The back-to-work mum

February 01 2020

Fishponds Mum, by Claire Stewart-Hall

I KNOW I have written before in this column about returning to work but really I don’t feel I have quite covered it enough. There is no end to the spouting on about it, really.

Before, when I had returned to work in September with one child safely in school, I was feeling a bit of zing, the vim of prioritising my own things in my own day – an hour for lunch – an hour FOR LUNCH! It was mind blowing. I had forgotten, of course, how long it takes to make a decision at work, having spent under two seconds making most of my decisions when parenting at home full-time for four years. The amount of time spent ‘in meetings’ at work came as a bit of a shock. I found myself thinking: "Can’t someone just decide and then we’ll all do it?"

Something I would have never entertained before, shared decisions and distributed leadership and all that. It all just takes so long. I’ve lost any sense of hierarchy or pride in it, perhaps.

When our second child comes along, the reduced sense of time was quite exciting. Now we know what to do, we are suddenly way ahead. For about two weeks. Then reality sets in. The first one still isn’t sleeping through the night, despite the long school day, that plate is still very much in need of spinning. We take it in turns to go in and resettle, and so, parents you will know, we are both knackered. Trying desperately to avoid that same parent argument: I’m more tired than you are.

The new baby sleeps some nights – actually sleeps - from 10pm until 5.30am. When people told me this when my first non-sleeper-child was small, I genuinely used to think people were making this up. I thought they must be giving their baby an extra dose of Calpol, or whisky (as in my Scots and Irish generation)…but it turns out this is not necessarily so! We have a bona fide sleeper. After four years of non-sleepery, we are due a good sleeper. It is not every night (yet) I hasten to add, but it is already almost night-through. I heave a sigh of relief.

With our second child now three months old, and sometimes sleeping through the night, one would think this was a plain sail. And it is. There is nothing that can quite capture the joy of seeing my partner in the midst of it, seeing how brilliantly everyone gets on and enjoys this new burst of family life. I have never been happier.

My partner came to life this week when describing how she dealt with a giant nappy situation whilst on the school run. Frost on the ground, should she change him in the car with door open in the freezing cold or pop him in the sling with socks full of poop? It’s a hard decision for any parent. This is the reality, people. Babies poop and vomit regardless of what is going on in your day. In the end, she plumped for the sling and apologised for the stench.

I must remember to take photos, as I frantically documented the first. I have almost forgotten that I need to do this. My uncle recently told me that as a fourth child, he has only one photo of himself as a baby.

Imagine trying to go to work in this? Wish me luck. I’m skidding from meeting to meeting, from swimming lesson to bake sale, spending much time driving and waiting for lights to change so I can race home to help.

I managed to go out for dinner with an old friend recently, who couldn’t help but point out the baby sick on the shoulder of my cardigan…we’ve all been there. What is so refreshing is that parenting releases you from the need for absolutes. I couldn’t care less. There is so little time to actually give a damn about it. I’m beginning to see these blemishes as badges of honour – a lot like brownie badges on my sleeve. My wife now has the baby-sh**-on-the-way-to-school badge.