Tag Archives: life

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.

Tragedy and the Tooth Fairy

It’s hard to know how to start this, really. In retrospect, I will say that last week was the worst of my life. At the time, though, it was just weird: intense, devastating, exhausting.

I spent seven days ricocheting between my own home, my parents’ home and my aunt and uncle’s house: driving frantically up and down the A1, calling in childcare favours left, right and centre; turning a determinedly blind eye to the fact that No3 wasn’t tremendously well; having a mini breakdown in No2’s consultant appointment (for her hearing, with a softly spoken Irish doctor with a handlebar moustache, who even I couldn’t understand clearly) when the need for surgery was announced and explained in more detail than I could cope with; bursting into tears with my own GP when she didn’t dismiss an ongoing niggle as I’d hoped.

My eldest’s tooth fell out midweek, and in all the commotion and confusion, the tooth fairy didn’t come that night. Then she didn’t come the night after, either, having arrived home after 11 just in time to subside tearfully into the bath, with wine. Finally, after a complicated explanation (No1 is a contradictory mix of credulity and cynicism) involving problems with fairy GPS and a notice stuck to a bedroom window, she came and order was restored to his world at least.

You know, life.

None of these things really burst through that awful, absorbing bubble that swells around a tragedy. Real life, for those few days, was holding hands, wrapping arms around family in shock and grief, making endless cups of tea and washing up dishes as if it could bring back the one thing they wanted. Murmured conversations about practicalities; numb, surreal discussions involving words that almost sounded laughable in their out-of-place-ness for our gorgeous, laughing boy, so full of life. Always, always the ache. There was a comfort, of sorts, in proximity; a simple, wordless craving for physical contact and togetherness that made the time I spent back at home feel, ridiculously, like a kind of betrayal, no matter how much I needed to see my own babies. Life was reduced to stark essentials: love, closeness and family vivid and urgent; everything else a monotone blur behind the smoky screen of loss.

Through the sadness, I was inspired, exalted. I had clear visions of a better, truer life. No more prevarication, no more treading time through faintly grumpy days, waiting, always waiting, for just one next thing which would make everything a bit easier. I would live in tribute to my cousin and his family. Carpe diem.

So, at the weekend, on a glorious early autumn morning, we packed up the car and we set out for a special family day. A walk, a picnic, ice cream, a visit to a favourite castle. Fun and togetherness, cherishing each other and making precious memories.

Unfortunately, the children weren’t on message. They didn’t want to walk. They didn’t like the picnic. The grass was damp and their shoes were wet and they were bored. They sulked and grumped and huffed till, after a near miss in the gift shop, we gave up and drove home, silent and seething and minus ice cream. And, probably in large part because everything was all still so raw and so very, very sad, I overreacted. How dare they not realise that this was supposed to be profound and life-affirming? That this was my version of the bit of the film where the uplifting music plays, the soul swells, and the colours fade out; lessons learned, life improved, happily (or better) ever after? But of course life isn’t a film, any more than I am Robin Williams.

My cousin’s death is only peripherally my loss. Though I may sigh immediately after, I can laugh again, just as I can feel interest and anger in things beyond my home again, just as everyday frustrations and occupations creep in again. I don’t want to. I want to be back with my family, holding hands, talking, remembering. But I can, and I have to.

In the midst of death, we are in life, and alongside (or even perhaps more than) the momentous, life is in the small, the humdrum, the everyday.

Or so says the tooth fairy.