My 'day in the life of a working mum'
I've read loads of them.I used to enjoy reading the ones in Stylist magazine of confident women who owned their own businesses and had hugely successful careers already glittering in the dust behind them, juggling multiple children with a Blackberry strapped into one perfectly-nailed hand and never so much as wearing a slightly grey and far less than crisp white shirt with a stain on the front to a meeting with an important client. I've never done any of that - I deliberately don't buy white clothes and I've never had my nails done - my nails are brittle as hell and slowly detaching themselves from the nail beds and I find long nails of any kind totally impractical and a bit creepy. I don't do ironing either, for me, or for anyone else in my family. I aspired to be like these women (in every way other than the nails, obviously) even before I had a child of my own. I just knew I never would be.
My day can begin at a range of timesdepending on several factors; if I'm working and going into the office, I set my phone alarm for 6am. My husband leaves the house to travel to Milton Keynes at 5am so he's not around for this bit of the day. Here's where people seem to score points for being martyrs about what time they get up - the earlier this is, the better parent you are. If I've remembered to put my alarm out of reach of the bed, I'll actually get up at 6am. If not, I'll probably accidentally turn it off and sleep in until my son's shouting wakes me up sometime between 7 and 8.30am (day ruined, frankly). He's 2.7 and still sleeping in a travel cot so he can't escape and do himself any damage. He's very clever at everything apart from danger, and knowing about it, and it frightens me that he might just get up and break into the cleaning cupboard or join a gang or something, so he remains caged for now. If I do get up and he's already awake (I'll listen outside his door for snuffling sounds if he's not already yelling 'MUhmmmEE!') I'll stick him in front of the TV with his toys whilst I shower and get dressed, with a can of energy drink at my side (one of those ghastly huge ones that looks like a beer can when you're drinking out of it whilst pushing a buggy on a weekday morning) and a layer of guilt hanging over my head about a) him being occupied by the television, and b) the fact that I'm spending any of the time he's home with me on any semblance of a beauty regime for myself.
In the shower, I'll also notice how disgusting that bit where the toiletry bottles sit has become and do some simultaneous cleaning
with my husband's awful flannel which I hate, or think about how hard it'll be to sustain myself until 2pm without eating.
which as far as I'm concerned, is not a thing and therefore I refuse to acknowledge it. I used to wear suits (I say suits, when what I really mean is a jacket, and a completely unrelated pair of trousers), but I realised I wasn't convincing anyone, so I had to stop. I bring my phone into the bathroom and watch BBC Breakfast whilst doing my hair and makeup. Despite how tired I usually feel, this is one of my most favourite parts of the day. That also makes me feel guilty (Guilty).
After this I'll tiptoe around tidying up Brio and dinosaur-shaped debris, put last night's plates and pots in the dishwasher and check the nursery bag to make sure he has two spare sets of clothes and nappies because he's not quite ready to start potty training and I don't feel the urge to foist it upon him yet. We're trying to sell our flat, so I try to leave the place 'viewing-ready' as I call it and this is a total pain in the arse when you have a toddler. I deliberately turn the lights off in the living room before wakes up to try and stop him seeing any of his toys if I need him to get up and get dressed and out the door straight away.
Putting on washing is not something that happens very often on a work day because inevitably I forget to take it out and then discover it again on the weekend, lying in a pool of stinky water.If my husband's off - he only works half the days in a year, lucky sod - he gets up and gets our son ready for nursery so I don't then have to factor that extra time in. Somehow it still takes just as long either way. Note to self: must think more about this when I have time (i.e. never).
I aim to be leaving by 7am and this should be perfectly possible in theory, but it tends to be more like 7.30, latest 8 (disaster/guilty). I walk at a fast pace and I track the journey with my Fitbit and try to beat my times each day because I've come to the conclusion that racewalking (this does exist, it has a hashtag and everything) is the only cardio exercise my body will tolerate without breaking for the 2km to nursery. I was once catapulted into the road over the top of the buggy (SO guilty) when I was walking so fast the front wheel caught in a pothole as I pushed it off the kerb. White van men had to ask me if I was 'alright love?', and the woman who almost ran me over also stopped, thankfully. I wonder why I don't see more people experiencing this seeing considering every other child in the world has a Maclaren buggy with quite small wheels, as far as the giant unpruned forest of them at nursery would suggest.
I'll then walk the remaining 3km to work in Canary Wharf, via the foot tunnel, which really winds me up because people cycle at full pelt through there and I want to stick an umbrella in their spokes to teach them a lesson. I just tweet angrily about it instead and nobody cares. I listen to lectures from Stanford University for this leg of the journey because I hate 'dead time' when I could be learning something, but often I forget to pay attention and end up rewinding the same parts over and over again. This bit of the day is almost guilt-free because I'm not only exercising, but also learning - or at least pretending to. Once I arrive at work - anywhere between 8.30 and 9.30am - I load up on more caffeine and try and capitalise on the post-exercise focus to get through emails. Once this is done, I try not to look at them again until the afternoon. Believe me, everyone would be hugely more productive if they did this. People often tell you to do this, but as soon as it's their own emails you're ignoring they almost always get shitty about it and feign ignorance.
I would say I'm lucky to have an employer who allows me the flexibility of turning up whenever I want, but frankly it shouldn't matter unless it would be detrimental to them in some way.I work harder because I have that autonomy and I'm thinking about work so much (Guilty) that I can go a bit bonkers, so I'm definitely not a slacker. The sooner we all get out of this mindset where value is determined by hours spent doing something, the better. More on that later.
I use noise-cancelling headphones to block out the open plan office irritants
If my husband is finishing early or off work that day I'll probably stay at work until at least 6pm whilst he does nursery pick up, but if not I leave at 5pm and walk back across to collect our son at 6pm. We might stop in at Waitrose on the way home to
Such is the power of an eating disorder that I will deliberately avoid working from home because I'm afraid of the lack of structure - and more importantly the availability of 'unsafe' food in the house.My son has all three meals at nursery so that really helps, although I do worry that we haven't established 'dinner time' as a family (or at all in my case), which means on weekends he just snacks all day. Anything food-related is problematic to me, but people don't like you talking about that because we're all meant to be sitting up to home-cooked meals at 5pm around a dinner table, even though no adult I know eats a meal at that time.
On the weekends I sleep until I hear shouting and then my son comes into my bed and cuddles whilst watching something on the iPad (very guilty) and I half go back to sleep. Same for my husband if he's at home (he stays over at work quite often to avoid the 5am start and lack of trains at that time on weekends). I might shower if I can be bothered, or if not we go straight into the living room to watch more TV (old-school guilty) and I give my son weetabix and cheerios for breakfast. I'll sit down and try and work for a bit, or at least as long as I can before I completely lose concentration and he gets bored of playing with trains. We don't usually have set plans on the weekend, but we tend to go for a walk mid-morning in Greenwich Park for a couple of hours and if a nap doesn't happen we watch a film and generally mess about for the rest of the day, with the odd supermarket trip in the car thrown in. I could pretend we go swimming or to soft play but we don't (guilty)- getting to the park is often about as much as we manage and just getting dressed in order to do that can take several hours. He's pretty verbal so we avoid some of the drama caused when children can't say how they're feeling, but sometimes he'll just not want to get dressed to go out to the playground, and also not understand why showing up in just a nappy wouldn't be a good idea. After a few times round the argument, I'll just think 'fuck it' and settle in for the day.
He and I enjoy fake-dancing and saying silly words, or out-shouting each other in silly voices, which is not an activity my husband particularly enjoys us doing. I've always done it, it's sort of a steam valve for when my brain goes offline for a bit. It's also a bit of bonding. Ideally I'd choose to do this bonding over playing the piano or something, but if I pick up any of my musical instruments or start singing I get told to 'shut up mummy'.
I enjoy the un-structuredness of the weekends, but I can only do this for a couple of days before my head begins to melt. Luckily, that's all a weekend is.
I might eat microwave popcorn or some veggie concoction I have to make myself with weighed out veggies at about 9pm and watch something on the Amazon Fire TV box, maybe a US series or one of the original Amazon pilots, whilst working on my laptop. I don't know why I do this, because I know I cannot multi-task between writing and the TV. I'll go to bed at anywhere between 9.30 and 11pm. My husband usually goes to bed much earlier when he's working, so the whole day is sort of run on sometimes overlapping but largely unmatched schedules. The only time we watch something together is when he's off work on the weekend, when we can actually have our evenings running on the same timings.
We don't have any family nearby so all of this stuff has to happen between just the two of us; there's nobody to pick up any slack. If one of us is ill, the other has to keep all the balls in the air solo. My friends would say I often bang on about this and they're right - it's really effing hard work to keep going and going without a break.
I'm only ever off work when my son's not at nursery, so I have to get all the projects I'm working on, or anything that's just for me outside of work sorted in the evenings, when I really just want to lie horizontal in a dark room (as my mum would say).
I reach breaking point usually just before a scheduled period of time off, but before I know it I'm locked back into that battle with all of the food I hadn't planned would be there and keen to get back into some forced structure. If I know there's something lurking in the house that I don't allow myself to have, even if it belongs to someone else I have to eat it, just to make it not be there anymore. Otherwise I can't concentrate on anything else. I don't want to be chained to the food in my cupboards, so when I ask my husband not to bring home things like chocolate or sweets it's not me using reverse psychology at all - I really mean it. Christmas is hell for me for that reason, and I still can't actually get these words out to my extended family or friends because I'm embarrassed, and because I know they'll just laugh and think 'Oh, she means DO buy loads of sweet stuff and food she likes!'.
If I said I had type 1 diabetes people would get it, but this is mental illness, so nobody believes it's a real request. Mental illness is still a joke.
When we move all of this will go up in smoke I'm sure, and we'll do it all differently. Or maybe we won't - maybe we just like it this way. As I write, my son's eating sugar-free muesli and dried fruit with fig and honey yoghurt and he just turned around to me and said 'Hmmm, sweet crumble'. Well yes my love, yes it is.