Tomorrow I go back to work after thirteen and a half months of maternity leave. I currently swing between being ok with it to desperately not wanting to go. This is the third and final time that I will take maternity leave so tomorrow is a significant day for me. This week is full of changes with MM starting big school and Little Miss starting daycare. I have spent the last seven weeks desperately trying to prepare as much as possible. Trying to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible for all of us. Being a working parent can be incredibly difficult at times. It requires a phenomenal amount of effort, preparation and will power. It is also plagued with guilt. Oh the guilt. Despite it all, however, I like to think my monkeys stay with me all day in the form of small reminders in my handbag.
The designer handbag
Firstly I think I should clarify a few things. I work reduced hours so that I only need to be at work for three days a week. My job is considered a career and a vocation. I am deliberately not telling you what I do because I can’t. It is good though, because now you can imagine that I work for MI5, or something equally cool. I don’t work for MI5 (or do I?) My employers have always been flexible and I currently have a family friendly and sympathetic manager. I know that I am very lucky in all of the above. It doesn’t make it any easier to go back though.
As for the designer handbag. I don’t currently have one. I did have one when I returned to work after having MM. It was lovely. The nicest bag I ever owned. I acquired it from my sister who knew someone who worked for Ted Baker. It was one of those stock clearance things, where staff can grab stuff at vastly reduced prices. She bought it and my sister bought it from her. In the sea of nappy changes, tantrums, snot, dribble and food encrusted clothes, it was like a shiny oasis. Sadly parenthood took it’s toll on it. The monkeys drew on it in pen one day, it got scuffed by the pushchair wheels, when I took it out on one of my days off, and inside it was weighed down with plastic crap from kinder eggs and kids magazines. One of these items was half a plastic chicken.
I’m trying to be professional you know
So, eventually, the handbag died. It’s strap snapped after a valiant effort to survive failed, because the monkeys insisted on swinging on it wherever it was. They swung on it everywhere, the end of the banister, the back of the pushchair, my shoulder. In the end, my life trying to be both professional working person and Supermum killed my handbag. It symbolised the realities of the task. It really is impossible to be both 100% professional in the face of the weight of parental responsibility. Like my lovely handbag the additional pressure will take it’s toll eventually. it is also undermined by the presence of a plastic chicken in my handbag.
Regardless of this, we continue to try. We dress appropriately, focus as best we can on no sleep, we do our best to get child from the car to daycare, without crumbling when they cry as we leave. I find the walk out of nursery the most telling. Here you will witness the working parent at their most vulnerable. At times the guilt and anxiety etched into their faces. A knowing smile shared with fellow comrades, as we pass for drop off or the mad dash back out the door, to work that we are inevitably now late for. This vulnerability deliberately hidden to get through the day before collecting again. Struggling back out with tired and grumpy monkeys. The best part of their day behind them, shared with the professionals employed to look after them.
Being a working mummy is full of blurred lines. There are no fully defined boarders which are never crossed. Maybe, like me, you dress in a smart trouser suit and look professional, even act professionally. However, the illusion is shattered when a colleague points out the slug trail on your shoulder where someone has kindly used you as a tissue before you left them at daycare. Or you show up to interview someone important and, you only have a crayon to write with (true story). Or you get stopped at a security check because there is a plastic Bob the builder hammer your bag (another true story).
The lines blur more obviously when the phone rings at lunchtime and, you have to beg to leave because the baby has a rash and a temperature of 39 degrees. Or you can’t leave because your job doesn’t allow it. You know in the back of your mind it is ok. Just another virus. But you need to be there, to be one hundred percent sure. There will always be a missed school play or sports day. You sit at your desk imagining their faces searching for you in the crowd. The look of disappointment when they realise you are not there.
I can help you with this one as I have missed a few of the significant life events of my children so far. Your visions of your child’s disappointment are made worse by guilt. In reality they are only ever upset for about half an hour if they are upset at all. The reality is that some of us work and we have to work. Even stay at home mums have to make sacrifices sometimes. We can’t please our monkeys all of the time.
A new handbag
Here we are then, my final maternity chapter at a close. I have new clothes, some new pictures for my desk and a brand new handbag. Not designer this time. In fact I think I look the part, from a distance. I think I am prepared. Slow cooker full for tomorrow nights tea, breakfast ready to eat in the early hours, lunch bag packed. Clothes and uniforms out, bags packed, monkeys informed but lacking in understanding of it all. It really is a wait and see kind of thing all this returning to work.
Somethings are for sure however. There will be days when I will be expected to do a full days work with only a few hours sleep. Days when I feel as though I have already done a days work before 9am and, I will not get finished until 9pm or beyond. The monkeys will grow up faster in my absence, but their lives will be more precious while I am with them. Despite my best efforts, there will be times when I am so disorganised and chaos will reign. These days will be hard but we will all survive. Then the next day will be better, or maybe not.
As for the plastic chicken, well I found his legs and he acquired a small lifebuoy along his journey in my handbag. I found him in the box of belongings I left with before my maternity leave started. It resembles the imperfectness of being a working mummy. The fact that you can only do your best, but the crazy monkey train will derail every now and again. Hopefully without casualty and a little humility will keep you going. So I have decided to take the chicken with me. He might bring me good luck