Working mum of three

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

Parent teacher week

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I’m heading to London for a conference this week. In preparation, I’ve been snatching moments to rummage through my bags of clothes. The bags of one-day-I’ll-fit-into-that clothes that keep growing. I’ll stick with the same rotation of tops for the time being.

I’m dragging the youngest along for the ride, well, along for the milk. On the train, we sway precariously between seats. Business people avoid eye contact and pregnant travellers watch discretely with interest. I try to answer emails quickly while breastfeeding to silence my unruly babe. An older lady entertains him while I fire off an urgent email. I try not to dwell on whether she is helpful or judgmental. Sweet baby coos and clings tightly to my arm. So much change for such a little guy to manage.

Earlier in the week, we had the parent teacher report on 5yo. Summed up in one word as ‘patchy’: sometimes he gets it, sometimes he doesn’t. Sounds about right. Sometimes he is doing sums in his head, spelling words phonetically, telling the time. Othertimes, he is writing letters backwards, saying numbers the wrong way round or too tired to even communicate. Teacher was full of praise for the qualities we consider important; politeness, concentration, caring. But commented more than once that he wasn’t ‘a boys boy’ as if that were a bad thing. Meanwhile we’ve all been trying to learn welsh. It’s a motley crew, me with my 17 year old GCSE, bampi with his Glasgow welsh, 3yo with his made up vocab. 5yo does a beautiful job of helping us along, gently correcting our pronunciation, delighting in the role reversal. He chooses the welsh channel for cartoons now and sings merrily along to the theme tunes. In quieter moments, 5yo has been opening up about kids who won’t play with him. He doesn’t want to play football with the bigger kids because he gets in the way. This week’s best friend has told him that his beloved Octonauts is ‘childish’. Kids can be so cruel. So much pressure for a big guy to handle.

3yo is exploring his personality. We recently had the new neighbours over for tea. As they sat in our lounge, the scattered toys, and stained cushions stuck out like emergency flares. The boys were crazy excited. Partly it was the special chocolate biscuits. Partly it was the excitement of showing off their toys. But most of all, it was the fresh audience for ‘a show’. 3yo has become a skilled performer. His shows involve a random mix of song, dance and made up Welsh. They last for hours. This time, usually shy and retiring 5yo wanted in on the action. So while I jiggled the cranky baby on my hip, trying desperately not to have to breastfeed in front of our new neighbours, Rich nervously spilt his tea all over the sofa and the boys whipped up into a hyper frenzy. Despite urging them to rehearse upstairs, the lights were dimmed and the performance was set. We haven’t seen the neighbours again since then.

I had to miss 3yo’s parent teacher meeting for the conference. We were placing bets on what the report would be. Nil points for Rich who thought we would be reprimanded for our mischievous mite. I knew he could turn on the charm. Turns out his school performance is his best, most polite, sweet, timid self. A world away from the tormentor who tortures his long suffering siblings. Like his brother before him, he was labeled with the ‘shy’ badge and I wondered if this was some reverse sexism. We’re told the boys don’t rough and tumble like the others. They don’t like to get dirty. They aren’t loud. We know they struggle with some of the playground battles. Our values are about talking through problems, sharing, compromising. But they are faced with playground games of Star Wars (5yo wants a ‘light saver’), Dr Who, ninja turtles and power rangers. It doesn’t feel right that our ideology should cause them to be left out or unable to get involved. But I can’t tolerate the violent themes that are inherent in boy culture. Too much bullshit for these guys to handle.

Rich had his birthday this week. I treated him to a lay in, which meant being woken up at ten to seven by two kids jumping on him, then eating his crumpets. We went to watch a lovely production of Under Milk Wood. Late of course, we ran through the rain to get there which reminded us of a very early date when we ran, late for a performance, through the undercarriage of the Southbank. I slipped off my heels and ran full pelt. I laughed at Rich’s surprise and I knew that our relationship had just got a little stronger. This time, in a parallel universe, we ran through the Swansea bus station, out of breath and cursing. We slumped heavily into our seats, determinedly enjoying our first night off since baby arrived. He finished his birthday by cleaning up a stinker from baby. These days birthdays are just normal days with treats crammed in.

The conference was useful, I’m glad to have been a part of it. It exposed a huge range of challenges, but was also very positive. For me, the number of confident, articulate policy changing women who participated was moving. My first glimpse of some real gender balance in my ancient organisation. I had important work discussions then compared notes about getting up three times each night and dropping off crying baby at nursery. I talked with female peers in important jobs about self doubt and lacking confidence. This is crucial networking and establishment of support structures. So much good stuff for me to think about.

The week was topped off by Mother’s Day. Now, we don’t go in for this commercialised claptrap much, but the boys loved showing their cards and giving presents carefully chosen from uplands market. A total perk of having kids in childcare is that these occasions are always marked with home made booty (see cards above). Even the baby had managed to paint one! I didn’t think about work once as we headed out for an adventure at carreg cannen castle. We watched new born lambs snuggle with their mums, explored the castle tunnel and enjoyed cream teas.

The boys seemed to have aged several years in the three days I’ve been away. They are becoming people before my eyes. Baby has a cold. Onwards to next week then. A few things for us all to be getting on with.

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Relaxation and guilt

For a blog about working and parenting, this one covers neither. Or rather, the absence of both. The kids are having a week with their Grandparents (thanks Rich’s mum and dad!) while we have four nights in Madeira.

Time for yourself is something you lose when becoming a parent. Everything is interrupted. Kids have a different urgency: Help with the potty, nightmares, bumps, bashes, scrapes, jigsaws.

So imagine the luxury of having all this time to ourselves. How we chuckled smugly to ourselves as we watched parents battling to entertain their kids on the flight. How we revelled in long sleeps and then took more naps during the day. We changed our plans on a whim. Ate at weird times. Ate weird food. Slept even more.

We had time to bond with the bump, musing over names, wondering how our family will change and recognising the neglect it was already suffering (and I thought being a second child was bad!). We relaxed and talked. Often about the boys, sometimes about politics (Thatcher just died), history and about nothing. There is so much to get out of an uninterrupted conversation.

Rich and I aren’t bad at taking time out. We alternate who does the early morning shift with the kids. We try to do activities of our own every now and then. And let’s not forget that we both work full time, and although that brings its own challenges, it also provides a break from childcare.

But i wasn’t prepared for the emotion and the guilt. Missing the boys has been terrible. When we arrived, the apartment wasn’t quite as perfect as it looked online, the weather wasn’t so good and we were further out of town. We’d spent 2 hours walking into the town, the vegi food options were limited, but the cold shower was the last straw. In tears, I explained to Rich that the holiday needed to be perfect in order to get rid of the guilt I felt about leaving the boys. After all, it’s such an indulgent, selfish thing to do.

When my mum and I went for a birthday treat to the floatation ‘relaxation’ tank, I couldn’t relax. In fact, I spent the hour wondering when the time would be up, running through my to do list and thinking about what the kids were doing. For the last few minutes, I sat in the pitch dark pool, sobbing and worrying about why I couldn’t relax. Relaxing stresses me out. Too many balls in the air. If I relax, they’ll all hit the ground.

Rich is better at separating it all out. First time back to work was so overwhelming, everything overlapped and felt so muddled. Rich didn’t have that problem: mornings were all about getting everyone dressed and out the door. Time on the bus was alone time (usually filled with reading a novel). Work was work. More bus time. Then family time (feeding, playing, sleeping). He didn’t worry about kids development during business meetings, or well up when someone asked how nursery was going. He just divided it all up. It gets easier with practice, but I still can’t spend time thinking about my boys during the day without losing it.

That’s what’s so wonderful about pregnancy. You can provide round the clock nourishment, comfort and survival for baby whilst functioning as an independent human being. So you can never explain the challenges of parenthood to expectant parents. It’s so abstract. Much as you obsess over baby in utero, you have no idea how much they will change you and impact your life.

As it turned out, the kids survived our week away. Nothing crashed to the ground. No worlds collided. They had a fantastic time with their Nanny and Grandad and we got some rest. Guess it’s ok to take time out then. When’s the next holiday? Only another 18 years or so.

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