Preparing for re-entry into the world of work

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I’m likely to be starting back at work soon and that’s been churning up a lot of emotions. I’ll only be working on a part time basis and it’s a temporary contract so who knows what will happen after that, if I’ll find another part time role, whether we can afford for me not to do that or whether I need to consider full time options. Obviously I’m hoping that I’ll win one of the premium bond monthly lottery prizes of a million pounds but in case that doesn’t happen I recognise that we probably do need something of an income to live and I, albeit very reluctantly, accept that I may have to contribute somewhat significantly to that.

Anyhoo, with the countdown to my maternity leave ticking away as my baby transformed from a teeny newborn to a chubba bubba in the blink of an eye, combined with said baby trolling me with sleep patterns that do not always resemble either sleep or patterns I am struggling not to burst into the tears at the thought of a drastic reduction in my time with the girls. I was in a playgroup the other day and trying to guess which of the multitude of grown-ups were parents, grandparents, nannies, childminders and nursery workers when I suddenly felt a sadnesss weighing down on me at the thought that so many of us have children but then have to employ other people to look after them.

Obviously this is a hormonally, sleep-deprived over simplification of the many reasons and responsibilities that cause parents to return to work. And actually, although not without its problems, I found it a lot easier to go back to work after my first child. This time around there has been so much upheaval for me in the last few months, with not only the family expansion but the return to the UK and the readjustment that has entailed, that has meant these months have flown by a lot quicker. However, I also recognise that a benefit of the maternity eave that is necessary to attend to my baby’s essential needs has also allowed me to spend a lot of time with and really start to enjoy the company of my elder child.

There’s a line in one of my favourite books, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that seems pretty apt ‘and she discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.’ I remember being reassured by that before my first daughter was born and it has become even more applicable in the recent months when I have been able to devote so much of my time to both my children.

My eldest is of an age where she is changing and developing at a rapid pace. Her vocabulary and powers of communication grow stronger day by day and that is enabling her to exert her personality in ever deeper shades. The truth is I want to be around her and, right now, she wants to be around me. As my last blog touched on I know this isn’t a state that will last forever and the idea of having to give up on time with her at this precious stage is, quite simply, a little bit heart-breaking.

Having said that, I know that she needs space away from us to learn new things and test boundaries and start to find her way in the world. So while I want to be around her as much as possible (aside from when she is driving me potty and I really don’t) but I also know that that isn’t the best option for her in the long run. She’s always been a sociable child and I think benefited greatly from her regular contact with other children via the childminder and frequent play-dates when we were living in France. So with all this in mind we agreed it would be best to start her in nursery, on a part time basis, as soon as possible. She had far more settlement visits than required, even after we argued with the nursery about this, knowing that she’d quickly adapt well to the change and would benefit from a little more structure to her week and some regular play sessions away from her parents and surrounded by other kids.

As anticipated, she has taken to her new schedule really well, aside from a little reluctance to get up early enough to get to nursery, like her parents she isn’t much of a morning person. But it’s definitely been the right call for her and I hope that even if my work doesn’t extend beyond my temporary contract we can find the funds to keep her in nursery. Because, my word, is childcare expensive!

As my current work situation is not long term I’ve been scouting other job options and have come to the conclusion that I need to be earning a serious ton of moolah to have anything left over after forking out for childcare for two children, and this is assuming that the beard will be able to find a job with a salary that can meet all other living costs.

If we had thought about the financial reality of childcare costs in the UK, there is a good possibility that we might have delayed the arrival of baby (and would therefore have had a different baby entirely, now there’s a whirlwind thought) aiming for a three year rather than a two year gap purely so that we could have benefited from the 15 hours of free nursery care that three year olds are entitled to.

Clearly people have different opinion on the optimum age gap between siblings but its pretty tragic really to think that so many people are forced to make these decisions not on what is best for their family in an ideal scenario but what is financially feasible. Perhaps I am just being incredibly naïve about all this, and should accept more readily that with a family comes responsibilities that include ensuring you are in a financially strong enough position to be able to provide for any offspring, it just seems sad that these kind of fundamental decisions can be so restricted by the status of your wealth, or lack thereof.

For me being able to work part time is a good solution to being able to give my children the space they need while being able to maximise the time I have to enjoy being with them and all the benefits that hopefully brings to everyone. Whether this is something I’ll be financially free to continue once my contract is over is another story, but whatever the future holds I will adapt to the situation we live in and make the best of it, because what else is there to do?

A Trio of Travellers

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At first, when I was pregnant, I thought that having a baby would mean an end to my wandering days, that I wouldn’t be able to book flights to a random destination just because they were cheap and have the kinds of mini adventures I’d enjoyed previously.

Like many expecting parents we planned a baby-moon or two to make the most of our carefree coupledom before the baby ball and chain would tether us to the ground.

At some point a friend who’d already had a baby and was much more enlightened than us pointed out that actually travelling with a child was possible, not even that difficult, you just had to factor in a couple of extra details  in your planning, don’t book a room on the fifth floor of a hotel without a lift.

Being a migrant, with all our family and many of our friends based in a different country, a degree of travel has, at any rate, been essential to introduced loved ones to our loveliest one. Flying from Geneva to the UK is also not the most arduous of journeys (unlike some of our baby parents friends who’ve travelled to Canada and Australia to introduce their newborns to family).

Our munchkin was due at the start of August and we had been invited to a wedding in the UK at the start of October, we didn’t know if the babe would arrive according to schedule and weren’t sure how long it’d take to process her application, but we hoped we’d be able to sort her a passport in time and optimistically booked flights on basis that it was better to book early and not pay crazy extortionate last minute prices but potentially risk not being able to go. I think we booked flights around July and it was during the booking process that we first spelled out her name, I found the whole thing too strange so made Tom type in the characters that enabled easyjet became the first to see our baby’s name in print.

As it turned out, the little turnip arrived a few days early, the passport was processed by the end of August (sadly not quite in time to make it for another dear friend’s wedding) and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for our first family flight to the UK.

A neighbour recommend the use of Muellin oil to help prevent popping ears and I’d already read that breastfeeding on the plane or giving the baby a dummy or something else to suck on was supposed to help.

As it was our first UK trip and I was on maternity leave we planned to stay in the UK for a little over a week to take in as many friends and family as possible, outside of those chums we’d see at the wedding. So as it was a prolonged stay and babies necessitate so much stuff we packed a suitcase in addition to the cabin bags, baby bag and pram with removable car seat.

Navigating the airport via luggage drop-off, security and passport control was manageable if a bit of an exercise in juggling as we traversed through the terminal shifting bags and baby and accoutrements between us.

The flight itself was not terrible and aside from a bit of crying on departure the teeny one was fine, snoozing through most of the flight.

Our biggest mistake was in not realising that although you drop your buggy off at the plane you don’t get it back until you get to baggage reclaim and as the first airport we flew to was Gatwick this meant a 10/15 minute walk having to carry baby bag, two cabin bags and a bag of duty free in addition to the baby. So the Beard lugged the luggage and I managed the mini one and we vowed to pack the harness and to make the most of the pushchairs both sets of grandparents had picked up from charity shops, for future trips.

Since then we’ve travelled a lot, probably more than we did BC (Before Child) as within a year we’ve been back to the UK on six separate occasions as well as travelling to Sorrento and Split. I think our child has flown more in the first twelve months of her life than I did in the first twenty-one years of mine.

‘Tato-tots will not fondly recall the first time she flew on a plane, whereas I will always remember the first time I flew (with my parents to the Algarve when I was about 12), because by the time she’s old enough to form those kinds of lasting memories she’ll probably have already flown a distance equivalent to the circumference of the globe.

It is becoming more challenging flying with her as she has grown and become more alert and interested in what’s going on around her. We can no longer expect to have an easy flight with a child contentedly snoozing in our laps and the Beard and I have to mentally brace ourselves for what is starting to become a fairly exhausting mission (considering no flight so far has been more than 90 minutes), trying to keep a lively little one entertained in confined spaces as we move from one line to another to coop ourselves up in set seats and then repeat the line shuffling before strapping her into a car seat and making the journey back to whichever grandparents’ house is base of operations for the visit.

I am pleased that we did manage a couple of actual holidays this year too, with a break in Sorrento with just the three of us in the Spring and a trip to Split with friends at the start of the Summer. I think next year we’ll need to be a little more strategic to maximise the use of my leave, navigate the Beard’s study requirements, manage the friends and family visits and still get some actual recharge-your-battery type holidays in the mix too, all whilst the teeny one becomes less teeny and more of a terror as mobility increases and willingness to sit still decreases.

Still, I can confidently say, travelling with a baby is definitely a possibility it just requires a little more preparation to make sure the route taken and final destination are as baby-friendly as possible. I imagine travelling with a toddler will also be an option but will come with its own set of challenges that we’ll need to figure out.

Supermum to superbum so superrun

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There are lots of things I wasn’t prepared for when our little one made her way into the world. I knew life would change but I couldn’t have any idea how much.

We used to nickname our little potato ‘the life-ruiner’, or more accurately the ‘the life as we knew it ruiner’, and I’m happy to stand by that label. Life BC (before child) is over now and will never be the same again. I can no longer sleep in until midday, indulge in an entire PJ and Netflix weekend or simply go out after work without some serious planning.

But the life we lost is nothing compared to the one we are living now. I am not the same person today that I was before our petite pomme-de-terre entered the world. I’m not a completely different person either, but the difference in me before being a mother and after is massive and can never be undone, it is full of worry and joy and is enriching in ways I could never have imagined.

We are programmed to love and respond to our babies. I remember one mum friend telling me once ‘it’s scary how much you love them’ and that’s it exactly. Although you know that other parents must feel the same way about their children, somehow what you feel for yours is unique and powerful and at times almost scarily overwhelming. Loving your children and particularly feeding/nurturing them releases hormones that make you happy, you experience a natural high that is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

So, in a way, being with your baby is addictive, it makes you feel good and it makes you want to maximize that feeling. The downside of this is that not being with your baby is not a neutral state but is an absence of that positivity that can equate to a negative black hole ready to suck you in and transport you to a different universe where underlying King-Kong-like tendencies emerge and prepare you for a city-destroying rampage until you get your next baby fix.

When I first returned to work I think I adjusted reasonably well, sure it was hard to go from being with my little one 100% of the time to something like 30% but it was okay. I was good at leaving the office at a reasonable time and would carefully plan for the occasional night out. And I enjoyed being able to focus on my job and engage with adults and make my way through a list of tasks and wear jewellery and all the other many things I never had to consider BC.

However, the last couple of months have been considerably harder, the workload has intensified and the job satisfaction hasn’t always been present, which is intensified when weighed on the scale of being at work versus being with babe. Mostly I am glad to be back at work but maintaining a balance is essential and it is precarious.

Recently I have felt less like super-mum and more super-bummed, struggling with being super-burned-out. I do want to work but I also have to, and at times it is hard not to feel trapped or resentful of having to spend so many hours away from mini-me. I am lucky to work in a place that is full of parents and understands the need for a balance, I am able to work from home one day a week and nobody questions me or others sprinting out the door to get back to our children, but still sometimes meetings run late or work needs to be done that I can’t take home and complete in after baby hours. Staying an extra hour was nothing BC, maybe a later dinner and one less episode of whatever on Netflix, but now it is an hour of not seeing my daughter that cannot be compensated for.

I do not know how people who regularly have to stay late at functions and frequently miss their children’s bedtimes cope with this. I don’t know if it will become easier as time goes by and if it does whether that’s necessarily a good thing.

It isn’t that I am in any worried about her not seeing me, she’s with her daddy, she’s fine, it’s my emotional health I worry about. I need my daily baby fix and if that is interrupted without warning then the consequences are dire; I will become moody, irritable, uncooperative and angry. It is clearly in everyone’s best interests to make sure I can get away on time.

One consequence of struggling to find a work/home equilibrium is that this takes up all my energy. I am more efficient than I have ever been at work because I do not want to be working after hours and I want to prove that nothing is lost in my not doing so, but maintaining this is draining. I then cycle home as fast as my legs can peddle, to have as much focused time with the tiny one as possible before she goes to bed. And after that I am completely exhausted.

Of course it doesn’t help that sleeping 6 hours or more is still a rare occurrence what with a combination of colds and teething or just a baby who still wants to wake up and feed at least once a night, my general inability to get to bed much before 12 most nights, and a cat who invariably wakes me up on those infrequent occasions when I have managed to get to bed early and the baby does sleep through (when I’m feeling generous I pretend the cat is waking me concerned that the baby hasn’t woken up as usual, but as I’m not normally feeling generous at 3.30am in the morning and deep down know she is not a concerned pet so much as a bit of an arse, I mostly contemplate nice places in the countryside we could drive to and just set her free…).

I am trying to mitigate the constant feeling of running on empty by upping my caffeine intake (finally I understand the point of coffee, or magic-bean juice as I now like to refer to it). What also really helps is running itself (strange that expending energy somehow helps me have more energy but there we go). Usually I manage one midweek run that I tie in with my weekly yoga class (as I am already out of the house and in exercise gear its hard to come up with excuses not to). I then aim for a longer run at the weekend and try to time this with baby nap-time so as not to feel too guilty about wanting an hour to myself when carving this out of precious non-work time.

To motivate myself to run, when its so easy to come up with excuses not to, I like to sign up for the occasional competition. Last weekend my brothers joined me in running the Geneva 10k, enough of a challenge to ensure at least weekly runs, but not so insurmountable that a rigid training plan was required.

Despite the obvious fatiguing implications of running 10k the run was somehow revitalizing: the route was beautiful, the endorphins were flowing and the sense of achievement in sprinting across the finish line was on par with the high I get from hanging out with the wee one.

When I’m running I’m wholly immersed in the present, I do not think about anything aside from my immediate surroundings. There are times when I’m thinking this stretch is particularly hard, or this is a good pace, when I focus on my breathing and particularly with the 10k I recall distinctly noting when my breath went from steady pace to steady pant for the last two kilometers. I remember spotting other runners I’d seen earlier, I recalled taking in the beauty of the surroundings and beyond that I don’t remember thinking at all. I certainly wasn’t thinking about the baby, I wasn’t thinking about work, I wasn’t thinking about money stresses or the 1001 other worries that seem to have been dominating my tired little brain of late.

And just as I spend my working days thinking about the next baby high, I am now finding myself thinking about the next running high. I’d better sign up for another challenge quickly and although shoehorning running, working and babytime (and maybe even a teeny slice of socializing) into my essential weekly to-do list may be difficult I don’t think I can afford not to.