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.