The Hamster Wheel
When I returned to my full-time job 12-months after Zachy was born, it was with mixed emotions.
I had enjoyed maternity leave and loved getting to know my newborn son, but towards the end I had started to feel I was missing a little bit of the old me.
The me that took pleasure from earning my own money.
Who wanted to make a cup of tea and finish drinking it before it turned cold.
Liked wearing nice clothes and know they would not end up covered in rice cakes, broccoli or milk.
Needed to turn my brain to more than washing/feeding/nappy/sleep cycles and organising playdates.
Missed adult conversation.
Although, the thought of not being with my son every day tied my stomach up in knots.
I could live without the hot tea, and I was not confident I could even still squeeze into my old clothes if I tried.
Also, anyone who has turned their hand to organising washing/feeding/nappy/sleep cycles, or a playdate, will understand how incredibly taxing this can be on the brain, so why add more stress to our lives.
However, money was a big factor for us at the time. We were living in a rented house and desperately wanted to buy our own family home. My savings were already depleted, so I had to rely on the Greek God(zilla) for a fiver every time I fancied popping out to meet a friend for coffee.
It was less than ideal and so, I went back to work.
At first, it was hard. As much as I enjoyed being back in a buzzy office environment, I missed him terribly. It was a big adjustment and all of a sudden, I felt like I was juggling a hundred balls in the air at one time.
I did not just have to think about getting myself up and out of the door on time, I had to get a baby and all the equipment that comes with a baby, ready too.
Some days worked better than others, but essentially the routine was the same.
The washing/feeding/nappy/sleep cycles did not cease to require my input once I had left the house, and playdates still needed to be accepted or declined. Weekends post-baby were no longer a time for sleeping off a hangover on the sofa, while watching dvd box sets.
Instead they started at 5.30am and involved shadowing a toddler around the house for 13-hours, while attempting to fit friends and family around sleep schedules that we quickly discovered you must never mess with, EVER.
There were tears.
A lot of them mine.
It was around this time that I also started to suffer from what I now understand to be a very common condition, known as Working Mother Guilt.
It does not take much to bring on an attack. Your child getting sick and you allowing his nursery care worker to give him Calpol for the first time will do it. Or, being the last parent to collect your son at the end of a long day because you needed to finish something off at work. Even spending an extra 10-minutes in the bath on one of the only 2-days you have together will be enough to set it off.
Symptoms usually present themselves as an all-consuming self loathing at your own selfishness, along with feelings of extreme inadequacy as a parent, a woman and a human being.
Once you have experienced your first case of WMG, it is very difficult to avoid another and another.
It took some time, but we did eventually find a routine that worked for us. Zachy settled into nursery well and the Greek God(zilla) changed his work shifts so that he finished earlier and could do the afternoon pick-up. This definitely took some of the pressure off me during the day, as I no longer had to attempt a hard stop at 5.30pm.
To say it got easier would be misleading, but we were coping.
We were exhausted ALL of the time but managed.
The wheel kept turning.
The bills were paid, the food shopping was done, and the laundry was all over the house.
As he got older the challenges changed, but they were still there. Only louder, faster and more defiant.
We were often late leaving the house because of a disagreement over teeth brushing. I wanted him to/he did not want to.
Some days I would turn up at the office after spending an hour negotiating with a three year old to come out from under the bed/behind the curtain/in the playroom.
There were days when I left him at the nursery door, sobbing for me not to leave him.
I would have to go to work and spend 8-hours trying not to cry at my desk, while looking vaguely on the ball, when the reality was that I was dropping them all over the place.
This September, Zachy starts school. He will have just turned 4 and will be the youngest in his year.
Instead of being excited for him, all I could think about was breakfast clubs, after school clubs, half-term and summer holidays.
More layers of organisation to add to our already hectic lives.
Of how quickly the time is going and how much I have already missed.
He is about to embark on the most important chapter of his young life and I want to be there for him.
I have to be there for him.
So, I made a decision. A big one.
Relief ran instantly through me.
I took a deep breath and walked into my boss’s office.
And just like that, I stepped off the hamster wheel.