Reporting back to work: Life after maternity leave

Aside from teaching, I can think of few jobs where everyone takes their holiday at the same time. On the last day of term schools empty themselves of pupils and teachers and (although the latter will undoubtedly devote some time to schoolwork over the holidays) when the new term rolls around, nothing will have happened at school while we were all away.

 As someone who hates missing things, this works well for me, but it made the idea of going on maternity leave a very scary prospect. I would be at home, while everyone else carried on planning and teaching and marking. There would be meetings missed, policies changed, new staff becoming familiar and colleagues moving on. More unsettling still, my A Level students would turn into university students while I was off and the new intake would have no idea who I was.

 Of course, by the time I reached my maternity leave I was tired and slow oh-so-ready to do nothing more in a day than a little gentle antenatal yoga or meet up with my antenatal class for lunch. And once Quibble had arrived, there was very little space left in my mind to worry about the things I might be missing at work.

 With both Quibble and Squeak, I returned from my maternity leave in the middle of the school year. I was excited to get back, ready to use my brain again and looking forward to interacting with children whose toilet habits were not my responsibility. Having not taught them for a year, I found that some lessons seemed very out of date, so I planned something new. Old worksheets bored me and so I revamped them. The dull Rites of Passage topic that I’d always hated was given a complete overhaul into an exciting term-long creative group project. All those improvements made the lessons more interesting and the pupils were noticeably more engaged.

 I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner, but then I looked around at my colleagues. After a long hard winter term getting all their classes started, they had endured a weeks of report-writing and parents’ evenings, capped off with January exams. They had gone into a sort of survival mode, doing what they knew would work, but without the time or energy to do yet more work.

 And every other year, that had been me, too. But twice now, I have been able to attack the second half of the school year with the same energy as we give to the first half and my students have felt the benefit. A year out gave me the perspective and freshness to improve my teaching. It is almost worth having another baby in a few years to inject more excitement… No not quite. But I really hope one of my colleagues will be going on maternity leave soon.

I wish it could be Christmas everyday

It’s nearly time. Christmas is so close I can almost smell the turkey.

I am one of those slightly annoying people who start wishing people ‘Merry Christmas’ on the 1st December and break into seasonal songs at the slightest provocation. I decorate my house near the beginning of the month so I can have weeks of joy from the shiny, sparkly things. I change my route home to make sure I drive past the house with flashing coloured lights around the windows and illuminated reindeer on the roof. I wear novelty earrings and Santa hats and I’m not going to apologise for it.

I’m not naïve, I know it can be a hard time for some people. If you can’t spend the day with the people you love or if you can’t buy them the presents you’d like. There are people in this country sleeping rough over Christmas, there are children going without food and there are wars going on. But because it’s Christmas and I want the world to love it too, I try to help out where I can. I set myself a the target of spending at least as much on charity donations as I do on wrapping paper. I make sure the cards I send out are charity cards and I try to be generous everytime I see a collection box. I know it won’t solve the world’s problems, but it has to be a start.

I love finding a little present to make someone smile or opening a card from someone I haven’t heard from in a while or having an excuse to go out and celebrate with friends, but they aren’t the best bits of Christmas. It’s unpacking the decorations and remembering the best bits of all your Christmases. It’s sharing smiles and trying to spread a little joy at this time of year. It’s taking a moment to enjoy this moment.

 Merry Christmas everyone.


Ten Reasons why I loved Mumsnet Blogfest (and have to go back next year)

  1. It was a whole day of listening to interesting, articulate and intelligent women with only a few token men (most of whom were also quite good, I should say).
  2. I laughed. A lot. Particularly when Jo Brand came on. (And when I learned the phrase ‘mimsiwoowoo’).
  3. For nine hours, my having kids was just assumed and not seen as a disadvantage I had to overcome.
  4. People wanted me. Well, mainly advertisers. It was a new experience – as a teacher you have nothing to give, so nobody tries.
  5. I got to interact with friendly strangers as we tweeted each other on the big screen while the debates went on.
  6. I discovered some new role models; Stella Creasy, Viv Groskop, Sonya Cisco, Prof Tanya Bryon, Laura Bates, Sarah Crown, Helen Lewis, A L Kennedy and Jo Brand. (If I’m honest, some of these may have developed into girl-crushes).
  7. I got to bump badges with other bloggers (no really, we were wearing fancy badges that share contact details when tapped together).
  8. I was reminded how special words are. As A L Kennedy said, ‘I love shoes, but nobody burns f*cking shoes’.
  9. I learnt a new word – ‘aphorism: a truth written or spoken in a concise and memorable form’.
  10. The champagne and canapés.

5 things I’ve learnt about how to eat from feeding children

20130902-135554.jpgFive Things I have learnt about how to eat from watching Squeak:

1. Finger foods make excellent projectiles – Cheerios are ideal for this and can be thrown the full length of our kitchen-diner, although carrot sticks make a pleasing ‘thwuck’ when they hit the ground and bananas have the added bonus of sliding across the laminate.
2. Forks and spoons just slow you down – scrambled eggs, baked beans and soggy shreddies are all quicker and tastier when scooped up with your hand – preferably with both hands.
3. A messy eater is a happy eater – food around the face and hands may suggest that a baby has eaten, but definitely proves that they have had fun playing (this may be related to the above points…).
4. Baby can survive on breadsticks alone – versatile for snacks and meals, handy to take out, can be handed back to a child in a car seat while driving and can be clutched two in each hand for at least an hour, should the future supply be doubtful.
5. The best form of bribery is snacks – total silence will cost a small pot of chocolate ice cream and happy child can be bought with a pot of raisins.

Five Things I have learnt about how to eat from watching Quibble:

1. It will always taste better from someone else’s plate – ideally chocolate from Mummy’s plate or anything from Daddy’s plate as these get the best reactions.100_4727
2. You can never have too much pasta – cheesy pasta, pasta with cheese, tomato pasta, tomato pasta with cheese, sausage and pasta…
3. Previous eating habits are no indicator of future eating habits – In less than four years the following have all gone from firm favourites to threaten-me-with-them-and-I’ll-cry: hummus, peas, broccoli, sliced tomatoes, rice, risotto, cake and any kind of soup.
4. Rejected food must not be allowed to remain on the plate – that lone pea may well contaminate the rest of the meal and should at the very least be thrown onto the table.
5. The best form of bribery is snacks – silence will cost a bag of fruity flakes, a happy child can be bought with slices of apple with raisins and chocolate drops and for a chocolate Rice Krispie cake Daddy will never find out what really happened to his car magazine…

5 things I have learnt about being a working parent

When I first went back to work after having Quibble, I only taught two days a week and I hated being there so little. At the start of the new school year I went back to being full time, eventually dropping back to four days and after Squeak was born. I am much happier, which makes me a better parent, but juggling home and work is not easy. Here’s how I try and stay on top of it:

1. Preparation – This is the thing that makes the biggest difference, but is also hardest to keep on top of. In practical terms, Quibble and Squeak’s clothes for the morning are chosen before bedtime, breakfast things are put out ready and nursery bags are checked in the evening. We have a store of children’s birthday cards and suitable presents, to avoid panics the morning of a birthday party, and I use my phone to remind me in advance of themed nursery events requiring costumes, reply slips or payments. And I choose three busy bags to put out for Quibble each day to combat that moment when I’m elbow-deep in cooking and he whines ‘I’m bored of my toys, Mummy’.

2. Share the load – As we both work, Stanchion and I divide up the household responsibilities between us. Some we alternate (early morning get-ups), some we take sole responsibility for (washing or cooking), some we know we just both need to do. Quibble is getting to an age where he can help by laying the table or tidying up toys, for example. Even Squeak will play a game of putting things in a toy bin (although we have to be quick to move her before she empties it again). And if grandparents offer to help, we take it (with lots of ‘thank you’s!).

3. Structure free time – It is tempting to either try to get jobs done or just relax at the weekend, but not only is that not fair on Quibble and Squeak, it means I miss out on playtime. By making sure that at least one of us does some sort of fun outing with the kids (even just walking to the swings), they get a focus to the day and we get to have fun together. During Squeak’s naptime, we try to have a more relaxing time for us and Quibble – watching a TV programme, playing a quiet game or reading books – and having had some quality time, he’s often happy to play on his own for a while so we can get things done. And if either of us need to go and run an errand, we take a child with us – chatting in the car or on the walk gives them that precious one-to-one time.

4. Use cheats and shortcuts – I often read the blogs of stay-at-home mums where they have spent time creating fantastic busy bags or craft activities for their children that I wish I had time for. Luckily, there are hundreds of cheats and shortcuts that can be used, so Quibble’s busy bags contain things jigsaw puzzles, magnet games or stickers. They still entertain him, but take very little time to put together. I buy Mister Maker craft sets when I see them on offer, I steal (‘borrow’) the good ideas that I see my friends doing on Facebook, I shop online to avoid travelling to supermarkets and we also have a cleaner: anything to give us more family time.

5. Cut yourself some slack – This might make it sound like things always run smoothly in the Commonsense house, when of course they don’t. Plans get derailed, things get forgotten, chores stack up. It isn’t possible to do everything all the time. And when time is short, I don’t want to waste it on guilt or worry. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara; ‘After all… tomorrow is another day’.