Going back to work….

I thought I’d leap in and write a blog post about going back to work and putting my daughter in nursery following the great posts of my gorilla mums friends.  It’s so hard knowing what to do and each solution has to be the right one for you and your family.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted and that’s precisely because I just haven’t had any spare time and when I do have a brief moment of opportunity I try to use it sleeping!

For me and my husband there really was no option.  I had to go back to work and I had to go back full time – we both did.  For us, when I became pregnant, the most sensible thing to do was to sell our cute flat and buy somewhere that could happily accommodate a baby, so we moved and bought a house.  That increases the mortgage, the outgoings, paying for the baby etc….  Anyway enough of the justification.

We were incredibly lucky to have found a nursery that we were happy with when I was just 5 months pregnant because (a) the place for her didn’t become available for over a year later and (b) I knew it was an excellent place and just the kind of care I wanted for her because my nephews had gone there before they moved to Singapore. 

She’s there 4 days a week; I look after once per fortnight on  the remaining day (I work full time but work compressed hours) and my parents or my husband looks after her once per fortnight.  It’s exhausting but it’s the best solution for us and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best things we’ve done for her.

I had a melt down about a month before my maternity leave ended and ranted to my friends about how unfair it was that my baby wasn’t ready to be separated from me and that I was an awful mother, but in fact I think the reverse is true.  It’s me who wasn’t ready to be separated and actually I think I’m turning out to be a pretty reasonable mummy – and our daughter is turning out to be a happy, feisty and well developed little girl.

The days are most certainly long – she’s waking up at 5.30am and since I mentally don’t switch off properly until about 10.30pm that usually adds up to a very tired woman pretending she doesn’t have bags under her eyes and trying to pull off the impression of a diligent and capable senior policy manager.  I am without fail on the 7.38 train every day, have 20 minutes for lunch, and around 4 policy/personnel meetings per day. Yet my 8.25am – 4.30pm working day (with top ups in the evening) is not the longest part. The longest part of my day is undoubtedly the walk from the station to the nursery – it takes 15 minutes but as I turn the corner to the road where it’s located I break into something of a frantic walk (I must look like a mad chicken on speed and dressed in a suit) and reach my hand out to knock on the door long before it is able to make contact with it.  I’m not kidding – I’ve tripped a couple of times.  And there I am, excited and giddy as a schoolgirl and with arms outstretched, at 5.40pm  to cuddle my girl.  The walk home is fun – she’s excited to see me too and we have a play at home for about 30 minutes before she’s ridiculously tired and it’s bed and bath time. We don’t see her much during the week but those 30 minutes are magical and those bedtime cuddles are the best in the world.

Weekends are precious.  It’s not just us who love her and want to see her, and we have the usual household stuff to do and people we want to see too, so packing everything us and having family time is difficult – there’s no two ways about it.  And I miss seeing my friends and their babies too, and having a tidy and ordered house, and spare cash to spend on this and that.

I tell you what though, I wouldn’t change it.  Yes, of course I would love to see more of my beautiful daughter and yes, I could definitely do without all of the stressed that I’ve just described above. The Fridays I’ve had off with her are brilliant.  But to be honest I enjoy work and, for me, I want to work and see that as part of being a positive female role model for my daughter (nb I know there are lots of positive female role models).  I’m mentally stimulated, I have friends at work that I can whinge to, and I believe I’m more rounded and fulfilled for being there.  But – crucially – the most important benefits are my daughter’s.  She absolutely loves nursery – she’s very very happy there.  Yes she is excited to see me when I pick her up, but I’ve also seen how happy she is when she thinks I’m not there too.  She spends her time there being cuddled, playing, copying the older children and having regular sleep and healthy food.  She’s learned to stand, crawl and cruise far more quickly than we expected her to; she’s communicating more confidently; and she’s learning far more social skills than she would have done if I had been caring for her full time.  She’s not as dependant on me or my husband and is generally much more tolerant of new people, she sleeps without a fuss (usually) and eats like a trooper.  She goes for regular walks, feeds ducks, learns about flowers and trees… the list goes on.  I know I did some of this with her before when it was just us, but rather than seeing nursery as a childcare solution I now see it as an investment.

My heart breaks every time I leave her.  I spend all day at work wanting to see her and missing her.  I think about her all the time and, frankly, just don’t care very much about things at work that used to stress me out.  . As I type this she is being cuddled to sleep by her daddy and it’s images like that which come to mind and almost make me cry when some idiot is being annoying about a deadline at work. Every day, the best part of my day is seeing her. I adore my girl and the best part of my day is seeing her.  I applaud those women who stay at home to look after their little ones.  Their reasons are as valid as mine and if being a mother has taught me anything it’s that one size does not fit all – mothers and their babies are all different.  But for us, this is the best way.

Unexpected things you learn

When my baby arrived I expected a steep learning curve. Stuff like how to hold a newborn, when you should change a nappy, how you should change a nappy, what temperature a bath should be, how to wind them, what to dress them in, etc. But along the way I have found myself learning things that I’d never have expected. Stuff that they don’t put in baby books. For example:

Not Coughing
You know the feeling. You’re lying in bed desperate to cough with your little one sound asleep on the other side of the room. It took an hour to get them to sleep and you’ll be damned if you’re going to let a little thing like some dislodged phlegm wake them up. So you lay there doing a silent gurgle and somehow manage to make the cough go away. What a skill.

One-Handed Coffee
I didn’t realise until James was about 3 months old that you can put a baby down just about anywhere (given suitable safety checks of course…”oh I’d better move that carving knife” for example). Add in James’ fondness for being up on your shoulder and what do you get? That’s right, a one-handed mummy. I am still impressed at how many things I can do with only one hand, particularly making coffee. I don’t think I’d be here now if I hadn’t mastered that.

Banana Poo
I thought that nappy changing would be a pretty grim affair, but it turns out that baby poo is quite fascinating. Especially when you start weaning them onto solid food. Every time you introduce a new food there’s the “Will he like it?” “How much will he eat?” “Will I have to offer it 30 times before he’ll eat some?” but also (and embarrassingly) “What will it look like at the other end?”  Banana poo is a classic. I had no idea that the humble banana would produce such interesting poo! (Oh what has become of me…)

Elbow Pram Driving
Imagine the scene, baby has been asleep in the pram for 10 minutes, it’s hot, they’ve had hardly any naps today, and the slightest noise is unsettling them. You have to keep walking otherwise they’ll wake up (and stay above 50mph anyone??) but you also need to reattach the sun shade. What do you do? Why, drive the pram with your elbows of course! This transferable skill can be used for a whole host of tasks, like drinking some water, checking your phone, slumping over the pram while you walk on a particularly sleep deprived occasion. Passers-by might roll their eyes or tut (after all Mary Poppins never pushed a pram with her elbows) but it’s so useful, I think I know who’s winning.

Award Winning Multi-Tasking
I’ve always been good at doing several things at once, but when you have a baby you take it to a whole new level. Take lunch time for example. I regularly find myself preparing James’ meal (gloop of the day), making a sandwich for me, cooking some more veggies for another meal, pureeing said veggies, washing up, emptying the dishwasher, writing a shopping list and making coffee all at once. Add in the sleep deprivation and I have to say I’m quite impressed that I’ve learnt to do so much simultaneously.