Bleh! Bleh! Bleh!
Your phone alarm sounds. It doesn’t matter what pleasant tune you have changed it to in order to be less unpleasant, it always sounds the same: shrill, bossy, accusing. And it always produces in you the same bodily response: a feeling of heaviness - the result of sleep deficit, hangover or both - laced with adrenaline.
Welcome to the start of your day.
Or so it was, before you had children. My, how you moaned when all you’d had to do was drink a bit less and go to bed a bit earlier, but that would have been boring so you never did. Come to think of it, that bit hasn’t changed much with having kids (not if you’re me, anyway). But now, in fact, you can take all of this and raise it by adding children to the mix because after your maternal absence, you’re finally going back to work. Why? Well, in my case it’s not down to any contractual agreement but through pure choice.
Yes, all true. Second time around especially, for all the kids’ hilarity you do miss adult banter. You miss feeling vaguely skilled at something that doesn’t involve babies. More than that, you miss the freedom to do with parts of your day what you please.
But more about freedom later. Please note I said ‘parts’ of your day because let us not forget that each day starts with a morning. Morningtime in the working-parent household is a very special time indeed, because on top of all of the above some extra fun elements have been thrown in, namely a minimum of one cherub in particularly difficult/ dawdling mood, an extra-large slice of sleep-deficit pie for you and Husband and all of it pitted against a cruel clock to which chunks of time melt away at some kind of parallel-universe lightspeed.
Anyway, there you and Husband are, juggling and tag-teaming your little socks off, highchairing and feeding the children. Then, like cuckoo-clock figurines, one of you pops out of the shower at the same time that the other one zips in. Shower privacy? There is none, of course, since the door is constantly flung open to shouts of ‘have you seen his shoes/ my keys, etc’ mixed with chirrups, screams and toilet flushes, all set to the constant, gravelly whirr of the coffee machine. You glance at your watch:
It’s already nine minutes later than you’d intended to leave, you’re trying to wipe the children with a stinky flannel and suddenly an inner voice (or maybe Husband’s voice) just yells
‘Leave it! Go!’
And everything reduces to some kind of terrible slow-motion where with each blink and each heartbeat the chaos flashes before you. As if there is a fire, you must simply run. You grab the children, your bag, their overfull bags and head for the door, flinging it open. As you take one glance back, you see the half-wiped highchair/s, the coffee cups, the foul dishcloth hanging off the counter. The scene looks like an oat-splashed Marie Celeste, you think, as you pull shut the door and stride to the car.
Next minute, you blink and take stock. You realise you have just pulled up outside your children’s daycare centre. You have no recollection of the journey you have just made with your foggy, auto-pilot brain and yet here you are. With adrenaline still pumping you grab the children and only just remember their bags, thrusting them into the arms of the lady waiting at the door. Your children may start to cry. And however much you know they’ll stop in about 90 seconds, the cries still smart as you dart back to the car, plonk yourself in, and then, suddenly,
Something in you changes. Some crazy wave of calm washes over you, like a breath. You know the day will be different now.
At work, when immersed in whatever it is you do to Earn Money, you don’t perceive what’s happening to you. But come coffee break or, even better, lunch break, you see it: liberty. You can go where you please, not having to think about nap time or where is baby-friendly or where has changing facilities. More than that, you have physical liberty: you are not pushing a pram so each time you leave a queue or a shop you almost feel like you’ve forgotten something. You feel so weightless it’s as if with each step your body, full of helium, could float away.
Where to go! What to do with this time! How little you used to appreciate it!
But it’s a strange kind of liberty because you never truly revert to the pre-baby you, ever again. In the supermarket, you mindlessly scan the shelves only to look down at your arm and see that you are gently rocking your empty trolley, back and forth, as if it were a pram in baby-soothing motion. And yet losing wheels altogether, simply carrying your bag/s feels weirder still since you’re so used to having a pram to put stuff in all the time. You begin to understand why old ladies drag those little tartan trolleys around. You may even slightly envy them.
And the end of the day? It comes around quickly and intensely. No swanning off to the shops or work drinks for you. Nope, it’s Pickup Time, from whence you have a flurry of madness until 7pm; think Morning Time but with baths thrown in, more tomfoolery and more peachy infant nakedness everywhere. And once it’s all over, once you finally hear silence replacing their sleepy sounds, you reflect. You consider how mad that all just was, how mad the next morning will be and thus how you need to turn in early, sober and sensible.
Unless you’re me, or Husband, that is. And since we never learn anything, we live in total denial of all of the above. We watch back-to-backs of Whatever Season We Love until fizzing with overtiredness, then repeat all above steps ad infinitum.
But you know the best thing about being in denial? You can be in denial about it and it’s fine. Just ask the US President.