I had a meeting today. If you knew me well, you would be able to tell that I’d had a meeting today, because I have mascara on, and I’m not wearing an anorak.
It’s seven and a half years since I first went on maternity leave; almost four since I left (paid) work altogether. Three children and a million buggy miles later, I sometimes think that I have worn away almost to the point of transparency. Or, perhaps, invisibility. Being a stay at home mum, for me, has meant that I see the world almost exclusively through a prism of parenthood. More than that, though, parenthood has become a kind of shield, by which I fear I try to deflect the world’s attention.
I used to be a solicitor, in a relatively glitzy world. I suppose that I wore a uniform of kinds even back then: smart suit, straightened hair, show-off handbag and clicking heels. Along with fancy offices and conspicuously late hours, it was shorthand for “impressive and important”, although I’m not sure whether it was ourselves, each other or the clients we were trying to convince. Clothes do that. They confer confidence and identity so easily.
There’s no-one to impress these days, though, and I have gradually retreated into a wardrobe which is practical, functional and, frankly, boring. Boots made for walking; coats made for downpours; jumpers and jeans misshapen with the balled-up snotty hankies of myriad winter snuffles.
In large part, I think it’s down to comfort and laziness. When the only other adults I see in the course of a normal week are equally shrouded against the elements in a reliably inclement playground, there seems to be little point in spending effort and money choosing and co-ordinating a look. I’m not consciously trying to convey any message with my appearance, although doubtless I still do.
Beneath this, though, is a retreat of a different kind: a leaching away of courage and identity, an inability to decide what suits me even when time and money allow. Allowing myself to slump into generic mumsiness has blunted my perceptions of what and who else I am.
The last few months have seen me start to move, tentatively, back into the field of work. I have loved having a few years to dedicate solely to my little family, but as they start to grow up, the need to earn money, keep busy and (if I’m honest) use my brain again is becoming overwhelming. It’s surprising me, though, how hard a step it is to move out of my little domestic sphere and into the world of grown-ups again, where interactions have nothing to do with babies, children or the minutiae of running a home.
Just as my shape has changed, so too has the landscape of work: the door back into my previous career is firmly bolted, so the challenge is to find a new fit which accommodates family needs together with my CV. I find myself grubbing around to gather some confidence in my professional skills and abilities, just as I stand despairing at my wardrobe when the anorak is off the menu and I have to scare up a presentable outfit.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting. It is just, in all senses, a massive move out of the comfortable shell I’ve been hiding in. New clothes are required, but under them I first need a pair of Big Girl Pants to hold me in, hold me up and disguise my wobbles. All of them.
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