The right side of 30?

I was in my new office last week, where I sit on a bank of desks with 3 other women. I thought, maybe (ambitiously) we were all around the same age…until I got to know them a little better and realised I was simply the wrong side of 30 to join in with their banter. 

The “fittest guy in the office” discussion left me cold when I realised the person they were referring to was a teenage looking boy I had actual maternal feelings towards.

I’m simply no longer attracted to slightly scruffy, slender hipped, chest hairless man-boys with directional hair. Bring me that roughty-toughty bloke nudging 40 that’s digging up the road out there and I’d be putty in his big ol’ man-hands. 
The flat, leather hush-puppy style shoes all of them were wearing, and discussing breaking in techniques for are apparently now must-have fashion items. My dad used to wear them in brown, and whilst I coveted Kickers for school, I was forced instead, into these, heinous calf thickening clodhoppers. I detested them with every fibre of my being and, like navy cardigans, duffel coats and other school uniform items from the 80s, I wouldn’t be seen dead in them now.
Leather satchels complete with name tag holder on the front: see above. Had one, coveted a Nike backpack and will never let a satchel darken my doorstep again. 
Friday rolled around and the 3pm Spotify playlist was put on. A “Requests please” chat window popped up on my screen. “Great!” I thought but I decided to hold back to sense the tone before diving in with some Friday afternoon classics of my own. I’d been burnt whilst working at TimeOut London where the music was all by bands I’d never even heard of and my music choices were reserved for times when everyone needed a good belly laugh. Luckily here the music was recognisable and my request went down well, however it sparked a discussion about what it reminded everyone of. For me it was my first year in London as a working girl of 22. For the majority of the office it was the first years of junior school and for one it was “when I was 8”. To quote my TimeOut colleagues “*facepalm*”. 
They all went to get ready for the night ahead in outfits stashed under their desks and came out in a bronzed haze of perfume and eyelashes in metallic shorts-over-tights, culottes and all manner of outfits that I clearly missed the fashion update on. I squeezed my pudgy, pregnant feet into my commuting flats and headed home to my family where my outfit for the evening was pyjama bottoms and comfy slippers and my company was my roughty-toughty husband whose man-hands were deftly managing a BBQ. 
Surely right side of 30 is the side where I wake up on Saturday morning, complete many productive tasks before breakfast time and am ready and out of the door by 9am? But any smugness is ruined for, due to the wonder that is pregnancy, I bet I feel more bloated, nauseated and have a far worse headache than the ones still in bed at noon. *facepalm*

Clothing a pregnant Inbetweener 

Yes you’re past the 12 week mark and you can tell people you’re expecting – but there’s this awkward period around 14-18 weeks when you have what, to you, is a “mini bump” but if you’re like me, you also have a layer of “storage” everywhere else, thus making the “bump” less obvious. Now, this is annoying for 2 reasons. Firstly, you have probably grown out of all your pre pregnancy clothes (if not, get the hell outta here!) but you are not yet big enough for your uber preggers gear. You’re definitely not yet at the stage of “Im so enormous I don’t give a Buxton what I wear as long as it covers me” and you’re possibly still at the grasping at straws “I can probably still wear these bigger jeans in the back of my wardrobe…I’m pulling…I’m pulling…I’m…doing…up…the…button. I’m in! I’M IN! Er…they’re ripping…aaaaand I’m crying. Again.” stage. 

So here’s the dilemma, what do you use to cover your ass for the next month or so until your belly looks like a bonafide baby bump and less “is it bloat? Is it a bad outfit? Do I give up my seat to her or am I risking a punch in the throat?”. 
Well today I went shopping for that very outfit. In my case it also needs to say “thank you for giving me a job for six months you glorious people, I promise I haven’t forgotten everything  I ever knew about how to do it and I definitely promise I haven’t got that sexist “baby brain” thing which makes you act like an uber moron. Oh and sorry I was late, I forgot my laptop and had to go back for it and then I got the wrong train…ha ha”. 
So, with the toddler at a 2 hour settling in session with her babysitter, and my incredibly specific outfit in mind, I ran (really) to the only shop on my high street which stocks maternity clothes and started searching (through the 2 solitary rails hidden in the corner on an entirely different floor to the women’s clothes). 
My choices were “Fashionable Cool Pregnant Woman”: khaki skinny biker jeans with knee ridges, tight belly hugging jumpers with see-through lace panels, patterned parachute pants, shorts (SHORTS!!) and bodycon dresses. 
After a quick flick through that rail, becoming more and more horrified as as I progressed (SHORTS?!) I swiftly headed towards my rail which I entitled “Fine! I’ve Completely Given Up”: black leggings that go up to your chin, huge jumpers, huge t shirts, huge dresses, huge bras, huge tights and huge knickers. 
I put them all in my basket and huffed to the till. The young, fashionable man at the till painstakingly folded each item, getting to the huge bras and huge pants and taking extra care to shake out their full volume and fold them out as one would a duvet cover. 
The whole sorry episode left me so disheartened that I did the only thing left to do. I went home, put on one of the massive outfits (oh the comfort!), ate an entire jar of pickled onions and nursed my indigestion through two episodes of one born every minute. 

Toddler sh*t just got real 

Just over a year ago I was back in my old job, every day my calendar was rammed from 8 til 6:30. I would spend my days running round, fixing issues, managing a large team, juggling politics, it was a full on job…what I’d give for one day back there now – for a goddamn break! 

Now on a normal day, I have maybe one thing to do and the rest is flexible. Today I had four things to do and I swear to GOD it was more stressful than the time all our servers went down and it was (kind of) my fault. 

All because I had a toddler (demon) to take round with me. Today she was so bad that I actually looked up whether there was a full moon. 

First we went to the supermarket where she so badly didn’t want to hold my hand that she lay on the floor in the middle of the aisle (she has never seen another child do this. Is this a trick these beasts are born with?) Then she gets up and throws some bananas on the floor. Then she turns and runs so fast out of the front door that I have to throw the basket down and run full speed after her. 
Next we went to a friend’s for coffee. First she threw the dolls on the floor, then she banged a coaster repeatedly on the polished table. She ate Mr potato head’s eyes for ten minutes and then had a total meltdown because I wouldn’t let her eat the knob of the radiator. We left. 
She napped which I thought might solve the problem. I deftly got food past her flailing arms and turning head into her mouth and we set out again. 
We went for a meeting at the kitchen showroom where she ignored the box of toys and instead tried repeatedly to run out of the automatic doors into the car park. Thwarted, she lay on the floor in the middle of the showroom. I got her onto my knee using cheese and herb puffs which she mashed into my knees and the desk. She spent the remainder of the time belligerently kicking the desk and writhing to get down, like something possessed. I was answering the consultant’s questions as quickly as possible whilst trying to contain my daughter’s thrashing limbs but the woman just kept stopping and gaping at me with undisguised horror. 
Later, registering at the doctors, she did a quick scan of the room, saw the bin marked “clinical waste” and headed straight for it. How? Just HOW did she know that was the most disgusting thing in there? Someone please tell me. Back and forward we went, her running off towards the box of sharps covered in strangers’ blood, me bringing her back to the chair. 
I ended up giving her my phone out of sheer desperation to listen to that crack song from Frozen (I swear to God it contains subliminal messaging to make kids want Frozen merch), I got my phone back to see she’d somehow emailed a You Tube link to a Taylor Swift video to a random guy I worked with for about a week 9 years ago. 
We finally got home, and after intermittently splashing all the water out of the tub and trying to drink/inhale the water and choking dramatically, I got her into bed. 
My husband gets home and I mention that I’ve spoken to the nursery about her start date. 3 days a week, starting in a fortnight.
He says “but you don’t have a contracting job yet” 
I’ll let you guess my response. 

One night in the doldrums, one night of bliss

Angry, shaking and nearly in tears I grabbed my dressing gown and phone and headed downstairs to spend the night on the sofa. I couldn’t bear to stay in the same bed. It was too much, enough was enough. That was the night before last and the person I was escaping from was small, wild haired and very uncute right at that moment. Let me tell you that “Booooob” “Mum-mum” “Boob” followed by pinching, scrabbling and the odd foot in the belly are not in the gentleman’s guide to persuading your fellows to come around to your point of view. Equally, they are not in the mum&baby guide to maintaining an harmonious family life when your parents are working long days and need to sleep.

So there I was, downstairs and unhappy. Kicked out of my own bed by my darling offspring. I spent most of the following day unhappy, dreading going home because I’d be straight back into the no-sleep torture chamber. Then it came to me…I could choose to sleep in a different room from the start. My other half could look after our sleep thief and I could escape.

Queue that evening, I unfurled the sofa bed hopped on in. Aaaaaaahhhhh. It was like I’d gone on a dream holiday. Ok the accommodation was a dive (walls unfinished, no curtains, paint tins on the floor) but to me it was heaven. I didn’t care that the full moon was beaming through so brightly that it woke me up several times during the night, because they were natural wakings. I think if I count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve woken up naturally in the past 15 months I’d have plenty of digits left.

And where am I tonight you ask? Back with my husband and baby because I missed them so much? Don’t be silly. I’m in the other room.

Power suits and quadruple espressos…

…move aside. Ambitious women have a new ally: other women. I don’t mean the ones who snipe behind your back or make you feel bad for having the wrong shoes. I mean the ones who’ve become fairly senior and are now making damn sure that there’s not only a ladder for us lot to climb, but they’re pouring concrete and building a solid staircase.

Take my manager (well she’s sort of my manager, sort of not, I can’t get the hang of our ridiculous management structure) she’s currently spearheading a new programme to address the needs of mums returning to work after maternity leave. She sees that we have a million and one things to cope with, and that it’s not easy and that we need support.

You might think “Ah whatever, everyone’s got something to deal with” or “This is positive discrimination gone too far”…maybe even “This is simple proof that there is no place for women in any decent workforce, oh Hilda dear my shirts need starching, and would it kill you to have my dinner ready at 6:15 rather than 6:25???” To be honest many of my colleagues seem slightly bewildered that anything in my life has changed at all. I think they see it a bit like getting a lodger. Ok your junk room has to turn into a bedroom and you give them a shelf in the fridge, but after that they just do their own thing. Oh how wrong they are.

The fact is that apart from cataclysmic (and hopefully rare) events like plagues, war and famine, or huge serious health problems, raising a baby is the only thing that will change your life this drastically. And like all things of this enormity, no one will understand unless they’ve been there themselves. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true. And given that truth, women are other women’s greatest ally.

Only another mum would understand when you say that going to the toilet when you like and on your own is exciting. Only they would laugh knowingly when you say you’re sooooo excited to be wearing a normal bra. And only they would know just how hard it is turning your mind one second to a technical analysis and the next to making sure you sing Wind The Bobbin Up just right with all the correct actions.

I’m lucky and excited to have a manager who is pushing to get us working mums the support we need. Now it behoves the rest of us to keep up the momentum and pull each other up as we go.

And, I might add, the same is true for mums who have their kids to look after full time.

How to survive work when your baby doesn’t sleep

1. Arrive early. This will give you a chance to come to before everyone else arrives.

2. Have a sturdy breakfast. You need fuel.

3. When having a conversation, technical meeting, chat over coffee, try to make sure your expression is similar to the expressions of other people involved. It’s easy to forget what your face is doing, and you don’t want to be the one smiling when they’re talking about sacking people.

4. Don’t babble. If you find yourself babbling, right yourself by saying a couple of big words. It’ll get you back on track.

5. Other parents are your allies (unless they have those magical babies who slept through from 3 months…in which case avoid at all costs).

6. Get up. Take a walk around. If you need to, carry some paperwork to make you look busy. Exercise will wake you up, if only temporarily.

7. Trust your brain to come up with the goods when it needs to.

8. Treat yourself. If it’s biscuits, listening to some music, or checking your phone now and then, do it. You need to be nice to you because this is hard.

9. Make the most of the good bits, like the freedom to have lunch when you like and to eat it all yourself without being pestered by someone small and squidgy.

10. Don’t worry about how you look. You probably look better than you think you do.

The rules of the nursery

I have always been strangely reassured by the way that human beings form themselves into groups, that those groups have rules and that the rules are, generally, observed. That is why, for example, we get annoyed when someone pushes in front of you when you queue, and why we bother to have laws. We all need to know how we fit in to the system.

What I find surprising is the way that applies to really small situations, and to babies and toddlers. I first became aware of this when I started to drop my daughter off at nursery. Now, the nursery drop is very tense. By and large our children are at nursery because we have to be at work, and so it’s essential to get the drop-off procedure right. It’s a fine art which involves knowing the rules about who arrives when, as this helps us to get to the next place on time. We dash down the road, rushing past Mr Stressed-with-2-kids at 7.56 who falls in behind us. Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” nearly collides with us at 7.58. The Other Hannah and her mother are already on the top step waiting for the door to open. Mrs. “Casual Approach” saunters down the road and gets in everyone’s way as she mucks about with her pram (clearly doesn’t have to catch a train). Muttering and swearing ensures. Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” is starting to go purple. It’s now 7.59 and the tension in the air is palpable. Door opens. Bundle as the children go in through the narrow corridor. I’m holding Hannah, Craig unbuttons coat as I fumble for her shoes with my remaining hand. Mr. “Shit I’m going to miss my train” hands over his child, who was derobed before we got in the door. Bag in box, coat on peg, kisses goodbye, GO GO GO. Until Bruno’s mother arrives and squishing of bodies in the corridor as we push past each other ensues. Same every day – except yesterday when Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” actually passed his son to me to deal with and hand over because he had parked in the middle of the road out of sheer terror of actually missing his train. It’s mild panic every day but also a comfort knowing who is going to turn up when; what order we walk in to the room; whether we should talk to the other parents (only before the door is open, not when we are in the corridor itself as this just wastes train time) etc.

On the return everyone is much more chilled. I usually do the pick up and it’s a case of wander in, chat to the nursery assistants, say hello to the other children, faff about with the coat etc…. and the other parents are the same. It’s cool, the day is coming to an end, we are going to look after our child for an hour or two before bed time and it’s going to be lovely. Work is over for the day, who cares? Let’s just chat and relax.

The babies, however, have their own protocols to observe as follows:
1. Do not interact with anyone but Mummy and/or Daddy until you have been dispatched to the assistant.
2. Run away to find breakfast, no longer caring whether your parent is there.
3. Do not, at any point, touch the gate. The gate belongs to Freddy and Billy. They guard it, you do not. Only the assistants are allowed to touch the gate instead of you. Do not touch the gate, do not approach the gate, do not even look at the gate.
4. Do not interact with a nursery assistant who has already been claimed by another child.
5. Do not drop your food or cease to pay attention to it, even for a second. If you do it will be forfeited to Hannah or Bruno who will consume it as punishment.
6. Get out of the way of all other children when Mummy or Daddy arrives, otherwise you WILL get hurt.
7. Make sure you cry if any adult who isn’t an assistant speaks to you. They need to know that they are not your parent and that you are not interested in them being nice to you.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall and see what other rules they have in place for organising their days. Never forget, they rule the roost. You might like to think you are in charge, but if you ever really start to believe that just remember who is preparing to wake who up in the middle of the night, and who is laughing and giggling at you as you madly do the drop off in the morning…. they are laughing AT you, not WITH you.

These are just some of the nursery rules

Reflections on year one

When I woke up (was woken up) prematurely this morning we went through our usual wake up routine of “I’ll pour the milk, you go and get her”. I took her downstairs and I checked my phone and looked at an app which reminded me that exactly one year ago my husband and I had a huge argument about responsibility and how hard it is looking after a baby. I remember that argument well; I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours for 2 months, my boobs were full and sore, our house was a chaotic mess of baby and boxes (we’d recently moved in) and my daughter wouldn’t stop crying. I can even remember thinking that there was no way that our marriage would last……well I am happy to say that it’s a little over a year since our tiny bundle of joy entered the world and we are still very much together, and very happy. Other things which have surprised me:

1. I have discovered a new kind of tiredness. Bad news- the tiredness never ends; you just learn to cope with it. Actually, you just find a new kind of tiredness.

2. Babies fart. I didn’t realise this (I know I’m stupid) and it came as a big shock when she did her first blow off. I have also regressed and joined my daughter in finding farts funny again.

3. I don’t feel guilty about going to work. I know some mothers do, but I dont. I adore my girl and I wish that I could spend more time with her, but I’ve got used to sending her to nursery and get a huge rush every day when I pick her up. It’s wonderful knowing that she has had a great day of playing and learning with people who are more experienced in child development than me, and I enjoy my dual role of pen pusher and mother again. I even don’t mind that my daughter has a girl crush on one of the nursery nurses – Zaneta that’s you- because I know that Mummy is number 1.

4. Work is better. I work because I have to. When I went back, I went back to the same job. It’s satisfying and rewarding to me, and I make more of an effort than I did before- mainly because I want to, whereas before I felt that it was just sort of expected. However, as I explained to my manager just before my mid year appraisal I don’t really care anymore, which makes my decision making more rational. Or something like that.

5. I am not heartbroken when my baby cries. I find it quite annoying sometimes. It’s heart breaking when she is hurt or in pain, and I want to make it all better for her, but when it’s a case of “I want the remote control” or something like that, it’s irritating.

6. I am superwoman. I don’t think that my husband realised this when he married me, and I certainly didn’t reveal my powers to him until I gave birth. I have the power to reproduce. The power to comfort a screaming baby. The power to put a baby to sleep. The power to maintain a clean(ish) house, a full time job, a full-up husband, and a baby that is still alive after 13 months of being assigned to us.

7. How amazing she is. I thought that would die down a bit, but every time I look at her she has a new expression, or does something that I didn’t know she could do, or when she responds to something I didn’t think she’d understand, I get a huge rush of love and just want to pick her up and cuddle and kiss her. This happens practically on a second by second basis.

I love my new life. It’s totally weird and different, and there is plenty I would change, but I love it. Thank you my little miracle baby.

Having it all: Day 2

I’m coming to realise that being a mum requires you to constantly balance what you feel guilty about. Last week I felt guilty that I’d left James with my mum while I went to work. What if she doesn’t really want to take care of him? What if James thinks I don’t love him any more? What if I haven’t kept the house clean enough and they both hate it? So many what-ifs. As it turned out they had a lovely day trundling off to my mum’s and back and James was so pleased to see me when I can home that I melted in the doorway and cried all over him.

So where are we this week? Well it’s my second KIT day and I am currently feeling guilty that I’m pleased to be going in to work. I don’t care that the house is messy, I’m not all that worried about how my mum’s feeling and James was a happy little chap this morning so that’s all good. Why so blasé? A teething coldy baby will do that to you. After 2 hours spent getting him to go to sleep last night I was definitely looking forward to work this morning (bleary though I am).

So there it is. I’m happy to be getting away from the responsibility of managing his little self. Mid morning today I will be sat at a desk or getting a coffee or chatting about giant fixed structures in the North Sea. I won’t be rocking him in the pram, singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and willing him to stop poking his fingers in his ears. I won’t spend the subsequent hour praying that no one rings the doorbell, telephones or pushes anything through the letterbox. I will be free!

Yes I feel guilty, but I’m pretty sure that every mum feels guilty about something all of the time. It’s all a balancing act.

Having it all: Day 1

I’m on my way to work for the first time without my baby and wearing proper work clothes. How does it feel? Gut wrenching. I’ve had butterflies all morning, odd dreams last night and I have a sort of nervous shake going on. I think I set a new PB for my walk to the station because the nervous energy meant my feet hardly touched the floor.

Leaving my baby is like escaping the earth’s gravity. I spent a long time about to leave the house but not actually going. I had to work up the energy to do it and then when I finally stepped out I went as fast as possible otherwise I’d have been pulled back in for one more cuddle.

But phew, now I’m on the train and one step closer to being that mum who somehow manages to juggle a career and babies and does both amazingly (ha!) I must remember that everything about being a mum is hard work (which is why it’s so rewarding) and every choice is difficult. Staying at home to look after your babies is just as emotionally draining and intense as leaving them with someone else and going to work. And in taking this first step today I’m not alone. All us mums know this feeling. The nervous shake. The inability to maintain a train of thought. The pounding in your chest because your heart is bigger than ever since meeting and nurturing your baby. It’s terrifying, nauseating and knee-wobbling.

But at the same time, boy, am I proud. Proud of him and proud of me. I want to be a strong successful mother. I want to know more and more about the world so that I can teach James everything and going to work is part of that. When the time comes I’ll be able to tell him everything he needs to know about the tensile strength of steel or the buckling modes of I beams. I bet he’s looking forward to that!