Winter

tower-2101355_1920A woman coughs next to me. My nose is running. Lots of hats, no snow boots, just sensible shiny black shoes and commuting flats.

I didn’t see the little man yesterday. The big man took him out on the trains for the afternoon. He was laughing in the photographs. He was calling for daddy when I left the house this morning. He used to call for me.

I didn’t see the sun yesterday. I hear it was ineffective. I hear it was pretty.
I didn’t laugh yesterday. A customer story reduced me to tears of frustration. My team barely speaks. We’re discussing a Christmas meal in January. Nobody has the energy to organise it sooner.

I am dropping a day of work in January. I can fail to do a good job in 3 days just as successfully as I can fail to do it in 4. I can’t wait to have an extra day with the little man. I can’t wait for my career to stop stagnating and start the always inevitable steady decline instead. I hope the decline is quiet. I hope it’s calm. I’m letting the side down. I have been let down.

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Juggling

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Last Thursday morning my boss asked how I was. I was exhausted. I’d been up until 3am with a vomiting toddler. The big man had put that toddler into nursery so I could start work early and leave early when the inevitable call came. Putting the little man into nursery was utterly wrong. But I have no cover at work. We can’t afford the big man to have another day off. We have no cover at home. So we dosed him up and sent him off. I was weighed down with exhaustion and overwhelming guilt.

I didn’t say this. I made light of it, but did say that I wasn’t ok. That I’d put a sick child into childcare. That I was hoping to get a few hours work in before having to pick him up.

My boss is a nice man. He has young children that he wants to see more of. He means well. But his work ethics are fucking ridiculous. And damaging: his response, as he went off to an off site leadership day was to ask what my plan for cover was if I had to leave early.

Of course that should have been part of the conversation. I’m committed and professional. But that was the only thing he said. He didn’t thank me for breaking nursery rules. He didn’t ask how I was. He asked me for a plan that he knew I didn’t have. He knew that because his team is chronically under resourced and drowning, and the only solution he can see is to work us harder.

I hadn’t realised how relentlessly difficult working part time with caring responsibilities is. I work for a progressive organisation. My colleagues have weird and wonderful work patterns. We have plenty of role models of working parents doing the school run and passionately talking about work life balance.

But it only takes one crappy manager, one period where you step up to handle an emergency, and never manage to step back down, to undermine all that. I left early that day. But I took the work with me. I logged on in the evening. I worried all weekend.

I’m furious that I’m feeling like this. I’m furious that I’m being told that I should apply for promotion; but there are no jobs that can be worked part time. I’m overworked and I’m angry. The language here matters again. I’m committed to my job; but there’s no acknowledgement of the personal cost of that commitment. I send my team home if I see them working too late. When they’re devastated at having made a mistake I comfort them. I don’t feel I have that support any more. It was all going well; and now it isn’t again. This rollercoaster is exhausting and unnecessary.

When the going gets tough

I’m having a tough few weeks in the office. There should be three people doing my job. Three middle-management, 40, 50 hours plus a week people juggling ludicrous deadlines and unreasonable requests. Instead there’s just me, working full time while being paid for part. There’s just me, discovering what a team looks like when it has been neglected for years. Seeing good people with their heads in their hands at the end of another thankless day. Providing dreadful advice full of holes; facing the embarrassment of being unable to defend my work, or, worse, that of my team.

After one particularly explosive day, culminating in a very public walk out and threat of HR reprisals, I sat on my own in a dark office. I’d missed bedtime again. My inbox was an unruly monster I had zero control over. And the explosion would inevitably lead to weeks and months of uncomfortable performance conversations and tortured management processes.

As I sat there, scrolling through photos of the little man, it was far too easy to revert to default instincts: “Fuck this shit, I’m getting out.” I’ve built a career on knowing when to get out. Knowing when a role will never, ever be ok. Cheerfully abandoning ship if something more promising comes along.

boxing-gloves-and-dumbells-1-1531474But, for the first time, I am different. I want this career. My workplace is full of dreadful management; incomprehensible processes; scared and aggressive people who hide behind these processes. It’s also full of brilliance. Of people so astonishingly good that I want to follow them round all day, riding those coat tails and making them tea just to be in their presence. And I’ve finally, finally found a core of self belief that’s harder to shake; I can do this. And I can do this well. I have to do this. If I can’t face the unpleasantness today, I won’t be able to face it next year, or in 10, 20 years time.

When the little man first came along, I couldn’t come to terms with what had happened to my life. At 6 weeks old he wouldn’t sleep for longer than 45 minutes, day or night. If somebody had given me a way out then, I think my exhausted soul would have abandoned everything I loved for the promise of a night’s sleep.

But nobody offered it. I, obviously, survived, as have millions of mothers before me and millions after. The little man has taken to licking my face instead of kissing it; and squealing with laughter when I shout “Ew, horrible boy!” We have hundreds of these little routines. Each one makes me happier than I have ever been.

Resilience is a buzz word at the moment. It sometimes feels like a cheap get-out clause for working us into the ground: let’s give them some training. If our staff were more robust they would be able to turn the shit we’ve given them into sparkling monuments.

For me, I think resilience is having this core to draw on. It’s understanding why I’m here. Why I choose to be here. It makes me schedule and attend the meeting that I know will make me sweat, and end in angry tears. It means the tears won’t be mine. It’s sleeping on the floor next to the cot when the little man has a fever; and being able to laugh the next morning when he throws breakfast at me.

In the middle of an angry performance discussion, when I take a deep breath, I’m in our big chair with the little man on my knee, reading about Thomas, making him giggle with ridiculous train voices.

In the middle of a supermarket tantrum, sweaty and red faced, I’m leading a meeting in my heels and clean blazer, persuading the great and the good that I can be responsible for millions of pounds.

During the darker times, motherhood has felt like nothing but a drain on every single resource I have. Now, some days, it’s a source of strength. All roads lead to that chair, and that little, giggling man.