There a few things for which I stop and congratulate myself; to be honest it is not, on reflection, because I do little to be proud of , because I am more often involved in pulling baby porridge from my hair (am I alone in enjoying the sensation?) But here is one thing; since my son started crawling and rolling or both at once – crolling? I have raised nappy changing to performance art. I would happily charge someone to come in and watch me change a nappy – stick some ‘Tubular Bells’ behind it and I could sell it to Cirque du Soleil. After extensive reviews and rehearsal,and an out of town run, my son and I have decided that nappy changing should be a) done in total silence (effort grunts are acceptable) b) he should be allowed to coat his own hand in sudocrem and c) at least one limb should moving contrary to the rest of the limbs at all times (my own or his).
I am also proud of my ability to use my son as an excuse for all manner of slovenly behaviour. Grocery delivery man arrives and STILL in pyjamas? I have a 6 month old baby, so …… you know (raise eyebrows and nod to self as if this is more than sufficient justification). Floor of kitchen resembles that of a lowdown tapas bar on the outskirts of Malaga? Well, you know, with a 6 month old baby, it is just so hard to keep it clean and etc etc. My son is now 8 month olds – I am not neglectful , this just demonstrates for how long I have used these particular line of thought. Again – practice has raised it to an art form!
But I have been thinking about the end of Maternity Leave and the big return to work. All around me I am seeing mothers lose their shit at the thought of going back, mothers for whom Maternity Leave and childcare has been not so much a roller coast ride as a log flume. There’s been lots of water and the trajectory has been pretty much downwards for the duration. I am sure there are private moments of intense joy and calm – I know there are! But the public aspect of early motherhood is characterised by fraught interactions and the idea that martyrdom is good. This seems pretty universal across the forums of motherhood – from the coffee morning meet up, to the WhatsApp group, to the mothership (no pun in- well maybe pun intended) – the online discussion. Intra-mum exchanges, in my experience are 75% of the time on the subject of their child’s health and development and usually conclude with a plea for reassurance or consolation. I know that from time immemorial, mothers have come together to discuss their children and find solace in the tough times, but add to this the layer of singular angst surrounding return to work and the tension reaches panic room level.
I am on a life raft – a unique life raft which offers baby yoga and sensory sessions, but a life raft nonetheless, floating along, evaluating my own and my son’s life and finding them pretty pleasing thank you very much. Gradually I notice women disappearing – I don’t see them do it at first – suddenly they’re not there anymore. And I notice women around me noticing this – and I start to hear a low pitch whining noise, and then I realise it is coming from the woman next to me. And then I see her do it – she leans back and throws herself over and I never see her again. And the mood on the boat, which had been so pleasant up to now, starts to change – it gets rockier, the women start to cry and the waves get rougher, because we’re lighter in number and I have to prepare myself for leaping over the side. I want to spend as much time as possible just staring at my baby because I WON’T EVER SEE HIM AGAIN but I also want to enjoy my last moments of freedom as a person who has hobbies and a social life, so I divide my time between speed-reading books described as ‘life-changing’ on the sleeve and cuddling my baby – and feeling guilty about not doing the other all the time.
And then, I hope, I’ll get pulled over the side. And it, like most things, will probably be fine. Okay, I may not always have porridge in my hair to look forward to. But I will probably even enjoy being a worker and contributing to society, not just feathering my own nest. I may even enjoy wearing clothes again. Who knows? All I can do at the moment is try to reason with myself and my frankly hysterical response to returning to work. Did I mention that I have two months left before i go back? Yep. Ages. But it is the Crucible effect, infectious. Once one person starts frothing at the mouth about visiting nurseries and arranging pick up times, we all do it. But I am determined to enjoy the ride for a s long as possible, dammit – a concerted fightback, if you will. Here are a few things that I will try out to keep myself in check:
Make a list of things that are good about work.
But some new clothes for work
Give the hysteria I feel about end of Mat Leave a name and face, a character. Mine has cats, flyaway hair and writes afternoon dramas starring Jason Priestley for Channel 5 (none of which are green-lit)
Sit still for a bit every day and be calm.
Plan in a few trips.
Wear pyjamas and don’t stress about the food on your floor. Or your face. Or in your hair.
All suggestions gratefully received!