I wasn’t pushed as a child. Encouraged, supported, but never pushed. So, in that supportive environment I got myself a decent set of qualifications and along the way picked up a fair bit of ambition. I wanted to be good at what I did, and I wanted to be more. I think there are a few ex-students who would say I was good at what I did, and I loved teaching. Then I got into management, and the plan was fairly clear; I was groomed to be the next Director, with a longer term view of Assistant or Vice Principal, and maybe one day Principal. Then things changed.
The first change came in a little pink bundle weighing 7lb 7oz. The second change came much later in a far less attractive form, and changed the plans and directions of lot of people. But they don’t deserve space in my blog, and my legal training reins me in from saying any more!
So, the pink bundle. She took my plans and ambition, slobbered on it and gave it back to me in a different form completely, and I’m not sure it’s ever dried out.
Maternity leave was the first time I’d ever been off work without being either on holiday or off sick. I only took six months; financial circumstances forced me back far more quickly than I would have chosen. But what a different world. Out went the suits, in came the flat shoes. I never ever spent the day in my pyjamas, and nor did Daughter, but the challenge of a new baby was different to one I’d ever faced before. Arrogant, attitude poor teenagers – check. Irate colleagues – check. Unhelpful parents (theirs, not mine) – check. Deadlines – check. And being a control freak, I’d planned on Routine with a capital R. But what I really did was held this gorgeous bundle for most of the day, not because she needed it but because why wouldn’t I?! We’d go for walks with herculean effort (very difficult getting a big pram out of a tiny terraced house!) and I’d celebrate with a cake. No cottage industry for me, although I did usually manage to keep the ironing pile down.
Eventually I had to go back to work. Yes, I cried. I went to see her at lunchtime on the first day and cried more. What a bad mummy I was. I’d always known I’d have to go back to work, having married a wonderful man with an ordinary job and not the celebrity wage packet one really needs to stay at home these days, but I hadn’t realised I absolutely wouldn’t want to. I loved my job. I’d worked hard to get where I was, and I was paving the way for more. But it was no competition for this little bundle of joy. And so without a word of warning, my ambition lost its elbows and adopted a que cera attitude. I still worked hard, I still worked late, but none of it was as appealing any more.
As any working parent will tell you, it all gets done. The parenting, the work, the house. Maybe not as well as you’d like it, but it gets done. If anything has to give, it will be something of yours – getting your roots done, going out after dark, watching TV – whatever your own thing is. But I’ve discovered what life is like on the other side. I have experience of being a parent who doesn’t work outside the home. I refuse to call it being a full time mother – I am a full time mother regardless of what I do or where I am. If you can find a thought in my head that comes before Daughter, I’ll give you a tenner. A ‘friend’ told my recently returned to work after maternity leave sister that she wasn’t going back to work as she wanted to be a ‘proper mum’. I don’t think I’ve spoken to that person since. Being a working mother and a proper mother are not mutually exclusive.
Anyway, my spell of not working. Last year, following a miscarriage, I had about 8 weeks off work. Clearly not happy times, but regardless of that, I experienced life on the other side. Daughter had just started school and so I had the absolute joy of taking and picking her up. Taking her wasn’t always fun, she wasn’t so keen and it was a bit of a trauma. But picking her up! Joyous. We did fun stuff that the working day doesn’t allow. We went to places, we did craft. We baked. We cozied up and watched films. And despite the reason I was off, that time with her was precious. I also discovered that the supermarket is pretty empty at 9am, straight from the school run. I saw the bottom of the ironing basket, and if there was more than a couple of things in the washing basket, I’d let things slide. The windows got cleaned. Cupboards got sorted. I was busy, busy, busy. I had to be, otherwise I was a gibbering wreck, but between 9am and 3pm I became a super wife, mother, home maker. I had the luxury of being paid from work, so no money worries attached to my time off (I think I had enough to worry about), and I’m sure that if that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t have such a rosy view. But eventually I thought I should go back to work and it was back on the treadmill of working parenting again. And this time it wasn’t like going back after maternity leave, where I was wracked with guilt at deserting my tiny human (with her devoted grandfather, who I suspect did a far better job than I would have done!). This time I’d seen how much easier day-to-day life could be if you have all day to do it.
Fast-forward six months, and I found myself off again, this time waiting to start a new job, having left my job of over thirteen years , apparently voluntarily. Those who suggest many long-serving employees were squeezed out by a new regime of face-fitting would surely be wrong. Again, not the happiest of circumstances, but certainly better than my previous time off. The supermarkets were still empty at 9am, and this time it was summer and so I was able to indulge my obsession with hanging the washing out (sunny day at 18 – hooray, let’s go to the pub. Sunny day at 28 – hooray, let’s got to the pub. Sunny day at 38 – hooray, let’s get the washing out!).
And so to my reverse ambition. I’ve climbed the career ladder, and suffered a couple of injuries where someone tried to step on my fingers. I’ve contributed handsomely to Mr Osborne’s coffers. Now, I’d like to invest a bit of time in me and my family. I can’t, because I don’t think the mortgage company would be keen, but I’d like to. Am I a disgrace to feminism? Is it a waste of my education? Were the sacrifices my wonderful parents made for nothing? The job I’ve got now is ok, there’s potential, but I still get a pang at 3.15pm when I know someone else is picking up Daughter from school, and by the time I get home she will have deleted the detail of the day. I don’t know. I do know that I’m not greedy about fantasy lottery wins now – I think just enough to cover my current earnings would do me, as long as I could wait for that smiley face to come out from school.
Will I ever get there? Probably not. Help me out by sharing my blog and maybe one day someone will pay me to sit at home and write my thoughts for the day! Until then, I’ll keep cleaning the bathroom at 10pm and hoping that Daughter remembers to tell me something she’s done that day. And I’ll try not to be too upset about the prize giving I’m missing on Thursday…