Working mum of three

Figuring it out as we go along. Blogging is cheaper than therapy.

Working mum once more

I’m looking forward to going back to work. There, I said it.

I’ve got an interesting job. I love being challenged. I feel like I can make a difference. I’ve had a job since I was 15. I like working.

I’ve just spent the morning piecing the house back together after a regular destruction from the boys. I’ve been putting together different parts of different toys for over an hour. I’ve swept the kitchen floor about 75 times in the last two days. I madly wipe down surfaces in case a neighbour pops by (one recently told me that that our predecessors ‘kept the place immaculate and they also had three boys…’). The freezer is overflowing with home made baby purée. I’ve scaled mountains of laundry that are more frightening than Everest. I can empty the dishwasher with a baby in my arms in under 3.5 minutes. I jiggle the babe on my hip while taking care of chores and scorching chicken nuggets for hungry mouths.

But this isn’t me. It isn’t us. Even as a full time parent, our furniture is stained, our car is filthy and our children never have matching socks. And to be honest, I don’t care. There is more to life, and for me, that means getting back to the coal face. My brain is screaming to be put back into a work gear.

I haven’t often admitted out loud that I’m looking forward to getting back to work, but I’ve been trying it more often, and actually it’s ok. Mums get it. Many have been through it and all have had to make tough decisions. It has opened up a whole new world of playground conversation.

Social pressure continues to be painfully contradictory. Girls should do well at school, get a career, be obsessed with marriage, give it all up for children. Women who go back to work are bad mothers and those who stay at home are sad. It is simply not so two dimensional.

In this house, Rich and I are the CEO’s. But we are also the cleaners, caterers, drivers and dogsbodies. There’s only so much bum wiping you can take. My job on the other hand, is a challenge. It’s busy but it’s also rewarding. I’m asked my opinion. I’m listened to (sometimes). If there’s a problem, I do my best to fix it. There are procedures, colleagues, resources. Grown ups are (usually) rational, logical, reasonable. This week I’ve made time to visit some working women chums. These inspiring, smart women are out there doing it and fully reinforced my choice to go back to work. So while I have enormous respect for full time parents (and it is by far the hardest job I’ve ever done) it’s not for me. This week I’ve talked more about making a difference, strengthening communities, fixing challenges than sleep patterns and nappies. We work hard our whole lives and then are expected to give it all up as soon as the kids come along. It doesn’t make any sense. The boys are a massively important part of my life, but they aren’t my whole life. They don’t define me. They enrich my life. As does my work.

I’ve intentionally written this blog while I’m feeling strong about heading back. At a time when my head is ruling over my heart. Of course, I will miss my mummy colleagues, we have spent hours mentoring, coaching, and problem solving. I’ll miss the breast feeding, and the beautiful baby so peaceful and dependent in my arms. I’ll miss the time with each of these boys. So I’ll continue to live on the brink of tears for a while longer as we navigate back into the work life balance. As my head battles with my heart. As my body readjusts. As all of those social pressures settle and the voices quiet down. This is what’s right for our family.

Today was the baby’s settling in session for nursery. He was to go for two hours in the morning. I had my first free moments fully planned: coffee house with discrete crying corner duly selected, anti-diet pastry on standby, guilty pleasure gossip mag at the ready. Instead, I was treated this morning to a vomiting three year old over breakfast and a vomiting five year old on the school run. So my tranquil morning, which was more about me than the baby, was thoroughly disrupted by poorly little boys. Baby was fine at nursery and was sound asleep at pick up. Boys spent the day veering between nausea and normal. And I had a good reminder that life goes on. Though I may never get the stench of strawberry petit filous vomit out of the car, the kids know they are loved and that they are safe. Working parents or not.

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Worry while you work

The day I figured out how to butter bread with one hand changed my life. I was no longer slave to my tiny captor. I had independence, accomplishment and most importantly, I had toast. There was a glimmer of light at the end of the haze. And as the sleepless smog cleared, the deadline of getting back to work loomed large on the horizon. So I have been trying to wean myself off my baby, and like any addiction, there have been highs, lows and overdoses.

The kid is a handful. He wants to be carried all the time. Or fed. He sleeps lightly and wakes often. He only has eyes for his mamma which is as delightful as it is punishing. He is master in the dark art of bottle avoidance and a black belt in solid food flicking. My lovingly prepared portions of puréed apples, sweet potatoes and apricots lay abandoned in miniature pots like islands of failure at the end of each day. I’ve worked harder and achieved less than ever before. I stew over every new nugget of advice I receive in the playground and angst over each decision. This is the bit when we try to rationalise with a baby. We expect him to understand that actually breast isn’t best anymore and that he better bloody well chose a bottle or food or he’s going to be a bit hungry. I withhold my milk and we battle, thrashing and crying for hours each day. Then we struggle at night while the hungry child wakes. Our range of bottles, cups, formulas grows with every trip to the shops. I try to get into his psychology, but the simple truth is that he just doesn’t know any different.

From nowhere, we share a moment of joy, he laughs at something or grabs for a toy. He chuckles heartily when I tickle him. He learns new skills before my eyes. The sleepless, unwashed, unhinged moments melt away. Nothing else matters. I am hypnotised by his dark eyes and suddenly drown in a flood of emotion as I contemplate his transition to nursery. What a shock it is going to come to this little mite who has been so close to me his whole life. So the excitement I feel about going back to work is thoroughly undermined by the thought of my tiny baby coming to terms with what will feel like loss and abandonment as he heads off into daycare.

Heading back to work is daunting enough. I have been away for a lifetime after all. My team has changed, the work load is steep, the expectations are high. The last month of maternity leave is the worst. There is so much the play for: anxiety of getting back to work (will I be any good? Will I be able to leave on time? Will they treat me differently? Can I still type?), the physical and emotional juggernaut of leaving the baby (Will I cry when someone asks how my baby is? will I start doing baby talk in a meeting? Will my breasts calm the hell down before Monday morning?), the actual handing over of baby (will he be ok? Will they know what to do when he cries? Will he ever forgive me?). Add to this a large dollop of refusal-to-wean, some guilt sprinkles, a 7 month scoop of sleepless nights and you have yourself a knicker-bocker-head-fuck.

All this is from a woman who has done this twice before and survived. It can be done. Yes, it’ll be a bumpy few months as the whole family adjusts again to this new phase. We’ve been spoilt over this period with a full time ‘home maker’ (though our home is still in constant chaos). I’ve had time to run kids to discos, gymnastics, parties. I’ve made cakes and costumes. I’ve missed countless hours of sleep and nursed sick children. Now I just have to fit work back in to the fray. I will miss the school pick up, which has become one of my loveliest parts of the day and coaxing information out of the boys is my favourite sport. Their inquisitive minds and flourishing personalities are such a treat. We will have to develop new rituals now because this is the beginning of baby’s independence. His first steps into the world before he can even crawl. Here we go on another stage. The making of little people and the teaching of values by doing. This is all part of it. Bloody parenting, I love it.

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