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 Love My Momma (Snoop Dogg)

 

It’s Mother’s Day.  I am a MOTHER.  Sometimes I still double take at that, like I am playing in the dress up box and someone is going to tell me to take the costume off soon.  The last seventeen months have sped by so fast.  I can barely remember those early days of bleeding nips and brushing my teeth with Sudocrem by mistake (and WHAT. A. MISTAKE).  Looking back now on my motherhood journey, here are ten things I would tell my newly mummed self:

 

  1. The emotional rollercoaster of oxytocin driven euphoria immediately followed by sleep-deprived despair is totally normal, especially when you first get home from hospital. It’s normal to feel a tad emosh. You are at the mercy of a powerful cocktail of progesterone, oestrogen and anything else your body can throw in there (the hormonal equivalent of a Long Island Ice Tea). You aren’t going mad.  You will even out.

 

  • It’s OK to feel trapped, like the walls are closing in on you and your squalling newborn. Having a baby in the darkest, dankest depths of the British autumn, when you can’t go outside or you’ll end up with a gangrenous trench foot, is hard. Expect cabin fever and don’t fight it, instead RELISH the time you have to lie prone on the sofa watching every Netflix boxset going. This won’t last forever and you’ll wake up one day and realise you haven’t watched Say Yes to the Dress in months.  (PS I love the US version of this because it’s always clinically obese brides trying to squeeze into ill-advised, strapless fishtail dresses, whilst their skeletal and “angry because they are hungry” bridesmaids tell them they look great whilst secretly smirking behind their skeletal hands. Car crash TV.)

 

  • Don’t turn to Dr Google for everything. It is a false friend, where all roads end in cancer or a rabbit hole of barely disguised parental despair.

 

  • Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks ALL the time. On one hand it’s great that we live in a world where we can access information at the tap of a finger and where we can see how everyone else does it, all laid out on a rose-tinted grid. But on the other, it means we constantly judge ourselves against yardsticks that really don’t matter.  All that does matter is that you do what’s right for you, and you get through it all with your sanity intact and your little one intact.

 

  • Hug Bella all the time. Hold her close and breathe in that lovely baby-biscuit smell (that somehow heady combo of pee, milk and sweat). For she will soon be a rampaging toddler, aka “Conan the wrecker of living rooms and chaser of cats”, and will only want cuddles when ill.

 

  • Physically, birth is like getting hit by a truck (slowly). Expect to feel like your vagina has run a marathon, and don’t try to do too much too soon. Enjoy. The. Sofa.  (I realise a lot of these centre on the joy of a nice sit down).

 

  • Take care of your relationship as well as your baby. You will be cross with your partner at the beginning, for sleeping more than you, for not having leaky tits full of milk, for not having to wear an adult nappy, for not smelling of milk and sick…the list goes on. (And let’s face it you will be cross at EVERYTHING on two-hour sleep increments. You may even find yourself kicking the Hoover just for being, well, a Hoover: guilty.). But don’t let things fester, men are not mind readers (thank god) and you need to keep talking.

 

  • Travel anywhere and everywhere whilst she is small. When they are tiny you can strap them to you and off you go. And you can sit in cafes for hours, knocking back flat white after flat white until your eyes bleed and your hands start to tremble, with them slumbering on you.  When they get to rampant toddler age, and the PRAM RAGE kicks in, suddenly you are confined to the vicinity of your immediate postcode.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to other mums (AKA don’t be so British). Maternity leave will be lonely, so you need other mothers around you. Don’t be scared to say hi, no one will tell you to piss off (let’s face it, we are too British for that too).

 

  • Eat more cake. You need it. You deserve it.  Eat it all.

 

me 2

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’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’)

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