Tag Archives: children

Slight Return

When I was contemplating returning to full-time work after a six year career break, I cast around on Twitter and among friends for clues and tips and reassurance that I wasn’t Completely Mad for even considering it. There was lots on how to get organised, but very little that told me what it would actually be like. Almost two years in, what would I say to someone asking me the same question?

  • Be brave

I expected the tiredness and the logistical challenge of combining work and a hectic family life after the luxury of a few years where I only had to consider the latter. What I didn’t realise was how exhausting dredging up the courage to go in, day after day, till I found my feet again would be.

I was terrified on a daily basis, for a long time, in a way that I didn’t recognise from pre-career-break work, and in a way which I no longer experience now. I had a mantra of “don’t look down”: visualising myself on a tight rope, I willed myself to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to contemplate the horrors lurking should I slip.

Little things I once and now again take for granted: composing an email, approaching someone senior, giving an opinion or advice which I know could come back to bite me should I be wrong, were draining in a way I simply hadn’t expected.

Battling imposter syndrome is nothing special, I know, but it took every ounce of energy I had to fight it down when it was armed with the ammunition of that time away from the office.

  • Be selfish

Wankerish as this sounds, I was brought up to believe in service to others, and having been acutely conscious of the additional time I had available while not working, like a lot of people I tried to volunteer where possible and fit in lots of social commitments with friends and family.

Volunteering and working are not mutually exclusive, of course, but it took me almost a year of becoming increasingly unhappy and ill to realise that a break while I reacclimatised to work would have been best all round. It wasn’t the lack of time which was the issue, so much as the need to prioritise family and my own mental well-being with space wherever possible not to be “in demand” from external sources while we all got used to our new normal.

Again, two years in, I now have the energy and headspace to start to be able to fit things in to the spare time I have available, but in retrospect it would have been helpful to have felt I had permission to take a step back. As with the friends point below, it’s natural to feel it important to prove a point – look, I can work and still do everything too! – but those who really care about you won’t be bothered either way.

  • Losing friends and inconveniencing people

Very much related to the above. Maybe this was just me, but it was hard to realise that to some people I considered friends, I had only every really just been valuable by my presence. A stay at home mum is a useful social acquaintance: able to step in at short notice, lend a hand in groups and  generally help move things along by the simple virtue of proximity to home during the hours when others are in the office or on the road.

Not everyone, of course; going back strengthened some lovely friendships by making me realise who was a friend because of who I am rather than what I could do for them, but it wasn’t an easy thing to process in the midst of readjusting back to work when I could have done with a bit of support, and it’s something I wish I’d been prepared for.

  • Be happy

I used to scoff at the idea that having a happy mother was a tangible benefit to children, perhaps because I just didn’t realise that I was bored and rather miserable by the end of my time at home, but it’s been true in our case. I’ve been incredibly lucky in a supportive employer and access to great, affordable childcare, without both of which it possibly would have been a very different story.

Terror notwithstanding, I felt even in my first day that way you do when it’s only on starting to eat that you realise you were famished. Tiredness notwithstanding, I am simply happier with the boost to my confidence and self-esteem which returning to work has given me.

It has been, and continues to be, hard. I miss my children, they miss me (and the luxury of not being in wraparound childcare) and I simply don’t have the degree of involvement in their daily lives that we once took for granted. But they are happy, and they continue to thrive, and we’re all more than managing.

If you’re reading this and wondering whether going back to work (or stepping back in to a more demanding job after a period of doing something to fit in around family commitments) is for you, I can’t give you an answer. All I can say is that it was the unquestionably the right thing for me.

Oh, and good luck.

Flipping Heck

Today is the first Shrove Tuesday in many years when I haven’t made pancakes.

I have lots of memories of other Tuesdays; Tuesdays in which I have berated myself for not remembering that pancakes take forever and a day to cook, and that running between stove and a table peopled with hungry, grumbling children is actually not as idyllic as the wholesome image I have in my head of presenting a stack of pancakes to universal delight.

(Pre-heat the oven, people. Pre-cook the pancakes, then bring the children in for a final, flipping flourish once you’ve got the hang of it and you know that there are plenty to share.)

Still, even against previous dismal attempts, this year I didn’t come close to owning Pancake Day. I had no eggs. No lemon. My husband had bought a pack of ready made ones, but we didn’t even need those.

The children were always going to have pancakes at school (they did), at wraparound (yup), and – in the case of No2 and No3 –  at Brownies and Cubs too (barf), so I wasn’t too bothered about the fact I’d be working, and therefore swearing at a laptop, rather than at a pan.

Instead, I picked all three children up from wraparound, drove them home, ruined their lives (apparently) by feeding them a healthy, home cooked meal from the slow cooker, and then, having dashed No2 to Brownies, left the boys to their favourite pastime – the Xbox they got for Christmas.

I don’t think I worry unduly about being a bad mother, but it made me laugh and fret at the same time that my children, who’d been away from me and their home for all but about 45 minutes since waking up, were happiest blasting clones and being Princess Leia.

So, being a 21st century mother with a penchant for sarcasm and a hungry Facebook account, I shared the moment.

I love finishing work a bit early so I can spend quality time with my children

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And they got it.

“Your house looks like my house”

“I recognise this scene”

“At least they’re in the same room as you!”

When my eldest was a newborn, I kept in touch with the women I’d met at antenatal class via text. We gave our babies morning scores out of 10 to record how they’d slept the night before. It’s gone on ever since, with the same friends and new ones, via Twitter and Facebook and wry eyebrows at the school gate.

It’s fashionable to say that social media has made mothers judge each other more; that it’s created a broader palette against which we can find ourselves lacking and a forum in which we can reassure ourselves by trampling those whose fingers stray nearest our heels on some impossible ladder to an unattainable perfection.

It’s probably true, to some extent, but no more so than the impeccably turned out family in every community since time began whose presentability was frantically smoothed over to hide the cracks beneath; the one you’d look at with envy in the market or at church and whisper about afterwards with your sister.

Tonight, though; feeling frankly inadequate at what on many levels could be read as a double mother-fail, the comments of my friends, all so different, all the same, made me smile.

Village, schmillage.

When life doesn’t remind you to buy a lemon, friends come to your aid.

 

Working v Occupation

I’m not a violent person, but there are times I’d love to unleash my inner Ally McBeal. No, not the needy, neurotic lawyer (quiet at the back there), but the one who combined cartoon and karma to deliver instant comeuppance to anyone who crossed her.

Recently, I’ve been channelling Ally when faced with stupid comments about going back to work. Primarily those delivered with a chortle, and some allusion to the fact that I won’t know what has hit me when I’m faced with a real day’s work. It’s satisfying to imagine a cartoon boxing glove bopping them on the nose, even as I smile sweetly and roll my eyes so hard the minute my back is turned that I get a diagnostic image of my brain.

I am in the perfect position to deliver final judgement (did you see what I did there?) in the hoary old case of SAHM v Working Mother, and I’m pleased to confirm that, in fact, both are harder than the other.

Only kidding.

The answer of course, if you’re interested, is that neither is “harder”. Why? Because, in large part, neither SAHM or “working mother” actually means anything much. It’s like asking “Which has more colour? Blue or red?” (If there is a scientific answer to that one, I don’t want to know it).

That notwithstanding, the last couple of months have verified what I have long suspected: not necessarily that many people think being a parent who doesn’t work outside the home is easy, but that lots and lots and lots of people think it just has no value at all. It is perceived as a kind of vacuum, an occupation of time which is neutral at best, a lily-livered, latte-fuelled skive at worst.

Around the same time as I was starting work (I’d like to say it was as I was filling in the forms for childcare, but that would be a lie for artistic effect) an email job alert pinged into my inbox. Someone not far from me was looking for a nanny; someone to look after three children before and after school. It was good money, and there was a formidable list of qualifications and qualities that the right person would need. If I’d been unfortunate enough to be being hounded by a Job Centre to find work at the time, I could unquestionably have taken that one and moved instantly from scrounger to hard-working taxpayer simply by changing the identity of the children I cared for.

Why, I wonder, does the lack of familial connection turn the self-same activities from a cop-out into a worthwhile position of employment? Why is doing it as a job perfectly valid, while doing it for any other reasons (cost of childcare, lack of availability or quality, family circumstances, child’s needs…) generally accepted to be an extended holiday from real life?

No3 has only just started full time school, so I didn’t have full “child-free” days before I went back to work, but even if I had, they would have only amounted to five and a half hours, not every waking weekday moment. Don’t get me wrong, I weep at the thought of that time now…but the point is that stay at home parents, even the ones with school-age children, don’t have whole days at their disposal. That, and the fact that when the children are around, they are an occupation in themselves.

I could talk about all the things that occupied me when I wasn’t working outside the home and the children were at school, but the truth is, I still do most of it  now in the bits of time that are available to me around an extended 9-5 and the best part of two hours’ commute. 

Maybe I’m doing something wrong, though, because I am not noticeably more tired. Maybe I wasn’t idle after all when I didn’t have a job. Maybe, just maybe, being a parent is hard work full stop. And doing that parenting, however long or short you spend doing it, is not an absence of occupation.
I worked a compressed day from home today to accommodate my youngest’s first day of school, and althoughI was really lucky to be able to do it, it’s reminded me of the wearying aspects of my old life that from the outside apparently seemed like such a doddle.

Now that they are back at school, the children are in wraparound care for four hours each day before and after classes. That’s four hours when I miss their company, but it’s also four hours when I don’t have to be available to play with them, feed them, or listen to them; four hours when I  don’t need to nag them to pick up their toys and step in to break up their fights. It’s four hours that don’t require my involvement in the ludicrously ill-named “school-run” (“life sapping school-drag in the invariably pouring rain” not quite having the same ring to it).

It’s four hours when I don’t have to tacitly accept in social situations that I am less entitled to be tired, less entitled to be stressed, less entitled to be too busy to take things on than the person I’m talking to who happens to be paid a salary in exchange for a portion of their time and effort.

And the holidays? Being able to have spent so many long weeks with my children and few other demands on my time has been a total privilege, but it also, at times, brought me to my knees. Admitting that, though, never felt like it was an option: after all, I was lucky enough to be doing what I chose, and whingeing about it was the utmost bad faith when others had to use precious annual leave. 

It’s time for my closing arguments, but I don’t really have any. I don’t have a neat conclusion that ties up all my thoughts on this into a simple, snappy summary; don’t have the will to win a jury to one particular way of thinking. I don’t even have a Dancing Baby to entertain you.

Instead, I have a pile of ironing, three children to put to bed and some stuff to get ready for tomorrow. That will do for now.

Inspector Gadget Arms (or, a letter to my ever-taller son)

I remember when your world was measured by the span of my elbows. Sitting to feed you, your (unexpectedly enormous) downy head resting against one arm of the nursing chair while your (unexpectedly enormous) feet grew, day by day, steadily further round my side on the other.

I remember holding you, rigid, against my shoulder; feeling the air trapped in your (unexpectedly enormous) belly as a physical pain in my own; groaning with sheer relief as it escaped after hours of rocking and swaying and marching up and down the stairs with a dip of the knees just so.

I remember the grateful presence of a new bump to shelf your solid weight against when your early solo encounters with the world proved too much. The wedge of you against me as one arm wrapped you still while the other manoeuvred doors and straps and partings.

You come for cuddles still, your head tucked still beneath my chin, but with your feet, now, planted firmly on the floor. Gone are the days when I can lift you, though not yet those when I can wrap you close and hide your face against me when you need to be out of the world for a while.

I don’t know how to prepare for the days when your arms will outreach mine. For the days, in a few short years, when it will be me pressed to your chest, not the other way round. I don’t know how to believe that your feet will stay firmly on the floor when I can’t be there to check.

It is the strangest thing, to know that I am to be dwarfed by you, while you will stay forever small enough to fill my heart. To hear the snippets that you bring back, as you grow and start to make sense of your life, of a world beyond what we can easily explain and contain for you: “Mummy, the boys in my class think “vagina” is a swear word”; “Mummy, what is a rapist?” and not give in to this urge to enfold you in an embrace that excludes all possible chance of harm; all the inevitable ways in which you have to start to sift and understand and compromise.

I understand now why parents hanker after the early days, that constant presence of a child in the arms, something I thought, while I lived it, couldn’t be completed soon enough. It’s a new kind of love I’m learning; a new way to hold you close without you realising I’m doing it. I can keep you safe still, but I need to teach you how to do it for me when you’re somewhere out of reach. To hold you, always, even when it will be the last thing you want; to keep you wrapped in my arms even when I’m nowhere to be seen.

Spot the difference

I spent last week with an uninvited and unwanted guest. I had a spot on my chin which grew to such a size that it seemed deserving of its own name (if not postcode). God saw fit not to push me over the edge with spots in adolescence, so I’ve never quite learned how to co-exist with skin eruptions, let alone apply make-up and such like with sufficient skill to make them slightly less visible.

So it was that everywhere I went for a few days, the Spot came too. When I entered a room, it went in first. When I was talking to people, I felt as if there was someone else joining the conversation. In fact, so conscious was I of it, that I fell into starting every interaction with the words “I have a spot on my chin”, as if the person I was speaking to might have been under the misapprehension that it was, perhaps, a reenactment of Krakatoa or a misplaced Comic Relief nose.

Each time I said it, I cringed at the words. Why did I feel the compulsion to draw attention to what was, after all, a fairly unmissable blemish. Did my subconscious think that people might have wondered if I was aware of it? Was I reassuring them that I did check my appearance in the mirror before leaving the house? Perhaps my teenage self wanted to get in first and take away any potential ammunition from somebody trying to get one over on me.

The truth is probably an unedifying combination of all three, along with a dose of that peculiarly British virtue of self-deprecation. If it weren’t a contradiction in terms, I would say that I excel at it. I am world class at putting myself down. Doing that Facebook thing that’s going round at the minute last night, where I had been tagged to list seven interesting things about myself, I found it easiest and most natural to recount mildly amusing tales in which I was the butt of the joke. Although I’d never say it out loud, there are dozens of things about myself I should be proud of, lots of achievements which aren’t widely known outside of my immediate family. Yet, like just about everyone else on my timeline who’s done it, I went for gentle self-mockery. Look, look, I have a spot on my chin!

I don’t know if I would really wish it otherwise. There’s a comfort in people bumbling along together, pretending to each other that the good things we have are somehow all the result of happy accident. I am certainly far too British to feel at ease with the prospect of social intercourse based on the trumpeting of personal triumphs. There’s a difference, though, between not actively boasting and going out of one’s way to preemptively kneecap one’s own character for fear someone else may try to.

Yesterday I spent the day with my sister and my little niece. She is at peak cuteness; that fleeting blend of baby and budding individual, finding her words and personality and place in the world. Whatever is said to her, she repeats back, testing out her language and the things it can bring her. If you say to her, “A, what are you?” she raises chocolate-button eyes to your face and replies with the immense dignity of two: “I bootipull”.

She is beautiful of course. I’d say that even if I weren’t her aunt. She’s clever and loving and determined too, and she has that precious sense of self of a child who knows she is cherished and adored. That she is “bootipull” is, to her, a given, despite the soup and felt-tip marks all over her little face, her bare bottom and the gloves transferred from feet to hands because “my cold”.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that we all try to emulate a two year old. There is little to be desired from grown ups declaring loudly that they are beautiful, let alone doing so while naked from the waist down. Seeing her yesterday, though, I realised how quickly even my own children are losing the ability to say or accept positive things about themselves. They beam when praised or complimented, but there’s a blush too, a slight duck of the head in discomfort. I’m already very conscious of not being overly self-critical in their hearing, but I know that there is more to do to raise them to be comfortable in accepting what is good about themselves rather than magnifying what is less so.

Dear School

We need to talk.

You do a marvellous job with my children. You inspire and educate and socialise them and take them off my hands  for up to six hours each day, five days a week, 39 weeks of the year. They are happy, interested and only rarely come home with nits. I owe you more than I can ever repay.

But.

This dressing up lark has to stop.

So far this term I’ve had to rustle up a Spooky Day costume for the four year old. I’m working on the Christmas requirements (a star, a pirate and a sodding Islander, which sounds worryingly like a character from The Wicker Man). In the spring, there’ll be World Book Day, (when I have to persuade my two younger children that their Disney-inspired polyester horrors don’t really count), something Comic Relief related (I’m still finding bits of deely boppers from six months ago) and the psychological trauma of trying to create a witty, yet touching, scene out of hard-boiled eggs and empty loo rolls. 150871_10150092885059155_571262_n

It didn’t look like that on Pinterest.

This week is Children in Need, and I’m regretting the years I muttered about having to find something with spots on. This year (and I know that the idea behind this wasn’t yours) the theme is heroes.

The four year old’s a doddle. He’s borrowed one of those alarmingly padded Spiderman costumes which makes him look like I give him steroids and protein shakes for breakfast. He’s even almost reconciled to the fact that it doesn’t confer the ability to throw webs or climb walls. It’s all good.

The other two are in a pleasing state of vagueness. “I’ll go as Catwoman”, says the seven year old airily, batting away such practicalities as the fact that she doesn’t own a single black item of clothing and has never, to my knowledge, seen Catwoman in her life. The eight year old’s contribution has been to helpfully confirm that he’ll go “as a hero”. Right.

Dear school, it’s not you, it’s me. I really do get it, you’re not alone, and you’re in a no-win situation. There are parents who relish the opportunity to create, whose children look unfailingly amazing, and who would howl to the moon if you cut back on the dressing-up. The rest of us, though, look longingly at the easy-wear, easy-wash, uniform sitting forlornly in the drawer. Then we turn sadly away to rattle around in the back of the wardrobe trying to put together something we know will fail miserably, or slope off resentfully to the shops for an overpriced branded onesie.

Outfits for plays are one thing, but the fundraising days are something else altogether. I know, I know, it’s all about Good Causes. You’re helping the children to think about others, and to raise money while doing so. If I’m being honest, the real cause of my complaint is that it’s a chore I could do without. I am rich in children and poor in imagination. Thinking of and creating costumes manages simultaneously to bore and to stress me, and I’m not altogether sure it does so to any purpose.

There’s more to my disquiet than laziness, though. Today, faced with the choice of making a costume which I know in advance will qualify for one of those #nailedIt memes or of spending money on some random tat destined for the bin and probably made by a child in the first place, I can’t help but wonder if this all sends out mixed messages. Giving to charity shouldn’t depend on having fun while doing so. I’m pretty sure the widow didn’t dress as a ninja before toddling off to deposit her mite. Moreover, I can (just about) afford the time and the money, but I know that a lot of parents really, really can’t. Sometimes, charity  begins at home.

They’re children, I know. They (mostly!) like dressing up. I’m not asking you to stop it altogether, just maybe…keep it for special occasions? Once a decade would be great. Thanks

ps – what the ^%&* does an Islander wear?

The half-life of treats

My name is Catherine and I am spoiling my children.

When I say “spoiling”, I don’t mean that I have lost control. I believe in parents being in charge. I believe in saying no. I believe in no sweets before tea, unless it’s a very special occasion; in eating your broccoli whether you like it or not; in bedtimes and manners and moderation.

And yet I’m spoiling my children.

Perhaps it would be more true to say that I haven’t lost control yet. I just feel that my control over what they have, what they see, what they consume is slipping away.

Compared to a lot of their friends, they’re not “spoiled”. They don’t have the same gadgets, the same spending power, the same level of veto over their everyday lives as many of their classmates. They don’t have exotic holidays, they don’t have designer clothes, they don’t even have the same degree of attention. So why do I feel that they have so much that they don’t value it?

Perhaps we’ve overdone the day trips. Perhaps they need a long period of boredom at home to refuel their imaginations rather than taking castles and beaches and parks as so many torture chambers designed to keep them away from what they really want to be doing (which is, obviously, playing on screens).

Perhaps we’ve let them watch too much TV, given in too early to the demands for screen-time and Minecraft and YouTube.

Perhaps we’ve acquiesced too easily to the toys on the birthday and Christmas lists that we knew would bring a morning of excitement and fun, before disappearing into the back of the cupboard or breaking beyond repair.

Before I had children, even when they were tiny, I was adamant that I wouldn’t give in to pester power; determined that they would grow up making the most of small things rather than learning early to take the big ones for granted. At first, it seemed to work: they’d have more fun with a cardboard box than whatever had been inside it;  would spend hours engrossed with sticks or pegs or imaginary friends; would be satisfied with an occasional packet of chocolate buttons.

As they get older, though, I feel that I’m losing. I’m failing in the trade-offof what I think is right with the world in which they live. I might be giving them too much, too soon, but I know what can happen when you lack the social capital to interact with your peers. Principles make poor playmates.

They don’t get everything they want, of course. There are plenty of things they think they’re massively deprived by the lack of that they’ll just have to learn to live without, for financial or other reasons.  There are others, though, that I’d rather they didn’t have but to which I don’t – or can’t – object as strongly, and (not being as joyless as I realise this post sounds) others again that I know will just make them happy.

How do I teach my children to be grateful for what they have, rather than pining over what they don’t?

More than a cold

Kids and colds, eh? Unpleasant, annoying, but not serious, right? Well, not always…

When my third child was born, my older two were in nursery and Reception school. We had  almost five years of parenting under our belts, and snotty noses and hacking coughs were a part of everyday life. The first days of his life were no exception. He was doing the school run with me twice a day before he was a week old, and when, at three weeks, he developed a runny nose, I was mildly concerned but entirely unsurprised.

Even a day or two later, when – with no temperature, and not noticeably distressed – his breathing had become noisy enough to hear over the sound of the car engine and he was reluctant to feed, I wasn’t scared, but was worried enough to take him to the doctor.

The doctor took one look at him and sent us straight through to be admitted to the children’s ward. He had bronchiolitis, an infection of the small airways in the lungs, which is very common but can be very serious, especially in young babies.

We were told on arrival that he was so ill that a transfer to a bigger hospital with a specialist unit might be necessary, but he responded well to oxygen and being fed through a tube and recovered after a few days, though he did suffer with chest problems until the age of three. Although he was very young, he had been born at full term and was thriving until he developed bronchiolitis. For babies born prematurely, or with existing health conditions, things can be much worse.

I wish I had known then what I do now, especially what to look for – even as a third-time mum, I had only heard of bronchiolitis in passing, and genuinely didn’t know it was something we should be aware of, especially during the winter months when it is most common.

A friend of mine, whose twin sons were born several weeks early and were very ill with bronchiolitis, is involved with a campaign –  More than a cold  – which seeks to raise awareness.  If you have a young baby, or know someone who does, please take a few minutes to check out their website, especially their tips on prevention. Of course, it’s impossible to entirely prevent the spread of germs, but it is worth being mindful of the risks to young babies of coming into contact with people with colds.

It’s also worth remembering FACT: – symptoms which need prompt medical attention if a baby develops them.

  • Fast breathing: shallow, quick breaths not taking in much air
  • Appetite: inability to feed
  • Cough: distinctive rasping
  • Temperature: high temperature will usually accompany cold-like symptoms of a runny nose

One in three babies have bronchiolitis in their first year, and most of the time it is not serious. The chances are that my older two children had it, and that we thought it was nothing more serious than a cold (which, for them it wasn’t). There’s more information here, on the NHS website.

Having a newborn can be scary enough at the best of times, and I don’t want anyone reading this to be frightened. I do want to help try to help other families avoid the experience of seeing one of their children so very ill.

Back to work?

I will warn you in advance that this is self-indulgent, subjective  twaddle about me, me, me, with barely any attempt at drawing any meaningful conclusions. Hey, it’s my blog. 

I wrote last week about my love of autumn. I didn’t write about my love of the children going back to school. It’s not that I don’t love having them at home; more that I enjoy the structure and routine of the week when we have to be up and out of the house at a certain time of the day, and the sudden break in needing to intervene in sibling tussles.

I also love autumn because to me, as to many, it symbolises a new start. And this year, that’s what I’m trying to ensure I manage. My youngest is now at the school nursery. I drop three uniformed children off in the morning and am home again by 9am, with two and a half hours to myself. I wound up my freelance work earlier in the year, and after many false starts over the last couple of years (the starts in themselves not false, the circumstances beyond my control which put an end to them not false either, but more-or-less horrible) I really, really want a job.

Even typing this, I feel faintly grubby and ashamed, but I am bored. Having had five years at home to concentrate on my children has been an amazing gift, and was the right decision, but I have had to confront the truth that I need to get back to something else. Writing I love, but the novel that is buzzing round in my head is not happening on the page, and I suspect part of that is due to a residual sense of guilt and feeling of uselessness.

Do I agree that a person’s self-worth and value is tied up in what they do for a living? I say no, but, deep down, I think I do. I am tired of the “what do you do all day?” – from others, and from myself, even when I know the answer. The privilege of my education and training is always there in the back of my mind; the use that I’m making of both, at present, forces me to be honest with myself and admit that I’m not. I’m lonely, too: Twitter has been a lifesaver for me over the past few years, but although I enjoy my own company and the solitude of a quiet house, I’m starting to sense a need to work within a team at least part of the time. There’s also the external structure of “employment” as opposed to self-employment – again a bonus for someone who can always find something important that needs doing (or reading) first.

Will anyone have me? I’ve been scouring job pages for a while, now, trying to match what I can offer with what I want and need from a job. I have no illusions about swanning back in at a particular level; there’s nothing that I’d consider beneath me, provided that it pays the childcare I’ll need in order to work. At the back of my mind is the knowledge that I am incredibly lucky in having a chance to perhaps make a choice about where I go from here, and the dim awareness that I should at least try to think strategically about where things could take me. I have had some encouraging feedback, but I know it’s a long road ahead, and – if I’m being honest – I’m terrified and spectacularly unconfident.

And then, of course, there are the children. My eldest two were at nursery from a few months old: long, long days in a setting which, although I tried not to think too much about it at the time, really wasn’t ideal. Since No1 started preschool, though, I’ve been here, at home – always there to take them in the morning, always there to collect them at the end of the day, always there when they’ve had a doctor’s appointment or been poorly or  during the holidays. They have lots of time at home around their schooldays, and, within the limits of cost and logistics, they enjoy after-school activities and playdates. My husband’s industry is almost exclusively male and notoriously family-unfriendly (something else to feel guilty about is that I have facilitated him not having ever to trouble his employers on account of his fatherhood, though he more than shares the burden when he’s at home). We have no family who can help out, and while there’s an option of wraparound at school, it has limitations, particularly for the older children – and fundamentally, they are perfectly happy as things stand.

Doubtless they would benefit in some ways from me working. We’d have more money, for a start. We are very fortunate in being able to manage as we do, but there’s not a lot for extras. They would see me using my brain and contributing financially to the household. But on balance? I can’t honestly convince myself that they’d be better off. It feels like I’m taking something of value away from them, out of principle or self-interest.

So there we have it. I warned you it was self-indulgent. Sooner or later, I will work again – I have to, even if just to keep myself in my old age. I always knew I would, even when I left work originally. I just didn’t expect to feel so….guilty.

DLB

How I chortled, after my third child was born, when I saw a greetings card that nailed how parental standards fall as the number of their children grows. I’ve seen it since doing the rounds on Facebook, and though I can’t remember all of it, it goes something like this:

Dropped dummy?

First child: pick dummy off floor in tissue, stow in plastic bag, take home and sterilise three times before allowing back near child.

Second child: pick dummy off floor, wipe with tissue that may or may not already have been used for the clearing up of snot, hand back to child.

Third child: allow dog (possibly your own, but not necessarily) to find dummy, lick it clean and intervene half-heartedly in following tussle with child for ongoing ownership.

You get the idea.

I think the Mumsnet boards have the best definition for that peculiar kind of obsessiveness which (rightly) afflicts most parents at first: the behaviour typical of the parents of the Precious First Born (PFB). We have to start off with high standards, because although the warming of cucumber sticks and the testing of bathwater with our noses may verge on the irrational, we’re wholly responsible for another human being for usually the first time in our lives, and setting strict boundaries is pretty much the only way we have to hold back the looming terror. We, just as rightly, tend to relax the PFBness, whether more siblings come along or not, because – frankly – you can’t live in a state of DEFCON 1 for the rest of your life (though it still rears its head, of course, whenever the eldest does something new for the first time).

It struck me this morning, though, watching my three-year-old youngest playing Minecraft with his big brother and sister, spawning wolves and incinerating zombies, that there is a little-known counterpart to the Precious First Born syndrome.

My youngest is a Delinquent Last Born.

When my eldest first went to pre-school, he had only ever watched CBeebies (I was a little uncertain about the effects of the adverts on Milkshake, may God forgive me).

My youngest? He’s seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy and knows all six Star Wars films verbatim.

As a rising-four-year-old, No1 loved all the books from our childhoods that we had remembered so fondly, and stayed within the age-appropriate shelves in the library.

No3? On our last trip to the library bus, he came home with a photo book about the tanks of World War 2 and some Horrible Histories paperbacks with illustrations best described as “challenging”.

I carefully guarded my language around my first and second children. The strongest curse that would pass my lips in their presence was a vitriolic “Sugar”, if I was placed under extreme provocation.

Eight years later? Well, with the hearing of a bat, No3 has picked up on the whispered playground swearwords brought home by his bother and sister and knows perfectly well when to bring them out for maximum effect. I am grateful to my eldest for his quick thinking in convincing him that the “c” word is “chorizo”. (The rest of us know it is, in fact – *c* *r* *a* *p*. That was an interesting teatime).

Music? I never quite got around to filling my infant children’s brains and ears with carefully chosen classical music, as I’d fondly thought I would, but their listening was fairly tightly controlled. My last born, however, has an excellent repertoire which stretches from Gangnam Style all the way through Katy Perry to Scissor Sisters. “Take your mama out” starts off sounding sweet on the lips of a three year old, but loses something by the time you get to the bit about cheap champagne. Although, you know, it could have its advantages in years to come.

So there you have it. Karma. I have the child I was worried that my eldest would befriend at school. A preteen in the body of a preschooler. A Delinquent Last Born. Dear parents of his classmates, who have yet to encounter a world beyond Topsy & Tim and the quiet times at soft play when the big children are all at school, I can only apologise in advance.

IMG_0608

I’m not taking them off till you play me Atomic.