I am tired. Worn out. Shattered. Eyes drooping, squinting at the TV as if I was drunk, fighting the urge to go to bed at 8.30pm, unable to conduct a sensible conversation exhausted.
Sadly, it’s not the result of a wild night out partying which ended in an ill-advised round of Jaegerbombs, nor is it the product of jet lag from an exciting long haul flight from an exotic holiday.
I’m propped up on the sofa, intermittently nodding off like Tory back-bencher during a debate on human rights because I’m back at work.
Towards the end of maternity leave I realised that I was one of very few women who made an active choice to go back to work full time. Some mothers arrange to return part time or on flexi-time arrangements, others don’t return at all. Then there are those who desperately try to figure out how to avoid it, but simply have to go back full time.
Not me, I chose to.
I’ve now officially been a full-time working mum for one week and two days, and so I feel this makes me an expert and officially able to comment on what it’s like.
It’s true that I am completely exhausted.
It’s also true that the house has fallen into complete disarray: as I type, I am wedged between a Bermuda triangle of half-dried clothes, a basket of clean but un-ironed clothes and an ironing board which is staring at me as if to say ‘stop putting me up in the living room and pretending that means you’ve done something when you haven’t actually ironed anything for over a week!’
Mornings are an emotional mousetrap. If I creep around slowly, I can get ready and out of the house without the boy seeing me, meaning I can leave on time, but with no morning cuddle and feeling like I’ve attached part of my heart to a bungee rope and had to stretch it the entire length of Hackney to reach work before it flings me back across East London at the end of a long, busy day. The alternative is to get the baby up, which is lovely! But I’m not sure how much my husband enjoys being woken up by me shoving an 11 month old child into his arms then running out of the door, hoping he doesn’t cry (the baby, I think my husband’s a little old for that).
Yet for all the downsides (and there are more than I mentioned) being back at work is wonderful.
For one, I’ve remembered that I have a brain. After a year in which roughly 90% of my daytime conversations revolved around some form of feeding (breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, when to stop night feeds, when to introduce solids, purees vs. baby led weaning, is it ok to feed babies citrus fruits, 3 meals a day vs. little and often, what snacks does the baby eat, is it ok to eat chocolate in front of a baby or will they know and turn into some kind of massively obese social outcast just from having once seen a Cadbury’s crème egg, at what point do you just go ‘oh sod it!’ and take them out to McDonalds?!) I can spend my days discussing issues which have nothing to do with babies but everything to do with the things I loved for so many years before I became a mum.
It’s like switching on a light in the cupboard you’d forgotten was there. It might flicker and stutter a bit at first, but once it’s working you remember just how bright the bulb is and just how bloody, wonderfully useful that under stairs cupboard is and why the hell you ever stopped using it in the first place!
For nearly 30 years prior to becoming a mum I lived a happy and fulfilled life, yet for a year I turned my back on some of the things which had previously been my reason for getting up in a morning.
One of the wonderful things about being a parent is that it totally refocuses your priorities. For example, it no longer feels so important to colour-code the entire of my work diary that I need to stay in my classroom until 7 o’clock at night to do it. I’m also ever so slightly less OCD about ensuring every piece of paper is in exactly the right place on my desk before I leave at the end of the day – what does it matter when anything you take home will inevitably end up covered in Weetabix anyway?
Still, it’s nice to remember that there are other things in my life which are priorities. Like the joy of finishing a full day of work and feeling I’ve really achieved something. Like sitting down to dinner and saying “I had a really interesting conversation with so-and-so at work today” or “I’ve had this brilliant idea about how to teach creative writing by looking at online blogs” (wonder where that idea came from…) rather than “Well, I did two loads of washing today and we sang that song about the monkeys and the crocodile at playgroup”. It seems to me it’s much easier to keep a marriage on an equal footing when you both have something interesting to contribute, rather than one person sitting as the sounding board for their partner who’s been out in the ‘real world’ before getting a cursory pat on the head as congratulations for mopping the floor, like a dog desperately looking for praise after successfully fetching a stick while it’s owner spent the time it was gone looking for a cure for cancer.
And it’s not just our marriage which has benefited. It’s the whole of family life. Rather than spending breakfast time manically searching for playgroups to fill the day and thinking of ways to fill the two long hours between afternoon snack and Daddy coming home for tea-time, now I cherish every second at home. There is no brighter moment in my life than the twenty minutes between tea and bath-time when the three of us crawl under the duvet to read ‘That’s Not My Monkey’ or some other literary masterpiece.
I’m not saying being a working mum is for everyone. If you enjoy being at home all day and find it fulfilling then good for you. It’s just not for me.
Oh, and one final point. By some miracle of bodily timings, I haven’t had to change a poo-filled nappy all week. That’s right, not one in a whole week.
Working mum 1 – Stay at home mum 0