Five things I’ve learnt from maternity leave

With exactly a week to go before I return to the daily grind, the Final Countdown is on. Here are the top five things I’ve learnt from my year off…

1. There’s no such thing as boredom.

I asked DH before my maternity leave was due to start, “shall I do a Master’s degree? To pass the time?” After having DS1 during my undergraduate degree, I thought it would be perfect timing to have a year off work, look after a baby and gain another qualification. Young fresh-faced me may have stood up to that challenge – the slight older more worn me eventually decided I probably could do with a break. And you know, spend more time with the baby.

2. I’m not as introverted as I thought.

I felt enlightened after reading Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution and watching her TED Talk. She and Myers & Briggs had me down to a T. But I found myself signing up to all sorts; baby yoga, Baby Sensory, Peas’n’Pods, the PTA for the older one at school. What’s more, I found I thrived around people and actually enjoyed small talk – yeah I know, right?

3. Yes, I can do it all over again.

A year ago I was gearing up to send my eldest off to school at the same time as welcoming a new baby to our family. I was past night feeds, controlled crying and potty training, not to mention shunting trucks and hauling freight. I was ready for homework, show and tell, and tales of who pushed who in the playground. What if I forgot how to do something vital? I found myself plunged in a world of nappies and clock watching for the next feed, Googling the odd bit to fill in the gaps. Within a few weeks, I was in the full swing of being mummy to a little once again and it turns out, it wasn’t that difficult after a routine was in place.

4. Change is scary.

There’s a real sense of panic when I think too much about going back to work. It’s not that I don’t want to work; if DH ever suggested I could be a SAHM, I think I’d be quite sad at that prospect. I felt a similar fear a few weeks leading up to maternity leave. It’s the new era, change, how our routine will be turned upside down. The lack of control I have over the situation is probably more overwhelming than the change itself. I absolutely love how interesting my job is and if I think about the job in itself without all the baggage, I’m actually quite excited.

5. I bloody hate cleaning.

Gone are the days of SAHMs scrubbing the floors and wiping down the windows. DH finds it hilarious when I say my week has been so busy, I haven’t found the time to pick up the Hoover. I can’t wait until I can legitimately ask DH to do his fair share.

Train Etiquette.

Queensland Rail train etiquetteThere are a number of social rules one should follow, like queuing in an orderly fashion, kindly offering your seat to the elderly and so on, but these are a given. What about the rules that are not in common knowledge and should be explicably stated in some kind of rule book for newbie commuters?

Like for example, if someone has clearly finished reading their newspaper and casts it on the shared table, are other passengers allowed to nab it? Quite obviously the paper will be abandoned once the train has reached it’s destination. And does it matter whether the paper has been paid for? I wonder whether simply being the first person to physically pick up the Metro means you now have full ownership of it.

There’s also the issue of talking. It’s not considered the ‘done thing’ on the platform, or even the train itself, unless you actually know the person. A bloke who gets on my train (let’s call him Bob) probably has the least train etiquette of all commuters. I am one of the losers who position myself on the platform exactly where the doors open, so I get a seat – it rarely fails me. But Bob, he likes to stand next to my spot. And stare intently until you give some kind of recognition of his presence, then he smiles awkwardly.

On the one occasion he did converse with me because our train was half an hour late, he tried to reminisce other train moments, in his OUTDOOR VOICE, much to my dismay. I like to think I have train etiquette (despite being the person who reaches out for abandoned newspapers). Luckily I only have to sit on the train for 25 minutes, so I’m blissfully unaware of other commuting no-no’s…

A Fresh Start.

As you are probably aware, DS has had a tough time at nursery in the past couple of months. He struggled to settle in and there were ongoing issues with the lack of food they were giving him. The communication was poor and I was left not knowing what my baby boy was getting up to for large chunks of the day. Yes he survived the day each time, but considering the amount we pay for childcare, we should receive a little more than the bare essentials; even then he would regularly come home crying for water.

But enough with the bitching, I am happy to section that part of DS’ life away to a dark corner and move forward. After an erratic week of finishing one nursery and having settling-in sessions at another, DS been exceedingly good at his new nursery today. I was doubtful at first, as he would kick and scream at the drop offs for settling-in sessions. But today he walked in calmly and did not shed a tear. My boy did me proud.

I have high hopes for this nursery, they are very confident in the way they conduct themselves and how they communicate with parents. I was a little annoyed that they did not apply Sudo cream because I had not signed a form (even though I gave them verbal authorisation), but I guess it is good to be strict with rules. I had a little spy on DS on the nursery cam and he seemed pretty happy running about with the other children. They only allow fifteen minutes a day per parent to view, which is good as we all need that little bit of reassurance, but we also need to get on with the reasons why they are there in the first place.

Here's what you could have won - What we gave to DS' first nursery when we left.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo..

I wish all our trains were this happy.

In recent weeks I have joined our daily commuters in the not-so-adventurous journey into London. I get the high speed train which takes me into St Pancras in shockingly 25 minutes, which is a very expensive alternative to avoiding a 1.5 hour journey on the slower Charing Cross train, to only get the tube to the other side of London. I must say, commuting has become a rather pleasant and, dare I say it, relaxing experience on the high speed. You rarely find a group of loud obnoxious teenagers hogging up all the seats and drunks are pretty much unheard of. I guess they would rather spend the extra dosh on a few more tins and get the peasant wagon.

Not to be classist or defamatory to people who get the Charing Cross train, I mean, my husband gets it for gods sake. Realistically though, the drunks and yobs are not willing to pay more for the same vandalism they can cause on a ‘cheaper’ train. I use the term ‘cheap’ lightly, because we all know how ridiculously expensive both trains have become. The Charing Cross train takes an hour to reach its destination, and with an annual season ticket, it will set you back £3,380. The St Pancras International high speed train is a comfortable 25 minutes, for an even pricier £4,368 with an annual season ticket. Isn’t it ironic that the longer you are on the train for, the less you pay; for an extra £988 you can pay to not be on the train.

And yet we factor in the losses because our time is so precious to us, we would rather pay to retain few more minutes of our lives. The train has become a rich man’s toy, leaving the rest of us in deficit. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The Luxuries in Life.

The costly expense of childcare and how many families are suffering as a result, hit our screens as breaking news last week. I did not need a study and some arbitrary statistic to tell me sending DS to nursery is expensive, I just have to review my finances.

This is hardly breaking news; I could have told you last week, last month and I can tell you today, that families are feeling the crunch. There were once a time when being a housewife and a kept woman was seen as a privilege. You did not need to work because your husband could support the family on a single income, so you would spend your days shopping, baking cakes and reading classic stories to the children. You would consider yourself as lucky to be in such a position and dismiss the world accordingly for an afternoon episode of Loose Women.

Nowadays, being a housewife is probably cheaper on the whole for families. It is ludicrous to think the expense of working makes getting a job not worthwhile; surely having a duel income should better your family financially, rather than be a hinderance? Childcare has become a luxury and exclusive to those families who can pay.

The Guardian states, ‘for four out of 10 families the cost of childcare is on a par with mortgage or rent payments’; on par is probably your limits, because you would not pay more for childcare than the cost of your home. But the reality is, if DS was to attend nursery full-time five days a week, it would set us back £835 a month. The average cost of a two bedroom property in Gravesend is somewhere between £650 – £800 a month, do the math. Fortunately DS only goes to nursery three days a week, but the cost is still excessively high for not much return.

The cost of a commute (be it trains or topping up on petrol) has drastically risen over the past few years, coupled with the increase in rent/mortgage repayments, electricity, food, childcare, the list goes on. With stagnant salaries, low wages and pay freezes, how is the average family going to survive in the long-run, Mr Cameron?

Where’s Dee-Da Gone?

*I am not sure if I have mentioned in previous posts, but DS’ name for Daddy is Dee Da (obviously Daddy reversed!).

I am swarmed with mixed feelings when DS asks where either of us are – His cuteness makes me smile; I become very proud of my little boy and his ability to string three words together at 21 months, but then I become overwhelmed with guilt and sorrow. When I call my mother from work and DS speaks on the phone, he repeatedly says ‘Mummy gone, Dee Da* gone‘ and it is incredibly heartbreaking. I wish he could understand, see the bigger picture, imagine how much better off we will be in a few years. But I know he only lives in the present and when something sad happens it is the end of the world for him.

A Mother’s Guilt.

In a world full of unpredictability, constraints and constant setbacks, decisions have to be made in order for progression. Our decision to both be in full-time employment has not come easy. Weighing up the pros and cons, the now seems almost insignificant amidst the wider picture.

Yet the majority of the time we must live in the present; residing in the past permits life to drift on by and living in the future is merely a daydream. I find it easier to deal with particular circumstances when I set these categories. Sometimes you lose perspective in whichever time frame you find yourself in and it helps to outline goals, reasons, justifications.

I paint the wider picture with images of a big house, fast cars, private schooling and exotic holidays. The prospect of a duel income and security seems more inviting than living on a budget and just getting by until DS goes to a state school. With the long shot in mind, I push aside my anxieties of DS being at nursery three days a week and not having any meals with him Monday to Thursday. Of course these are my fears, not his. He will be absolutely fine playing with the other kids and an endless mountain of toys.

I am playing full-time Mummy this month whilst I await my turn to go to work. DH has already been summoned to the daily grind, rushing in the morning to catch the 6:47AM train and not returning until 7:30PM. He sees DS briefly in the morning in between getting dressed and eating breakfast, and for five minutes in the evening just to say hello. Sometimes DS is so worn out from the day, he is already in bed by the time DH returns. That is when the sadness sets in and work becomes a forlorn attempt to escape. The tough work, long days and late nights hardly feels worth while when an overwhelming sense of the present hits you in the face.

It is easy for individuals without children to disregard this angst we feel, as something we can push aside or just get over. Missing your children is not the same as missing your other half; I dislike not seeing DH, but it is heart breaking knowing my baby is growing up in our absence. Maybe I am being overdramatic, as we will see him at weekends and I will be home on Fridays. It is also inevitable he will go to school full-time and spend the majority of each day without us anyway.

Whatever the reasoning, no matter how many times you justify it to yourself, it does not get easier. We become each others priorities and the weekends are golden. We owe this to the eighteen year old DS going to university and, god forbid, the thirty-nine and forty-one year old parents we will inevitably become.

Let me give the world to you.