeks, it was happening now.  My sloping, lazy days of going to budget supermarkets and sitting in fetid ball pits frantically wishing I had a Michael Jackson flu mask were ALMOST OVER.  And I desperately wasn’t ready to give them up.

 

I also wasn’t ready to think about Bella going to nursery.  Her stranger danger radar has been fairly aggressive thus far, which gives me scant hope that she will settle smoothly into nursery life.  I fear that she will be one of those babies who cry from the moment I leave to the moment I return, with brief breaks to pull her own sock off and gum the floor.  All you want as a mum is for your baby to be content and the thought that leaving her will upset her so much is hard to stomach.  I say this even though my rational mind knows nursery is the best place for her.  She needs to socialise and get the stimulation that trained professionals will provide (let’s face it, she doesn’t like This Morning and there’s only so many Cup and Cushion obstacle courses I can create before she fires me for being incompetent).

 

So how did this anxiety manifest itself?  Well I was suddenly overemotional at everything, like the worst case of PMT but with no “M” in sight.  Even TV adverts sent me into floods of tears, “but the meerkat was left by himmmmmmself” I would wail.  I sat in the diseased play areas of SW17 with tears leaking down my cheeks like a broken tap for NO REASON. And I felt too nervous to eat, which let’s face it has NEVER happened before.  There is no bad thing that a tub of Nutella and a dessertspoon can’t fix, but this time, nada, I just wasn’t hungry.  And I found myself getting really scratchy at night time, again for no discernable reason.  I was also supposed to go and visit my parents up t’north but had a borderline panic attack at the thought of the journey (well, Northern Trains do prompt that reaction in a lot of people).  And more than all this, I just didn’t feel like me.  I am known as a “glass MORE than half full” kind of person, not a person who questions the very existence of the glass.

 

According to the Royal College of Midwives up to 20% of women experience perinatal mental illness during pregnancy and/or the first year of their babies lives.  Whilst many people are aware that you can become depressed after giving birth, it’s less well known that many women experience anxiety.  Yet it is so reassuring to know that others have felt the same way.  When I realised that this might not just go away I slowly started to talk about it, even though it wasn’t easy to admit something was wrong because that made it real.  I also felt embarrassed that I was feeling anxious at this stage, almost a year in, when surely I should be taking everything in my stride.  As well as talking, I created lists; lists of what triggered my anxiety.  This helped, as when you put shape and structure to overwhelmingly amorphous bad feelings they become more understandable and less daunting.  I also started counselling two weeks ago, and plan to write more about how that goes.  I selected a counsellor from an Awareness Centre near me who uses Behavioural Cognitive Therapy, which, as I understand it, is a practical way of helping you cope with anxiety.

 

I wasn’t sure I should share this as I have never experienced anxiety before and was a little afraid to let people under my mental ‘hood’.  But I do believe mental health is as important as physical health and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.  I also want Bella to grow up in an environment where she is free to share how she feels.  And if MY teenage years are anything to go by she will have plenty of feelings to talk about; adolescents practically make anxiety an art form.  (I remember in my teens I used to chat to the Paul Nicholls poster on my wall when I felt down.  Yes Paul Nicholls.  Circa 1995 he was F.I.T.)  So apologies, this story has no conclusion right now as I am at the start of a journey and I am not sure where it will go.  But I will write about this again because it has definitely helped me.  Turns out a “problem shared is a problem halved” isn’t just a nice sounding idiom after all.

I’m the quiet storm (Mobb Deep)

Last week we went to see my parents back up t’north.  It was just lovely to be welcomed back into the warmth of the familial bosom, and I am not going to lie, it was even better to have someone else clean the high chair (the high chair is officially my nemesis, constantly crusted in the concrete that is dried Weetabix).  But what wasn’t so good about being with the ‘rentals was that they couldn’t pick Bella up and cuddle her any more.  In the six weeks since they last saw her she’s developed full on stranger danger and separation anxiety.  My parents aren’t complete strangers, but they live so far away that they are definitely on the “stranger spectrum.” So every time they tried to lift her she would look back at me with confusion brimming in her eyes and then switch to full on red-browed squall within moments.  This is sad for them, as they just want to shower her with affection, especially my Dad, who turns from gruff northern gent into PUDDLE OF GOO whenever Bella smiles.

 

I have found separation anxiety really hard to deal with over the last couple of months even though I know it is JUST A PHASE and I know it won’t last forever.  Part of this is frustration that it’s so traumatic to hand her over to other people, when she used to be so happy to be passed like a parcel around a group of big cooing adult faces.  People don’t seem to be very understanding of this behaviour in a baby. Some take it as a challenge.  It’s like when you go out with a playa and you think you will be THE one to change him. “He just hasn’t met the right girl,” you say as he tries it on with every Lycra clad vagina in the immediate vicinity. People also think they will be THE one to change Bella, THE one she won’t cry on, so they keep on trying to pick her up. And trying.  It turns into the oh-so-fun game of who can make my baby cry the most.  Or they back off so fast they trip over their own feet, with a look of horror in their eyes, like she is a wild mustang to be feared, and ask me if she’s always been this difficult and clingy.

 

The separation anxiety has also made me start to ask what kind of person Bella will become, and wonder if she will be introverted or shy.  Now, there is NOTHING wrong with this, nothing at all, but I am nervous because I used to be introverted and found it very difficult.  “WHAT?” I hear those who know me cry. “Introverted!  YOU? You could talk wallpaper off the wall.” And that is true now, but this wasn’t always the case.

 

When I was at school I was a figure of fun. Why?  Well, because kids can be mean and I gave them plenty of fodder, a) I was aggressively tall and skinny, all elbows and knees, with snooker player spectacles (prompting the nickname “stick insect”), b) I had a MULLET and I only washed it once a week if it was lucky (prompting the nickname “chip pan head” and c) I was introverted…and introverted was always said as if it was a VERY BAD THING.  At one point my teachers even had a quiet word with my parents about this.  So it always seemed to me that my self-contained way of dealing with the world was just wrong, and that I should be trying harder to pass myself off as an extrovert.  All this pressure was dumped on a poor adolescent riddled in hormones who looked like a cross between Billy Ray Cyrus and Timmy Mallet.

 

mullet
Chip Pan head in action

 

Over time I learned to adapt and change how I interacted with the world (and lost the mullet), but the idea that being quiet is a stigma has stayed with me.  Even now I find it hard to leave my entire personality spread eagled on the table at first meet.  So with this pedigree I worry about Bella.  I keep descending down my own private ‘what if’ rabbit hole.  What if she can’t talk to anyone at school, has no mates, and spends her time locked in her room listening to mournful EMO music, with too much eyeliner on, wearing waistcoats with small mirrors sewn onto them (flashback alert)? What if she LIKES REM??  What if she ends up getting called Big Bella?  I mean she’s going to be tall with us as parents.  You can’t fight genes.  What if she never leaves her own bed,not even for custard creams, having to be winched out aged 30 as I look on wringing my hands, clutching my pearls and wailing “if only…”

 

Before I reach for the gin (read as I reach for the gin), I need to have a strong talk with myself.  Why does it matter, so what if she is quiet?  Apparently over a third of the population are introverts.  Not only that, we need introverts.  They are some of the most creative and powerful people driving society forwards, and that’s a whole different blog post in itself.  Whatever Bella ends up becoming, all I can do is support her and love her.  I will save her from strangers until she is cool with them again.  And I pledge now to never make her feel wanting or guilty for how she is.  Unless she is listening to REM, then judgement will be passed and words will be had.

 

(PS. Try reading Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’)

Bomb-bomb-ba-bomb-ba-bomb-bomb (Chris Brown & Wiz Khalifa)

Today we got ‘baby-bombed’. Again. This is when a total stranger approaches at great speed, usually cooing loudly, and GRABS, or in more extreme cases, KISSES your baby without asking.  On this particular occasion it was an older lady, hunched over double, so she advanced unseen below my eye line.  Her gnarled hand, long nails painted a venomous red, reached out for Bella’s (let’s face it) generous thighs and she gave them a vigorous squeeze. Then she went for the classic one-two manoeuvre.  Her rouged face came closer and closer to Bella as if in slow motion; I could see the saliva frothing at one side of her mouth, a thicket of wiry hairs on her sagging chin and a light dusting of dandruff on her shoulders. Then came the moment of truth. She KISSED Bella on the cheek.  KISSED HER.  How is that OK?  Would you go up to another consenting adult on the street, jiggle their legs then plant a smacker on them, whilst making unintelligible noises only dogs can hear? No. You’d get punched or possibly shanked. Definitely told to f**k off.  So why is this OK with a baby?

 

Baby bombing is an all new hate for me, and since having Bella I have found a host of new things that either annoy me or please me that never did before.  Things that never even got onto my radar pre baby.  Admittedly this is probably exacerbated by my emotions being somewhat closer to the surface than ever before, “mum-motions” if you will.

 

So, my new HATES:

Baby-bombing

TOP of my list, especially since Bella has developed stranger danger and separation anxiety.  The typical M.O. of a baby-bomber is to swoop in all loud and high pitched, grabby fingers outstretched.  On one hand I am pleased that complete strangers find Bella so cute they can’t help but touch her.  But on the other (and this one wins) I also hate it because you don’t know WHERE THEY HAVE BEEN.  And she regularly loses her shit during the thigh jiggling.  Who wouldn’t – if someone came up to me and started pinching my (also generous) thighs I would weep for a week.

 

Doorbells

There was a period when Bella would not nap in the house.  We would put her in her lovingly prepared, warm cot in her painfully expensive sleeping bag and she would shriek like she was lying on a bed of nails wrapped in a cat o’ nine tails.  During this period she would JUST get off to sleep when inevitably the postman would ring the doorbell.  ARGHHHH. Cue rabid squalling from the nursery. Eventually I disconnected it.

 

The tube

Now the Underground has never been a favourite, it’s not like if asked what I was doing today I would answer “oh just ride the Bakerloo line for a few hours, maybe jump off for some quality time on the Jubilee, feel the dirty breeze in my hair – BOOM”…but with a baby the tube is beyond tedious.  There are a handful of accessible stations (stations that are entirely useless for any normal journey), no one stands up for you even with a passive aggressive British DEATH STARE directed at them, you develop guns of steel carrying the pram up 1000s of stairs and it is always hotter than an actual circle of hell.

 

The pavements of SW17

So I have spent many a day pounding the pavements of Tooting and surrounds, and have come to the conclusion that they are not in the least bit pram friendly.  They may even inspire me to write a STRONGLY WORDED EMAIL.  For a sleeping baby they are the equivalent of a new fairground ride: The Baby Boneshaker.  It is effectively like going off-road, I need me a Land Rover not a buggy.

pavements.jpg
The BONE SHAKER

My new LOVES:

 

Smell of Baby Poo

This will sound weird, and it’s not at fetish level, but I love the smell of baby poo. Why?  Because it means she has BEEN.  This is what six weeks of constipation did to me, six weeks of watching Bella strain and strain, her face puce, her eyes watering, her little hands shaking, all simply to produce a series of dry dusty rabbit pellets.

 

Costa

Before Bella I was well on my way to becoming a coffee snob.  I didn’t feel safe unless my coffee came from an independent establishment where Barista was a PROPER job, where there were ironic captions from lesser known beat poets on the walls and where everything was made from burnished wood, even the cups (yes I would put up with lip splinters to feel confident in my cortado).  I even once trialled a bean that had passed through a weasel first (yes pooed out and turned into a latte, yum).  But now I am all about a simple Costa.  It has baby changing as standard, it has room for a battalion of prams and you can stay for hours without being evicted.  What more could any mum want?

 

Leopard print

Actually any animal print.  I always have been a fan, but was never entirely convinced I could pull it off.  But now I am obsessed with it, for both Bella and me because it is the best pattern for covering up a multitude of food based sins.  Those grubby little avocado hand marks don’t even show up on a leopard print blouse, and the sweet-potato vom just blends in to the tiger print onesie.

leopard print
Channeling Mel B…

 

 

 

Work, work work, work, work, work (Rihanna)

So I might be having a mid-maternity leave crisis. I just tried to get my nose re-pierced. I traipsed all the way to this tattoo shop in Earlsfield only to be told by a very responsible man who was more piercing than face that I couldn’t have it done whilst breastfeeding. I was strangely gutted. The last time I had my beak pierced I was nineteen years old and rampaging around the wilds of South America, wearing head-to-toe “local” clothing (the kind that marks you out as anything but local), downing tequila from the bottle and passing out on the street. The “gap” in gap year actually stands for memory gaps. I fear I am trying to recapture a sliver of that heady, heady freedom as I slide irrevocably into domesticity. And I am sliding. Last night after I put Bella to bed I found myself cleaning the kitchen. Rather than sitting down on the sofa with a jumbo bag of Hula Hoops, a well-deserved glass of Gavi and another episode of Say Yes to the Dress, I was marigolded and vigorously scrubbing the top of the washing machine. The top of the washing machine. Then the draining board. The draining board. And then I looked at our bargain washing up liquid and thought “well, it really comes out too fast, so actually although that was cheaper it’s a false economy.”

 

That was how I knew I had changed. Ask Phil, ask my mum, ask my old flatmates, I have never been a particularly conscientious person when it comes to cleaning. Not cleaning myself, there I am on point, but house cleanliness. I mean I am not unhygienic and don’t live in my own swill, but let’s just say I used to have a laissez-faire attitude to it all. One particular highlight from my younger flatshare days was when I let a cup of hot chocolate grow mould under my bed (the kind of mould that is so fluffy it almost looks like a pet you want to keep). It was my flatmate’s Newcastle United FC cup, a treasured piece of Toon Army paraphernalia, but rather than wash it I threw it straight in the bin. At university the cleaner for our halls went on strike after we wore her down with our mould growing antics and our insistence on using the carpets as wardrobes. See, laissez-faire.

 

Since having Bella and being at home more I can feel myself turning more and more domestic. Day by day I feel myself slipping into the stereotype of the stay at home mum as I run around the flat trying to tidy things whilst Bella is either asleep or distracted. Both of these things could end at any given moment so it adds an air of jeopardy to proceedings, like the Supermarket Sweep of cleaning. But this means that you learn to grab every minute you can to DO STUFF, because you might not get a single second, you might get ten minutes or on exceptionally lucky days when a butterfly in outer Bolivia has flapped its wings at the right time, you might get a WHOLE HOUR.

 

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The baby washing is constant and she has a better wardrobe than me!

 

It is also changing my relationship with Phil, as I slide irrevocably into domesticity. Before Bella I saw us as best friends with no real roles. In fact Phil is far better at cooking and far more attentive to cleaning than I am, but now I am evolving into lady-about-house. It is my responsibility to look after Bella, corral the never-ending stream of laundry, mop up the vomit, soak the poo stains, empty the nappy bin, tidy the toys away, sanitise the bejesus out of everything she touches and wash the dishes on a daily basis. And this isn’t because Phil asks me to or expects me to, it’s just a natural evolution because I am at home a lot of the day and I don’t want to spend time in a flat that smells pervasively of baby poo.

 

As well as the daily chores that come as a side dish to looking after a baby, there are also a PLETHORA of daily decisions that have become my responsibility. These are on a spectrum, from tiny choices such as what to pack in her nappy bag (beyond the obvious nappies) to more momentous ones like when we start weaning. Sometimes I talk to myself about these, boring my way to a resolution. Sometimes Phil gets this treat. Last night was a classic example. In what world does which clothes we put her in at night when it’s 22 degrees outside require a 30-minute monologue? “Shall we put her in the sleep suit and the vest? Or just the vest? But then maybe her arms will get cold? And the sleeping bag or just a blanket? And should we open the window, but what about the foxes that make very loud sweet fox love outside her window every night at 5am?” AND SO ON.

 

I never expected us to change into the traditional stereotype of mum and dad, yet it happened within weeks of her being born. This has not only made me question myself but has also really dented my confidence. Firstly I never saw myself in this role, I was WORKING WOMAN, at the office for twelve hour days on conference calls with China with a headset that made me feel like a cross between Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and a 90s Madonna.  Secondly, I am also fundamentally just not very good at running a household. I am the opposite of a domestic goddess. If there was such a celestial being I think she would be called Hooverite, and she would send me to domestic goddess purgatory to clean public bathrooms with only a toothbrush and my own spit until I got good at it. I am not one of those people who has Tuppawear in different sizes (I don’t in fact have any Tuppawear at all), I always put colours in with the whites and am constantly surprised when nice crisp shirts turn a mottled pink, I seem to iron creases into clothes, and I can’t really wash up properly, my plates always have bits of stubborn cheese stuck to them. I no longer grow mould in receptacles under my bed, but I just don’t have the type of brain that lends itself to efficient domesticity.

 

So I am learning as I go, and some days this stresses me out more than it should and has given me a mid-maternity leave crisis. I am a work in progress. A slow work in progress. Yesterday when washing I turned a white cushion; you guessed it, mottled pink. It will be interesting to see what happens when I go back to work and am not spending twenty hours a day in the house. But for the moment this is the new normal. I am one crinoline skirt shy of being a 1950s housewife. And for the first time I get why 1950s housewives had a well-known addiction to speed.

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