Saturday, 1 February 2014


I was just thinking about ‘The Withnail & I’ drinking game and wondered how much more fun I’d have at toddler class if I took a hip-flask and had a sneaky sip each time I heard the words “wheels”, “bus”, “bobbin” or “mulberry.”

Becoming a mum is a wonderful, life-changing, heart-bursting, joyful thing … some of it is also tiring, messy and well, quite frankly soul-crushingly boring. There I've said it and you know you've all thought it.

I’m a semi stay-at-home-mum, having worked as a freelance writer since having my son Jamie in 2012 and so I have run the gamut of sensory classes, toddler groups and play centres, coming out the other side virtually unscathed, with a handful of good mum-friends and with most of my remaining brain cells left intact.

My decision to work from home rather than go back out into the big wide world again was twofold; having been made redundant from my job as television producer in 2009 I decided to concentrate on writing and began taking on lesser paid jobs in order to re-train and build up a portfolio. I was lucky enough to start getting freelance editorial and writing work, supplemented by office work, taking it where I could find it in the midst of a global recession.

It was about this time that my partner and I decided to start trying for a baby. Having met later in life we were keen not to waste any time – I assured him that at our age (I was 39 and he 42 at the time) it would take at least a year to get pregnant by which time I’d be back in permanent employment and therefore qualify for maternity pay and leave.

Well as the fates would have it I got pregnant straight away, by my calculations probably on our first or second attempt, so whilst we were surprised and delighted, the realities of having a child and what this would mean as far as my career and our combined salaries was daunting.

I was lucky; I had taken on enough temporary work in my post-redundancy wilderness years to qualify for government maternity allowance, but it was by the skin of my teeth. Once our son was coming up to a year old we came to the conclusion that realistically, unless I went back into my higher paid television career, my salary was unlikely to cover the cost of child care and so, with the help of my parents and partner, I decided to work from home in the afternoons, evenings and if necessary at weekends.

This was not the only reason I made the decision. As much as I had always planned to go back to work full time after having children, having had various heated arguments with my parents over the years about a woman’s need and right to work, the prospect of putting my son into day-care at one was, for me, heart-wrenching and as financially I'd be no better off it seemed working from home was the only sensible option.

I fully respect all mothers’ choices and believe that there are some wonderful nurseries, child-minders and nannies out there, I just felt that until he is 2 or 3 I would rather look after him myself, for me it felt like the only choice. I'm also aware that many people don't have local family support and without this working from home would take up even more of my evenings and weekends so for that and a million other things I am eternally grateful to my wonderful parents.

However, the decision hasn't always sat well with me and there are days when I long for the stimulation and social interaction of the working world; the brief online correspondences with my clients a poor substitute for a chat about last night's 'Sherlock' during a coffee break or some juicy gossip around the water-cooler.

I take my son to various playgroups and classes throughout the week to ensure he has enough interaction with other children and whilst at home attempt to play, draw and read to him as much as I can. Of course the reality is that some days, even after guzzling three skinny lattes and inhaling a full-fat chocolate muffin, I feel exhausted and struggle to keep up the intensity, sometimes relying on the charms of my good friends Peppa, Ben, Holly and Thomas.

Some days I feel like I’m a bad mum as I wheel the buggy round the block a few more times to see if our very active son will nod off to sleep for a few more minutes, because as much as you love them, sometimes you love them just that little bit more when their bedtime comes around and you can see the first signs of eye-rubbing and soft-toy cuddling.

I also miss the nights out; having had a very active social life pre-baby, especially during my TV career. The joy of having an impromptu post-work drink lost to most parents (whether at home or back at work) the moment the little one pops out.

Although I still try to get into town to meet my old friends as much as possible, as many of us have kids now, the times get fewer and farther apart. When we do get together for a long Sunday lunch on the Southbank or evening drinks in Soho it’s a joyous event and for a few hours we forget our responsibilities, drink wine and become our old selves again. Of course there is the inevitable baby talk but our shared history allows us to discuss other topics.

Meeting up with new-mummy friends can be a slightly different affair. Whilst some mums you meet are right on your wavelength (I was cheered enormously ten minutes into my first NCT group meeting to hear a couple of mums saying how much they longed to have a proper drink and missed sharing a bottle of wine with their friends and partners) some mums are not.

Some mums you meet, try to befriend even ... and yet you know they’re not right for you. You bond over nappies and sleep stories but there is little else there. It’s hard enough in life to find friends you have something in common with, but finding mum-friends can be even harder.

You want to build up a network of local mum-mates you can rely on, have much needed nights out with and arrange play-dates for your little darlings with, but it doesn't always work out.

It’s like dating and often you find your texts aren't returned, or it’s you who can’t be bothered, or you have to cancel so many times because your baby has a cold again, that it just kind of just fizzles out. It’s not you it’s me … and my toddler who keeps picking up every bug going and quite frankly doesn't like your kid who just tries to whack him on the head with a sippy cup each time my back is turned anyway.

I attempt to keep up appearances trying to ensure I put my make-up on each morning, brush my hair and find a pair of jeans that aren't encrusted with Weetabix or fruit puree. However, some says I’ll drag myself down the road to the coffee shop with toddler in tow wearing dirty clothes, no make-up and my hair scraped back in a pony-tail that looks as lacklustre as I feel.

Catching sight of yourself on one of those real ‘mummy’ days is a horrifying experience. My mum thoughtfully bought me a padded raincoat last year from Per Una when I was bemoaning how hard it is to hold an umbrella whilst pushing a buggy. Kind gesture though it was the hooded cream coat doesn't just scream ‘mummy’ is screams ‘mumsy’ and I only wear it in emergencies.

When you do glimpse yourself in the shop window on that kind of day it’s a shock, you suddenly see yourself as others do; harassed mum, dark circles under the eyes, in desperate need of a good night out and a stiff V&T. I used to see those mums and swore, if I ever had kids, I’d never become one. Oh the folly of youth.

I remember going to a baby class when our son was around four months old and really wanting to make a good impression. I started to put my make-up on, tinted-moisturiser, blusher, liquid eye-liner … just then he started wailing and demanding my attention. I remember thinking I must remember to finish my face. Three hours later after class a sinking feeling in my stomach and a quick glance in the living room mirror revealed the worst; I had gone to class and chatted at length to a new potential mum friend, with only one eye made up.

Faux pas aside being a mum is hard work, physically more demanding than any job I've ever had and emotionally exhausting. The highs are life-affirming, the lows the opposite extreme. Our son used to sleep for a solid 2-3 hours in the late morning at around three months so I had quite a lot of free time to e-mail and Facebook.

When I started writing again I had visions of myself sitting in the local coffee shop, our little man asleep next to me in the buggy, whilst I tapped away happily on my laptop. Like Carrie Bradshaw except with a designer buggy instead of a designer bag. ‘Sex and the City’? More like ‘No Sex in The Suburbs’. I think I once wrote two lines on my laptop before our son woke up screaming and I had to put the computer away.

So there are days when I love being a mum and days when I don’t. I wouldn't change anything and I adore our son with a love which is sometimes overwhelming, but yes I would like a bit more ‘me time’, to read the odd book or on a more basic level, have a wee without a toddler trying to crawl onto my lap brandishing ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea' in his chubby paw. I guess that’s something you give up when you give birth. Sometimes it’s hard reconciling your old self with you ‘new mum’ self, but each day I strive to blend the two.

With that in mind I was just thinking about 'The Withnail & I' drinking game and wondering how much more fun I'd have at toddler class if I took a hip-flask and had a sneaky sip each time I heard the words 'wheels', 'bus', 'bobbin' or 'mulberry'.

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