Well. Apparently, when you work and have a baby, the only spare time you do have is spent on the sofa, staring at a wall, after the baby has gone to bed.
Thank you, Aisling, for captaining the Good Ship AOW these past few weeks.
In some ways, going back to work has been better than I ever could have expected. I’ve talked before about the dangers of having too much time to think. Maternity leave will do that to you. Your world becomes so, so small (as it rightly should); your day is filled with addled decisions about exactly what time your baby last fed and what time should you go for that coffee, and whether you can sneak a nap in whilst your baby is down. You go to baby groups and you meet other parents and you have the glory of long days stretching before you with raising your child being your only priority. It’s a wonderful, privileged situation to be in.
But oh, does it give you time to think.
And think I did. I built my return to work up to be an impossible task. I had no idea how I’d manage working a challenging job full time on limited sleep, expressing breastmilk through the day at work, getting Ellie fed and clothed and dressing myself in time to catch a train at 7.03am, how Ellie would cope at nursery when she was the youngest there by some way, how I’d manage crossing London in rush hour to pick her up, how I’d keep her milk cold and transport it safely, how she’d cope commuting into and out of London every day. I worried and I fretted, and honestly, readers, you think I’d have learnt by now.
Because it was fine. All of it. It was fine. It’s still fine.
Yes, I have days when I’m exhausted. But having a kid makes you leaner, tougher, able to operate on limited sleep in a way that was hitherto unimaginable. Yes, my day is a bit of a military operation and only when Ellie goes to bed do I realise that I genuinely have not stopped all day (hence staring at the wall). Yes, I sometimes feel like I’m being half-arsed at work and motherhood, and oh why didn’t I just pick one and stick with it. Yes, I struggle with having to make career choices based on having a baby, yes I struggle having to make parenting choices based on having a career (more on this in another post).
But oh, readers, am I happy to be back at work, doing what I love to do. I get into work, I become a (mostly) competent manager who doesn’t take any crap and works flat-out to deliver. I leave work, and on the Circle line on my way to pick up Ellie, something happens, something shifts in me, and I become a woman who’ll dive bomb on her seven-month old and blow raspberries on her stomach the moment I see her. The hours between pick-up and bed are for Ellie, and Ellie alone. I work flat-out, then I mother flat-out. Repeat the next day. And the day after that.
Is it sustainable? I don’t know. I feel great at the moment but it’s only six weeks in. I don’t get to spend much time with my friends, or Mr K, and I get very little time for me. Time will tell how much of a toll that takes. Watch this space.
I went to Philadelphia, because Catherine got married.
I’ve never been to a wedding like it. Not because I had Dairy Queen for the lunch preceding. Not because it was in a zoo, and there was a giraffe, who all wedding guests were encouraged to feed during cocktail hour. Not because Catherine danced with her dad to the Beatles In My Life. Not because the ceremony was outside and you could hear the monkeys during the vows.
You think you know friends, and what they were, and are, and can be. You think you have the measure of them; especially your best friends. And then something happens and they dissemble all that you thought you knew about them, and you think oh, I underestimated them.
I thought I knew what Catherine was like, happy. I had no idea.
It wasn’t just the grin that split her face in two after she and Fred were pronounced husband and wife. Nor was it watching her watching everyone at her wedding; drinking, eating; dancing; laughing. It was remembering that I knew her when she went to America, five, six years ago, and she went into the unknown, no friends, no anything, and she made all this, all of it, herself. A career and an extended family and friends who’d do anything for her, and adventures across America, and memories, and opportunities, and she made it all from nothing. And she built her life to a point where she got married amongst howler monkeys.
Catherine isn’t loud, socially, and she doesn’t particularly like attention and she doesn’t let much show on her face. So you have to know her well to understand when something has cracked her open. Her wedding did it.
I took this photograph of Catherine and Fred when we visited the Jersey Shore together last summer. For their wedding present, I got it blown up into a canvas print. I can think of no better metaphor for marriage.
Ellie and I take the train from London Liverpool Street five days a week in rush hour. As the train pulls out of the station, Ellie turns to the window and watches Hackney roll past, green-grey-blue-indeterminate colour eyes wide. It makes me look at London like she does. Into open windows, out onto streets with black cabs and big red buses pulling in, into back gardens, along the skyline of the City. She drinks it all in, and because she does, I do too.
Ellie is, for the most part, pretty easy going, and the London skyline and the odd toy will keep her amused on the train. But in July, it was hot. So hot. And the trains were delayed. Again. And the sun was beating down into the carriage, and the sweat was trickling down my back, and we were wedged up against ten other commuters, all equally hot and bothered, and Ellie was balanced on my lap with all our bags, and she was agitated. Let’s just say she was emoting (verb, to portray emotion in a theatrical manner). Freely. There was a man opposite, Rastafarian, about fifty, draped across his seat, looking at her. She was looking at him, and emoting in his face. Loudly. I apologised to him. He ignored me. ”This is going to go well“, I thought.
And he stopped reading his paper, turned it over in his hand and began to fan her. She stopped emoting, and smiled, fascinated by the motion of the paper and by the breeze it was creating. She stopped crying. He didn’t get off at his stop, and he fanned her for the whole train journey. when we got off at our stop, he left the train, crossed the bridge and and caught the train back in the opposite direction. She smiled all the way home.
My lesson here? Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t underestimate people. They can be extraordinarily kind, even in 35 degree heat and at the end of a long day.
We just came back from Provence. We stayed in an old monastery and there were grapes growing outside our window, and there were fields of sunflowers, and orchards. It smelt of lavender.
We drove to villages and walked round Avignon and ate, how we ate. I’d forgotten how in France, the simplest food tastes the best. Every morning we had fruit, and croissants, and coffee, sitting under the vines. As you do.
And Ellie, oh Ellie. She was hot, and teething, and pretty unimpressed with the travel cot sleeping arrangements, and seemingly unimpressed with France in general, and didn’t seem to appreciate the VIEWS, the VIEWS as I wafted her around in front of various vistas. At night she was sweaty and cranky and I didn’t sleep more than an hour or two in a row.
But, every morning, I woke up to this, and promptly forgot all of the above:
To any mother-to-be, I’d say this; don’t ever underestimate your ability for totally, illogically, blind love.