It’s too complicated to explain

I find that when dealing with anyone other than my closest friends, lying is a useful way to avoid complicated explanations. This something I feel I’ve done a lot more since I had children, because when people ask ‘How are the kids?’, they want to hear a cute story about adorable children rather than listen to me talk about lack of sleep or fussy eaters. The truth is, of course, that parenting involves a lot of small victories, that are difficult to understand without context (‘I got six hours sleep last night!’) and often impossible to understand if you don’t have children (‘I got him to kiss the cucumber!’), so a simple, cheerful reply is the easiest.

This week, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I feel about going back to work now my maternity leave is about to finish. The answer I give is that I am very excited to be able to have a whole conversation/be away from nappy changes/use my brain (delete as appropriate). It is a flippant response, mainly designed to stop people I barely know from putting their head on the side and giving me sympathy.

The real answer is a lot more complex. I am genuinely looking forward to going back to work, but I am taking on four days paid work without really getting rid of all the things I used to do in those four days. Out goes those mornings where we have a lazy breakfast and don’t get dressed until Squeak’s morning nap and in comes trying to get both parents showered and all four of us dressed and breakfasted (without requiring a change of clothes) and into cars with nursery bags, laptops and lunchboxes as needed. Out goes Quibble watching CBeebies while I put on some washing or cook a big stew and in comes desperately trying to squeeze in all the chores after the kids have gone to bed. Out goes being able steal a quick nap after a terrible night and in comes facing a class of thirty teenagers on just four hours sleep.

Going back to work this time is going to be harder than it was last time. It’s not really so difficult to hand my baby over to the care of a lovely nursery worker who is good at playing with and entertaining babies. It helps that Squeak, who doesn’t ordinarily like people, is completely smitten with her. On the other hand, leaving Quibble standing uncertainly on the edge of a group of three-year olds who haven’t noticed him yet, after he has spent the journey to nursery singing his own special mash-up of Incy Wincy Spider and Baa Baa Black Sheep and telling me that ‘Mummy days are best’, I find much more difficult. I’ve been spoilt by having extra days with him, where we have random conversations and silly games and I look at him helping me to unload the dishwasher and think where did this grown up little boy come from? And hardest of all, I’ll never have those days with Squeak when she is his age, because I won’t have another maternity leave.

It was these thoughts which helped me to realise I wanted to drop from five to four days a week at work. Which made me think that in a year or two, I could try to work just mornings so I can be there to pick them up from school. Which made me think ‘Sod work, my kids are everything’.

Unfortunately, within five minutes of getting in to work last week I had become giddy with excitement. I love my job. I love getting my students interested in subjects they thought were boring, seeing them finding answers and asking questions. I love working with colleagues who are just as enthusiastic as me, but all wonderfully idiosyncratic. And the truth is that I missed it; the teaching, the interaction, even the fights over who used all the paper in the photocopier.

Yes, my kids are everything, but my job is part of who I am. How do I feel about going back to work? Honestly, I don’t really know.

Drinking Humble Champagne

A Mum Friend turned forty at the weekend.

There was much discussion on Ways to Turn Forty, but in the end she invited us all to a Champagne Breakfast in a tiny, local restaurant. I knew I should be very excited – it sounds such a decadent treat – but instead I found myself thinking of it as a hassle. I have a bad habit of viewing things like this as More Difficult Because I Have Children, meaning that I just focus on how much would need sorting or organising and end up asking ‘is it really worth it?’. In this case my mental list of difficulties would probably be summed up like this:

Number 1: I’ve just booked swimming lessons for Quibble on Saturday mornings, which we need to cancel if we can’t find a babysitter for Squeak. Babysitter will really have to be family because Squeak is a little High Maintenance. Family do not live very close, so will have to be invited to stay for the day.

Number 2: I’ll still have to have breakfast anyway, because Squeak will be up at six. And I’ll still have to get lunch for everyone when I get back, even though I’ve just eaten.

Number 3: I have no nice clothes to wear because in the past year I have been either pregnant or knee deep in children (I doubted the dress code would be slightly stained jeans and a crumpled old t-shirt). What do you even wear for a champagne breakfast anyway?

In the end I could also have added that getting two children up and breakfasted in the morning does not leave much time for getting ready and so I was late. It also turned out to be raining and I forgot my umbrella. When it came to it I had to take a deep breath and force my grumpy self out of the door.

Of course, you know what happened next. The food was lovely, nobody cared what I wore, I got to spend time relaxing in great company. Those few hours restored me a little and reminded me what it felt like to be calm and happy.

But more than all of that, I had a moment that forced me to see how self-pitying my grumpiness really was: one of my Mum friends turned up a little late apologising for her clothes as her toddler had had a nasty fall the day before and spent the night in hospital. He was fine now, just awaiting discharge, but she’d come straight here and not had a chance to change.

See, went that little voice in my head, it really wasn’t too difficult for you to get here, was it?

Happy childhood memories being made

Hold on, here it comes…

So I suppose the first post should explain to you who I am and what I’m going to blog about.

It’s not going to.

Partly, because although I have a job, a husband and kids, I like to think I’m more than just that. Partly, because I’m not especially qualified to have a blog – my life is probably a lot like a lot of other people’s lives. But mostly, because I’m not sure exactly what my posts are going to be about.

Every single day has a handful of moments in which something both insignificant and remarkable happens. Moments that make me smile, that I need to hold on to because in five minutes time I could be trying to persuade my son to go to the toilet or my daughter to go down for a nap, either of which is likely to include several bouts of crying (from any or all of us). Moments that could pass me by as I rush to get to work and try to do a good job there before rushing home again to try to do a good job here too. Moments I won’t get again.

This, then, is my way of holding on to those moments. More than that, this is how I’m going to celebrate and share them. And in doing so, I hope I will remember that this is the life I chose. The life I’m living. Just as long as I take a moment to notice it.