I love The Apprentice but, to be honest, I had long forgotten who Katie Hopkins was until her, ahem, eccentric views reared their ugly head several weeks ago in a TV interview about how and why she judges children based on their names. I didn’t see it, but I soon knew about it because people were outraged and made it known on every social networking site they could find.
Tempting as it was to jump on the outraged-mums bandwagon and boost my Twitter hits, I resisted. ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ my husband wisely advised me. While at first I thought he was making some obscure reference to The Three Billy Goats Gruff (I’ve still not really go my head round Twitter), I agreed. As said before, I had totally forgotten who Katie Hopkins was (she didn’t even make the final did she?) and it seemed fairly obvious that this vile, judgemental diatribe was a calculated, and sadly successful, ploy to fling herself back into the limelight.
Clearly dismayed by how quickly her views were overshadowed by an infinite number of more interesting and important news stories, she’s bounced back and this time aimed her hate-rifle at family life once again.
This time she’s annoyed that we want to spend time with our children. She’s angry at mums who, rather than sucking their post baby bellies into a power suit and heading straight back to the office within days of giving birth, actually want to spend a few months nurturing and getting to know their newborns: feeding them, playing with them, trying to figure out how on earth to get them to sleep. Bloody hell, Katie’s right, we really are a right load of selfish gits us mums!
I refuse to give in and I’m not going to feed any trolls, figurative or literal. I may however inadvertently shed a few crumbs in their direction as I leave a Hansel and Gretel like trail in the hope that it may lead Ms Hopkins and others with similar opinions to a calmer, more humane and pragmatic view point.
So, here’s my very sensible, measured and unemotional response to her article (seriously, I’m trying not to feed any trolls).
1. Children are not a ‘luxury’.
You can’t equate a person’s right to procreate, the one thing we are all biologically designed to do, to owning a flat screen TV or holidaying in the Canary Islands. By all means people should be responsible when making the decision to start a family and try to ensure they can afford it, but that doesn’t mean if you don’t happen to have been born into a wealthy family with a personal nanny on tap, you should have to forgo your dreams of parenthood in order to have a job, or vice versa. Besides, to imply that all small business’ problems would be solved by abandoning maternity benefits and encouraging women not to have children is ridiculous: What about businesses that cater for babies, children and families? What about the people who own small businesses who want to have children? What about small businesses which succeed only to find they can’t recruit anyone because everyone stopped having children to avoid putting a burden on small businesses? It’s ridiculous. Though it might make a good basis for a modern dystopian novel.
2. Ms Hopkins claims that “women are effectively legislating themselves out of the game.”
This final statement implies that a working woman has only two options: go back to work within weeks of giving birth or give up work altogether to be a stay at home mum.
I love my job and am glad to have made the choice to be a full-time working mum. However, faced with these narrow options I’d have had no choice but to stay at home. Partly because I wanted the chance to bond with my new son, partly because I was his only source of food for six months and partly because I would have been crap at my job! With the pitiful amount of sleep I snatched in those first five months, I dread to think what would have happened had I attempted to teach GCSE classes. At the very least there would have been children screamed at for the most minor mischief, at worst I can fully imagine teaching entirely the wrong set of texts and only discovering on the day of the exam, then hiding in a cupboard wracked with sobs and anguish awaiting the onslaught of parents demanding my sacking. Legislating myself out of the game? If I hadn’t risked that I’d have almost certainly been legislated out of the profession for good!
3. I’m not a businesswoman, but have worked in more than enough different organisations to know that some of the most important things you need for success are stability, experience and motivation.
Certainly, having a colleague go on leave for 6-12 months with a baby will cause disruption, but if you treat that colleague well, she’ll return happy, grateful and willing to put her all into that organisation. Prior to my current job I barely stayed in any job for longer than a year, but 3 years into this job and I’m happy to stick around. There are the practicalities around being near to the childminder and having set working hours which I know fit around my life now, but there’s also the fact that they treated me so well before, during and upon return from maternity leave that I really appreciate my colleagues, work ten times harder as a result and am sure to be a committed worker for some time to come. Yes it’s a short term loss, but for a much longer term gain through staff retention and motivation.
I recognise that there are, unfortunately, a couple of key flaws in my response to Ms Hopkins.
Firstly, she does actually have a point. While I absolutely believe we should fight to preserve the maternity rights we have in this country, I can see it must be so devastating to be setting up or running a business which is so reliant on a few members of staff, only to discover one is leaving for up to a year, you’ll have to find a replacement and to worry that they might fall in love with parenting and not come back at all. Maybe more should be done to help. Perhaps the government could subsidise maternity on a sliding scale, offering more help to those in small businesses while allowing large corporations to manage it more themselves? I don’t know, but I do know the answer isn’t to just turn the clock back and prevent the vast majority of mums being able to work at all. That benefits no one.
Secondly, as I have probably just demonstrated in my suggested solution, I am not a businesswoman.
Thankfully as she’s put so much energy into propelling herself into the media spotlight as a rent-a-gob on anything vaguely related to business and or parenthood, Ms Hopkins isn’t likely to be seen by many as a serious businesswoman either, so I don’t need to fight my corner quite so hard.
I have little faith in parenting books.
Preparing for our son to arrive, our attitude was very much ‘We don’t need books. Let’s go with our instinct!’ A week after the birth, back in hospital because the baby couldn’t feed, I began to doubt my instincts. Maybe if I’d read a book I could have prevented this.
‘Don’t be silly’ my husband said, ever the optimist. ‘It’s just one of those things. We’re doing fine’.
We trundled along through despair to confidence, making very occasional reference to the one baby book we were given: What To Expect: The First Year. The book is very helpfully structured in a question and answer format, the answer to every question invariably being ‘Stop stressing. It’s fine! Here’s how I vaguely recollect it:
Q: I was told to start weaning my baby at 6 months, but my next door neighbour started at 5. Should I run out and by some rusks before the little one wakes up?
A: No. Stop stressing. It’s fine.
Q: My always sleeps on his left hand side. I don’t want to wake him up but I’m worried it might do permanent damage to his left arm and he’ll never grown up to be a concert pianist. Should I move him?
A: No. Stop stressing. It’s fine.
Q: A crazy old lady down the street told me that if you carry your baby down the stairs too much the gentle bumping gives them brain damage. Should I pack up, make my husband quit his job, put on a grey wig and move to a retirement village so we can live in a bungalow and avoid the horrors of the dreaded too-many-stairs syndrome?
A: No, you idiot. Stop stressing. It’s fine!
I mock, but it was occasionally useful.
On the whole we stuck with our ‘Let’s make it up as we go along’ – erm, I mean ‘Let’s go with our instincts’ – parenting approach.
It didn’t stop me occasionally neurotically babbling at my husband ‘So-and-so read 4 books on weaning before they started on solids. We haven’t read any. Do you think that makes us bad parents?’ ‘No’ he replied firmly, jamming a spoonful of apple puree into our son’s wide open greedy gob.
It also didn’t stop me sneaking off to the parenting section of the library when our son inexplicably decided aged 4 months that he no longer needed to sleep. Ever.
After about an hour of simultaneously rocking the buggy and flicking through endless pages of contradictory and often completely impractical advice, I threw Gina Ford and her patronising parenting guru-rivals down in a fit of fury and headed home to find solace in the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
That was the end of my foray into parenting books. Not because I think I know everything, nor because I think parenting books have no value. I did take issue with how contradictory the advice was and I would rant about it here, but someone else has already done a much better job: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ava-neyer/i-read-all-the-baby-sleep-advice-books_b_3143253.html
The main reason I gave up on ever reading parenting books, is that I love reading too much. I love it. I’d do it all day if I could. I love reading in bed, and continue to do it even though I know it winds my husband up, because I always answer his questions with a cursory ‘hn’, refusing to tear my eyes away from the page. I don’t even know why I’m writing this now; the baby’s asleep so I could be reading!
If you’re similarly bored of parenting books and would rather indulge your literary demon, here are my top 5 books for mum (or anyone really):
1. ‘How To Be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran.
I go on about this book all the time and people may be starting to think my admiration for Caitlin Moran is verging on obsession, but I don’t care. This book marked the turning point in my maternity leave, where I finally managed to find the balance between the new ‘mum’ me and the old me. Plus, it’s bloody hilarious!
2. ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ by Pamela Druckerman
‘Hang on!’ I hear you say. ‘This is a parenting book!’ Exactly what I thought when it was leant to me at the start of my maternity leave, and that is exactly why it sat on my shelf, unread, for about 9 months. As it turns out, this book is fascinating. It holds no advice or suggestions on how to get your child to do XYZ, but is instead an interesting mixture of personal anecdote and well researched analysis of the differences between Anglophile parents and their French counterparts. For those who are interested in the practice and sociology of parenting, but don’t want to be told how to do it, this is a great read.
If you have not read this by now I can only assume you have been hiding under a rock. When I first read it a stranger approached me and said ‘I am so jealous. I wish I could read that again for the first time’. Now I understand. So moving I sobbed for about an hour as read the final chapters
Along with ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, this is probably my favourite book. I could take my socks off and still probably not have enough appendages to count the number of times I’ve read it. Plus, it gives you a great excuse to dig out the BBC box set and watch 6 hours of the best TV ever made.
I found this for a pound in a bargain bin and was amazed to discover that, despite it being a Booker prize winner, nobody seemed to have heard of it. The style and content are astoundingly original and may not be to everybody’s tastes, but it’s worth a go. Also, no matter crap a day you’ve had parent-wise, you can rest assured you’ll never be as bad a mum as the one in this novel.
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
As my last blog post was all about the things I hate, I thought I should redress the balance and show that I have discovered people I love since becoming a mum. (Sorry if that means it’s a bit soppy and boring. I’ll get back to being angry and cynical next time, I promise!)
1. Our Cockney Neighbours
I love London: the lifestyle, the parks, the museums, the markets, the culture, the transport (yes, the transport – I can’t drive so a sprawling tube and bus network really appeals to me, no matter how hot and sweaty), but most of all the diversity. I love that despite being too lazy and disorganised to have actually gone travelling, I have still managed to meet and befriend people from all over the world.
Still, it was always a bit disappointing to move to the East End of London and never meet anyone remotely like the people in Eastenders. Why isn’t there a podgy ginger man selling fruit and veg at the end of my road? Where is the local pub run by Shane Richie and a busty woman in a too-small leopard print corset? And despite all the shouting outside my house throughout the day and night (seriously, shut up occasionally!), why have I never heard anyone scream ‘Rickaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay?!
It’s very disappointing.
Thankfully, our short-sightedness meant we decided that one week after having a baby would be a really good time to move to a new place. On the second floor. With no lift.
Continuing our laissez-faire attitude to organisation, it took us a further two months to discover we actually owned an out-house/shed in which we could leave the pram without having to bump it up the stairs everyday like a scene from the tenements in Call the Midwife.
Now my daily trip down to get the buggy also means a daily catch up with our downstairs neighbours who, you guessed it, are bona fide cockneys! They seem to spend their retirement standing in the garden smoking, waiting for me to come and collect the pram so they can shout “Oooh, ‘ello li-ool Jowjeeee. Ain’t you growwwn?! Jooowje! Joowjiiiie! Aaaaaaah”
They constantly tell me how cute he is, they always take the time to stop and chat, often emerging from their houses as soon as they hear the key in the shed lock far quicker than their walking sticks suggest they should be able to. They buy us chocolate and other completely impractical but lovely presents for a baby and, most importantly, while they don’t get through quite as many fags as Dot Cotton, they are at least real East-enders.
2. The cast of ‘Cold Feet’
Every modern parent knows that a good box set is the key to sanity in the early days: regular Saturday nights down the pub are a thing of the past and prime time reality TV is well past its best.
When our son was born we invested in a huge number of box sets.
We quickly decided that, while brilliant, Breaking Bad is not good, relaxing viewing after a long hard day with a baby. So instead we moved to that 90s classic ‘Cold Feet’. I remembered really enjoying it the first time round: a group of fun, trendy, slightly sarcastic 20-30 somethings muddling through life. It was like a calmer, less canned-laughter based, British version of Friends, right?
Unfortunately, while it’s still great, on second watching you realise it’s actually quite depressing and now a little too close to home. Pete and Jenny going slightly mad from lack of sleep when they have a baby? Yep, that was us. Adam and Rachel arguing about the baby sleeping in their bed? Been there, done that. When Karen moans about spending her afternoons with a bunch of Stepford Mums discussing boobs and breastpumps? I am with you Karen, all the way, I am with you.
Over the months I have come to love the cast of Cold Feet as if they were my own friends. We’ve been through the same dramas and felt the same pain. The only place we differ is on the infidelity front, thankfully.
Unfortunately, where Breaking Bad led to ridiculous, far-fetched dreams about running away from murderers and accidentally finding myself dealing drugs from my classroom, Cold Feet has led to more than one “you dream-cheated on me!” conversation over breakfast.
3. Caitlin Moran
I love Caitlin Moran. Seriously, I love her.
‘How to be a Woman’ is one of the best books I have ever read and it 100% saved my sanity this year.
Have you read it? No? Then stop reading this now and go read that instead. Seriously, it’s much better.
4. The NHS
It’s very fashionable to hate the NHS, and even more fashionable to say how much you love the NHS, and then list everything that is wrong with it.
I however love the NHS. No ifs, no buts. I think it’s brilliant.
When politicians come to power – once they’ve had long meetings with their PR advisors on how to hide their skeletons so far at the back of the closet they’re practically in Narnia – they start to think about how to make their mark. It’s always the same: education and health. These are the two things everyone has a stake in, so these are inevitably the two things they start meddling in.
The problem is, before you can start ‘fixing’ things, you have to figure out what’s broken, and point it out in great depth. So our politicians, supported by the media, have set about persuading us that the NHS is a great big mess!
Waiting times, unreasonable targets, missed targets, infections, infection control, staff shortages, rude and unhelpful staff, not to mention the hundreds of pointless ‘back office’ staff who are clearly paid to do literally nothing but sit around moving sheets of paper back and forth across a desk.
I realise all these things are probably real issues (except the ‘back office’ thing – I have no problem with that, in fact I’d rather have some admin assistants than have someone who spent 10+ years training as a surgeon spending valuable time screaming at a laptop when he can’t quite sort out the mail merge to tell everyone the office address has changed!) but seriously, stop moaning! We have free health care! FREE!
As parents, we should be especially grateful: free scans during pregnancy (including a free photo with which you can annoy all your friends!), regular midwife checkups, free ante-natal classes so you know what to expect, a choice of where to give birth, a choice of how to give birth, a choice of pain relief. Sometimes the worst happens and all these choices are taken out of your hands – as they were for us, but from the moment it was clear things weren’t working out to the moment when my baby boy was placed safely in my arms was less than 30 minutes. 30 minutes when at least 9 different professionals (that’s what I counted in my drug induced haze) provided the best of modern medicine to get that baby out safe. And they did.
You can’t really say fairer than that.
5. My son
I’ve realised I’ve not included my husband in this and, as he generally proof reads my blogs, I should at least give him a mention! There’s a great episode in series 5 of ‘Cold Feet’ (yes, I really am a bit obsessed) where Adam starts to feel he’s been replaced by the baby: it gets all the attention, sleeps in their bed, is always the first one to get a kiss in the morning and gets praise simply for existing. I imagine all partners feel like this at times, and I’ve definitely been guilty of neglect. So just in case he does read this, I should make it clear that I haven’t included my husband because I haven’t learned to love him, I’ve always loved him, and now we’re parents it’s that little bit easier to remember why.
Having a child changes your outlook on the world completely. That first moment you hold your little one, you are transformed. You feel you could almost explode with love. It courses through your veins and beams out through every pore like lava oozing from a volcano before a sudden violent eruption (I’m worried that may read more like a horrific metaphor for the physical act of giving birth rather than a lovely warm metaphor for a mother’s love, but it’s nearly 11pm, I’m tired and can’t think of anything else so it’s staying in!).
Sadly, that feeling isn’t quite as all encompassing as it first seems. While my capacity for love has increased incredibly, so has my capacity to hate. Since the day I found out I was pregnant I have discovered whole swathes of people and organizations of whom I was previously unaware but who I would now cheerfully throw down to the bottom of a volcano with barely a second thought.
Here are just a few…
…and anyone else who tried to congratulate me on procreating by giving me ‘free’ stuff. From the moment I stared in disbelief at a stick with some lines on it, organisations were climbing over each other to shower me with gifts. How lovely! Except it isn’t. Excuse me if I sound ungrateful, but I’m not sure a couple of free nappies and a sample of fabric softener really prepared me for the realities of motherhood, and it certainly wasn’t worth the months of being bombarded by emails, mail shots and very persistent cold callers trying to make me change energy suppliers. Nor the rather brazen woman who wandered into my miserably lonely cubicle on the post-natal ward when I was desperately trying to soothe a crying baby and asked if I wanted to sign up for a professional photography session. No I bloody well do not, I’m busy trying to cram a sensitive part of my sore, sewn up, sleep deprived body into the mouth of a tiny, screaming monster. Now bugger off!
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may find this recent Guardian article interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/apr/28/alice-roberts-pregnancy-bounty-nhs
2. People who take lifts when they don’t need to
The Olympics and Paralympics were amazing. They showcased some amazing sporting talents, they inspired ordinary people to try new things and they brought our nation together. On a more selfish note, they also meant that the area near the Olympic Park (where I happen to live) was made much more accessible with lifts everywhere. It was the best legacy it could give me as a new mum: not having to constantly lug a buggy up and down stairs just to get around. Make no mistake though, as soon as my son is walking, we will be back to using the stairs. Lifts are useful, but annoying: slow, clunky and claustrophobic. I will never understand – when I am hanging around waiting for the lift to come down and collect me, while I stare longingly at the stairs and escalators which taunt me with their simple speed and availability, while I watch other people easily run up and jump on the train which I will probably now miss by the narrowest of margins – why there is always someone who insists on taking the lift when they don’t need to. I know you can’t always tell who can and can’t use stairs, but if you can run to the lift, athletically shove out your hand to heave open the closing doors and then squeeze your way in between two buggies, I reckon you could have at least managed to stand on the escalators.
3. People who stand in the wheelchair/buggy area of the bus when there are seats available
Seriously, I would love to sit down. LOVE it! There are loads of seats available so why have you chosen to stand in the only place I can possibly go? And why do you look so annoyed when I ask you to move? Enough said.
4. People who compare your child to their cat
I had far too many variations on the following conversation during the first few months of being a mum.
THEM: So how are you and the little one?
ME: Good thanks (I don’t know. I’m not sure I can remember my own name. Do I know you?)
THEM: That’s good. You’re not too tired?
ME: Well, I am pretty knackered. He’s been waking up every two hours the past couple of nights. Plus I have to rock him back to sleep so my back’s really sore. (I’m so tired and I’m in agony. Please kill me.)
THEM: That must be hard.
ME: Yeah, it’s so tiring, but I’m sure it’s just a phase (Seriously, kill me now. It’s the kindest thing to do)
THEM: Yeah. I know just how you feel. My cat is wearing me out. He woke me up at 5.30 this morning jumping on my bed. I’m so exhausted!
ME: Really? (Actually, maybe I’ll just kill you instead)
5. Strangers who ask if you’re breastfeeding/if baby is sleeping through the night.
One of the best things about becoming a mum was it made me part of a community. For years, as a Northerner in London, I’d been laboring under the common assumption that Southerners were just not that friendly. It was all heads down, power through, never look anyone in the eye and never, ever talk to a stranger on the tube.
All that changes when you have a baby. Suddenly everyone is your friend: the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery knows your name, you get to know half your neighbours through the children’s centres, and complete strangers stop you in the street to tell you how cute your baby is. It’s genuinely lovely.
What’s not lovely is that social norms flip so much that people feel they can ask you incredibly personal questions like “So are you breastfeeding? Is it going well?” – erm, yes strange old man in the street, would you like a rundown of exactly how many times a day I have to get my boobs out? – or “is he sleeping through the night yet?” – no of course he’s bloody not, he’s 8 weeks old, but thanks for making me feel like a completely inadequate parent by implying that he should be and getting my hopes up that maybe he will when in fact I have many more sleep deprived months to go. Seriously, I don’t know you. Mind your own business!
If cleanliness really is next to Godliness, my family are stuck permanently in purgatory.
While we are a long way from the horrors of student days – when my husband tells me a girl was once sent screaming from his flat after noticing a distinct rustling in the pile of takeaway boxes which had become a permanent fixture next to their kitchen bin – I’m hardly a domestic goddess. If you were to turn up at my house uninvited, or even invited, you’re far more likely to be greeted by a mound of un-ironed shirts and half-read newspapers than a freshly brewed pot of tea and a slice of homemade cake.
I am not a domesticated person. I eat cake, I don’t bake it. I buy clothes, I don’t iron them. I can cope with cooking up and – more importantly – eating a family meal, but don’t expect me to wash up as well. That’s just ridiculous.
I hate housework; I hate it.
Housework is a necessary but mind-numbingly boring evil. A task approached with begrudging acceptance and minimal satisfaction on completion.
Sadly, housework when you have a baby moves from an occasional inconvenience to an eternal occupation: cleaning and sterilising bottles; washing dirty clothes; picking up half-eaten food from the floor; scrubbing baby sick off the sofa; picking up half-eaten food off the floor; washing more dirty clothes; drenching every surface with anti-bacterial spray when someone who visited turns out to have a stomach bug; picking more half-eaten food off the floor; putting away toys; hanging out washing; ironing; picking up yet more half-eaten food off the floor then sweeping and mopping it before collapsing, exhausted and miserable in front of ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, ‘The Great British Bake Off’, ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ or some other prime time reality show designed to highlight how crap you are as a homemaker compared to these inane, grinning buffoons, who periodically fawn over a particularly well-constructed cross-stitch or sobb over a rogue macaroon which isn’t quite the same shape and size as the rest. Oh for God’s sake, grow up and get a real life!
I hate housework and homemaking; I hate it!
King Sisyphus angered the gods through his trickery and deceit, and so was condemned to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill, only to see it fall straight back down and have to start again. In the first few years of our courtship, I lied continuously and pretended to be interested in my husband’s crappy football team. Perhaps that deceit is why I seem to have been sentenced to a lifetime of mopping the kitchen floor, only to slip on a sludgy piece of brown banana ten minutes after I finish and start all over again.
I really hate housework; I HATE IT!
Throughout my pregnancy, there was a constant stream of doomsayers, desperate to tell me how shit my life would be once I became a mum. Gems such as “Ooh, enjoy sleep while you can. You won’t get much once the baby arrives!” or young single people gloating “We won’t see you down the pub again soon” or women who already have a brood of children taking pleasure in telling me, in detail, all the ways in which my body would fall apart and begin to resemble that of an ogre after the ‘joys of childbirth’. But no one told me that I’d be perpetually chained to the kitchen sink and essentially have to superglue marigolds to my hands just to get through the day.
My biggest concern when going off on maternity leave was that I’d be bored away from work. “Oh you won’t have time to be bored” chimed the doomsayers. Well, they were half right. I don’t have time, but forgive me if I don’t find dusting that stimulating.
I hate housework; I REALLY HATE IT!
Like most people, as a child I went through numerous phases of wanting to be all sorts of things: a lawyer, an actress, an astronomer, a singer, a fashion journalist – once in middle school I even did an art project about wanting to be a dentist! I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, but I always wanted to work and, to quote the great feminist thinker Beyonce, I wanted to be an ‘independent woman’.
I have always worked, ever since I got a part time job at the age of 15. For most of the time my husband and I have been together, I have been the greater earner (not by much, but still!). The idea of being at home and being reliant on someone else, of having to go cap in hand to ask for cash to go shopping whilst on maternity leave was galling. It’s something I’ve never gotten used to. Many people would say I’m doing a valuable job by staying at home to raise our son, and I’m sure that’s true. But when raising him on some days consists of going to some cutesy named playgroup to sing nursery rhymes, then round to a friend’s for lunch and a coffee, I do feel a bit guilty. So I feel it’s only fair that I take on the lion’s share of the housework. The problem being, just in case you’ve missed it, I HATE HOUSEWORK. I HATE IT!
So, in two weeks, I’m heading back to work. Full time. I thought this was the norm but chatting at the local children’s centre tells me this often isn’t so. Everyone else is sorting out flexible working arrangements, cutting down their hours or giving up altogether. It’ll definitely be hard to leave the little one, but, oh to engage my brain again! To talk about something other than nappies and weaning. But most of all, to escape the housework: the wiping, the mopping, the sweeping. What’s that you say? It’ll still be there to do when I get home? No it won’t. I’m getting a cleaner! Yes, sod the expense – I’ll dye my hair at home and we’ll eat more beans on toast. Sod the middle class guilt – I’ll get over it when I see how shiny the sink is. Sod what other people think – it’s money well spent if I can pick the baby up from the childminder and head down to the park rather than picking up the duster and heading to the living room furniture.
So take that Sisyphus. If only you’d thought to hire help and sneak off back to work, perhaps eternity wouldn’t have seemed so torturous.