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Thursday, 23 February 2017

#31: On Returning To Work After Having Children

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,

And then.

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.

Oh God.



Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

#30 On Saying The Things You'd Said You'd Never Say, To Children

I became a teacher seven years before becoming a mum. Like many of my teacher-turned-mum friends, I have seen how the former helped prepare me for the latter as there are so many many parallels between the two roles: never really switching off, thinking on your feet, having to cram thirty tasks into a one-hour ‘non-contact’ slot (a free period / nap time), trying to stay psychotically positive in the face of it all. In fact, I shudder to think how the scatty, pre-teaching me would have coped with mumming; the current me can still take two hours to leave the house tots-in-tow. I doubt we’d ever have seen daylight.

And so it was that teaching also prepared me for disciplining kids, but not in the way you might think. Before you go assuming that my kids jump, Von-Trapp style, to my penny-whistled commands, let me set you very straight: I am still certain that I exercised more control in central London schools, in a sea of chewing-gum, graffiti and giant, hormonal teenagers - than I do with my own three-year-old son. No, what I learned was this: there are certain things you will find yourself saying (and doing) to maintain boundaries and they are often things you once vowed you’d never say.

‘It’s your time you’re wasting.’
‘Would you like to come and teach the class?’

I had rolled my eyes with the best of them hearing these at school. At teacher-training college, such phrases informed exactly how I did not want to practice. I will be the new, cool teacher, I thought. The maverick, the fun and funny one. I will not trot out crap old phrases and I will not enforce rules. At the end of the day, why pull kids up on uniform or lateness when there is Shakespeare to be explored, crucially, through mime and dance?  

The result: I was eaten alive, of course. My ‘lessons’ resembling the opening credits to Fraggle Rock, I had become nothing new or exciting but that old parody of the rookie. And so it was then that I sought some old-school advice from those above me, those that appeared to manage unruly classes with an effortless grace. They taught me the importance of tone of voice, postural positioning, facial expression; in short, body language. But as my confidence increased, a certain language-language began also to creep into my practice and there they were, the words I had avoided for so long:

It's your time you're wasting...

Etc, etc.


I even found myself standing, waiting for silence, hand-on-hip and emitting, just like all my own teachers back in the day, a loud ‘ERM-’ noise. Is ‘erm’ even a word? It didn’t matter. It was old-school, it was effective and that was enough.

I had become the very teacher I had sought not to be. Or sought originally not to be. But you know what? My original view had been ridiculous, informed by myself as a child, not as an adult. The penny had dropped and I enjoyed having classes who listened now; dammit, it was not just effective to trot out the cliches and the erms, it felt downright satisfying because I realised that I had earned the right. A boring conformist? Nah-  I’d finally shaken off the shackles of giving a shit what kids think. I had come of age and I began to feel how much my previous teachers must have felt the same. Maybe not the most exciting club to have graduated to, but it certainly felt good.

What does this have to do with parenthood? Well, let’s just say it’s fitting that this experience was something I brought with me into more recent years. In my childhood home, once again there were certain phrases said to me that I had winced at every time. Now you should see me as I reel them off with gay abandon. Here’s a run-down of my favourites:

Massive cliche phrase

Why it is in fact brilliant
  1. I want doesn’t get

Almost a strapline, this one is snappy, memorable. It’s slightly undermined by ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ later on but that’s for another day.
     2. Mind your P’s and Q’s
Said by paranoid parents in the car on the way to dropping you off at a friend’s house. A catchy way to stop your kid from acting like a boorish bellend, which reflects badly on you. I am sure I will use this one like there is no tomorrow when the time comes.
    3. Where does he/she live?
Less of a catchphrase but still very popular; actually meaning ‘he/she looks a but common to me.’ The utterance of this one generally rules out the necessity for #2 above.
   4. We’ll buy/do that another day, not    today.
Sounds positive but is in fact ‘sod off/ not on your life/ I hope you forget all about this very soon.’
  5. Please do X/Y/Z boring task. There’s a good boy/ girl.’
Again implying positivity and compliance before the act even occurs. Clever.

So I’m all for progression and all that, but let’s be clear: reinventing the wheel is just one task too many for a busy mother. And speaking of mothers, I most certainly hear my own mum every time I say these phrases but you know what? That’s not such a bad thing if that woman could whip four wayward little asses into shape.

Now I’m off to spread her word(s)


Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby