My Motherhood, Myself

I re-entered the working world this week. I had a lot of mixed emotions, but off I went to work. It wasn’t an awful few days. I had time to myself with coffee, I was able to nip to Hodges Figgis for a copy of The Testaments (I decided given my place way down the waiting list for it in the library I would treat myself), I managed to squeeze in some baking (and used the pears from the tree in our garden to perk up some gingerbread) and I was able to get my hands on a free copy of Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling.

My time management is better when I’m juggling. That’s not to say I love the juggling but when I have to tick about 25 boxes on the to-do list every morning before I leave the house faffing about on my phone is a lot less appealing. I like the balance of mothering and having a space and time in my life that has no connection whatsoever to anything else.

My Motherhood, Myself

Maternity Leave

img_20190905_101455I enjoyed a peaceful, child free morning as I left Baby Orchid for a few hours to adjust to me returning to work next week. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to take almost a full year off to stay at home with him. I’m also incredibly fortunate to have been able to keep employing our lovely child minder during the entire time, so the transition is a bit easier than might otherwise have been the case.

It’s called maternity leave, but that phrase doesn’t make sense to me because maternity is the reason for the leave. If anything, I’m starting my real maternity leave next week. I have mixed emotions. This will be the third time I’ve returned to work after having been at home for an extended period with a baby. Each time I’ve toyed with the possibility of staying at home a little longer, or taking a career break, or changing jobs, or somehow otherwise mixing it up a little.

Quite honestly, I’m returning to work because I want to and because I don’t want to lose too much of whatever of my identity has already been consumed by parenting and pregnancy. I don’t want to be known solely as Baby Orchid’s mum. I want to have a side of my life that has nothing to do with parenting whatsoever. I want to do work which isn’t for my family.

I’m reflecting on the privilege of making this decision too. I am so lucky; this is an active choice, one I was able to reach all by myself. I will feel a wrench, particularly because I’m still breastfeeding and have no plans to stop so I will have a physical reminder that I’m not with my baby as much as I used to be. I’m not looking forward to the morning scramble and all the logistics of working outside the home.

I am looking forward to people using my name. And being able to finish a coffee before it gets cold. And the smiles I’ve been getting this week when I’ve returned after a few hours away. I don’t leave all of myself at home, but I can leave some. And that can feel like a good balance.

Maternity Leave

Tiny Sparks of Joy

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Getting the computer working again so I can write. I’ve missed it. A lot.

Working on more photobooks. And recycling all the art because the photos will last a lot longer and won’t fall apart as easily as most of the projects.

A final few days before I’m back to the work treadmill.

Being organised enough to have planned several small treats for myself well in advance.

New books from the library. I can’t say it enough, I ADORE our library.

Tiny Sparks of Joy

Monica, and being 22.

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I remember the Monica Lewinsky “scandal” very well. I say “scandal” because with 20 years in between then and now I’ve revised a lot of my thoughts about her, and Bill Clinton, and that time, and how I feel about it all. I was about 14 when it all kicked off and Monica seemed like a glamorous, go-getting woman in her 20s to me, someone who had her life together and was going places and knew what she wanted and how to get it.

Obviously the age gap hasn’t changed but now I feel much closer in age to her, which is the usual feeling you get as you grow older. I’ve been the new college graduate, unsure of myself and trying to figure out the working world and my place in it after the security of years spent in full-time education. I’ve navigated the world of older men in my workplace, and walked the tightrope of years spent being polite and never quite being sure if something is what you think it is or if its something you probably shouldn’t have to put up with.

I’ve been thinking about being 22 and being around people in power, and being around one of the most powerful people in the world. I’ve been thinking about sex, and what I regarded as sex, and what other people, mostly men at least twice my age, think about sex and consent and right and wrong. It’s uncomfortable to look back at 22 year old me, and think about 22 year old Monica, and the choices we made and the things which happened which weren’t really choices at all.

I’ve listened to  season 2 of Slow Burn and what other people said about Monica and how she navigated all that pressure and how, shamefully, she became the punchline of so many jokes about sex and power and men and what they do and who they do it to. I thought about my clothes when I was 22, and how I probably would have considered a navy dress from Gap as the ideal choice for working in an office.

I think about the working world now and my place in it and if things have changed and if a 22 year old in my workplace would be treated like Monica, regardless of how many people proclaim #metoo and talk about consent and condemn the actions of men in power who take what they want. I think about the current man in the White House, and the 22 year olds who work in that building, wearing the Gap dresses and figuring out their place in the world and I hope their world is better than mine was when I was 22 and when Monica was 22.

But I don’t know if it is, or if it can be, knowing what we know about everything that’s happened since Monica was 22.

Monica, and being 22.

Mother Hood

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I will return to work next month. It’s been almost a year since I went on maternity leave. A year is a long time, and a short time. There’ve been days that felt like they went on for a year. Birth is hard, for babies and for the people who birth them. Some days feel like they happened only last week. I remember the days lying in my hospital room, watching the light change on the red brick wall I could see from the sash window. I remember the days where baby slept so much that I felt the fog of sleep deprivation lifting. I remember days where nothing I did seemed like the right thing.

It has been a good year, and a bad year, and an average year. I’ve felt regrets over significant things and trifles. Does going back to work make me feel guilty? The honest answer is no, not even a little bit. I am very lucky that I have the option to work part-time in a role that stretches me just enough to feel like a challenge but not so much that I feel stressed out on a regular basis. The real guilt I feel is that I’m not doing enough, because the time management skills I had before I had children seem to have disappeared.

I used to fit so much into my days. I would work, study, meet friends, continue hobbies, take holidays, relax with books. I still do most of these things but they feel fragmented now and I find it hard to focus on some things that used to come naturally. I wish I’d written more during this past year. I wish I’d pushed myself more. But what would have been the point, I wonder. And how could I or should I have done this.

I beat myself up by comparing myself to the other mothers who get so much done, or achieved so much more than I did before children came along. I wonder if the me I am now couldn’t sustain more ambition than I seem to have settled on. I wonder if an external force could have propelled me forward. I wonder if my age could turn into a motivator.

I’m not sure how I measure my success in life. Is becoming a mother a metric of success? I was lucky; I conceived easily and my children haven’t presented some of the myriad challenges other parents face. Is it having a secure job? I’m not sure; my job is part of my life but I wouldn’t be considered a wild success in the role. Is being married a success? Surely not; meeting someone you want to marry is largely down to luck and chance.

Part of me hopes being back at work will push me out of the mother identity a bit. Every time I’ve been on maternity leave my world seems to shrink a little. I have a vague sense that there should be more. Maybe there is, if I could lift the hood a little.

Mother Hood

The Worst Boss I Ever Had…

…was, in a way, the best.

When I left college in 2004, I didn’t really have a plan. I was working in retail at the time, mainly because I had a great part-time job throughout college in a large department store. I had a lot of experience under my belt in retail, but a strange lack of confidence in my ability to break into another sector. I don’t know why, because more than one person told me I appeared to have buckets of self belief. At the time I remember feeling annoyed with myself that everyone else seemed to have things sorted and knew where they were going and what they were doing.

With the benefit of hindsight, I know many of my college peers were just as all-at-sea as I was but from my perspective the fact they had office jobs for Major Accounting/Banking/Finance Firm gave them a veneer of success of which I was secretly very envious. I didn’t really want a job in that area, but nonetheless I wanted to appear as though I knew where I was going in life.

I wanted to earn more money and I wanted to progress towards something, so I applied for and got a job in retail management in a smaller store. I didn’t really have a long-term goal in mind so I figured this would do until I had a bit more clarity about my life. I can’t remember what I expected to get out of the job, but I gave myself a year or two in the role to see what would happen.

While I’d worked under what I thought was a reasonably personable boss all the way through college, this was not the case in my first Real Job After College. My boss turned out to be a complete nightmare. She engaged in what I’ve since learned is common, namely, information hoarding. Everything she touched caused stress. I walked on eggshells around her and put up with a lot of what I would tackle head-on these days.

I never knew if taking the initiative was the right thing or would result in a Serious Conversation about how she knew best. I couldn’t change even minor things without her changing them back or having a Serious Conversation about how she knew best. She was demotivating for other staff and I slowly started to plan my exit.

At the time I was conflicted because I enjoyed the role and many of the people I worked with. It wasn’t a dream job – is there ever such a thing, really?! – but it was a step forward in my working life and I learned a lot about what was important to me personally and professionally and what I was able to tolerate and what wasn’t acceptable to me in any way. I grew up and grew into myself quite a lot.

After nearly two years I had gained enough experience to allow me to move on and upwards a little and I thanked my boss in my head for teaching me more lessons during that time than I ever thought I would learn. She was a terrible boss, had no management skills and was entirely unsuited for her role, but in some ways she was the best boss I ever had.

The Worst Boss I Ever Had…