I wrote this in the very early days of becoming a working parent. I keep coming back to it, hoping more would have changed since those early, confused morning commutes.
I returned to work 3 weeks ago. Or, as my sanity as a newly part time worker demands it, I have just finished my 8th working day in the office.
Being back in the office is bloody brilliant. I stay clean for an entire day. Unless I actively seek out another new mum, I can avoid speaking about naps, sleep patterns or which food my little boy is unexpectedly refusing to eat this week. Nobody stands in the corner of the room shrieking at me because he wants the remote control/laptop/drawer of knives that I’m unfairly withholding. My brain is slowly starting to work again. I exist in my own right: half of my new team do not yet even know the name of my little boy, nevermind how his sleep patterns have developed over his first year.
Being back in the office is bloody hard. My little boy howls when I leave him. It’s for less and less time each day, but that cry echoes as a baseline for the music I luxuriously and obsessively play in my headphones on my commute. I cannot seem to get anywhere in a week that’s shorter, in a day that has to finish at 4. I am insecure: I feel as though there is a flashing light above my head saying “I am no longer competent. I am not a worker who happens to have a child; I am a mother who deludedly believes she can also be something else.” I feel as though everybody is waiting for that flashing sign to collapse on my head.
Being back in the office is bloody lovely. Even on a slow day, I am better at this job than I was at being a full time mother. My husband disagrees with me. My parents tell me I’m doing fine. But I hear my not-yet-speaking son tell me that I’m just not good enough at this. My energy level does not stay high enough. I can’t sing lullabies in tune. I will not lovingly cook an organic meal if there is a 50:50 chance it will be thrown at a wall. I am inconsistent in my discipline. If I get my job wrong, nobody cries. I am not solely responsible for the continuing existence of anybody in the building.
Being back at work is f-ing tough. I flick continuously through photos of my little boy and ache to pick him up. Nobody smells as good as him. I cannot squeeze anybody’s chubby thighs in just the right spot so they giggle in delight. I am not the centre of anybody’s world. I feel guilt, all encompassing guilt at leaving him. It weighs heavier than the “did you know she’s useless?” sign. I have no idea whether it is ok to leave a one year old in nursery. I can never know what the long term impacts will be on my son: he will turn out how he turns out. I do know that it isn’t ok for me to be a mum who doesn’t work. Staying at home made me bloody miserable. I feel guilty for that misery: but the guilt I feel about making myself happier comes from my mum. My sisters. The daily fucking mail and its hatred of women. Every single mother who says they have never been happier than since they chose to leave the workforce and look after their child. I know they aren’t judging my decision any more than I’m judging theirs, but I’d like my own internal judgement to leave me be.
Growing up is full of transitions. From child to adolescent, to teen to young adult. From student to worker to student to scrounger to worker again. Transition implies gradual shift and learning, some things changing and others remaining the same. But the day my little man arrived I became, from one second to the next, a completely new person in a completely new life. I spent a year learning that new life, and now I’ve uprooted again. But I already have glimpses of this being ok. I pick up a smiling chubby boy from his happy key worker. I tell him about my day and he giggles when I’m not fast enough to catch his yoghurt. I say the right thing in a meeting and remember what self esteem is. This new life is the life to learn how to inhabit.