On Monday I will return to work following my second maternity leave. I would love to breeze through the doors looking confident and stylish, swinging an empty briefcase ready to get stuck straight back in while the team greet me with a standing ovation, a sigh of relief and a welcome back cappuccino.
In reality though I am nervous, lack confidence and have zero to wear. I feel as though my finger is so far away from the pulse that I can’t even be sure if I am even pressing on skin. I don’t even recognise the team and people see me as just a middle aged mother of two. And the horrible truth – they’re bloody right.
For the last two weeks I have mentally been working up a timetable that ensures I get both children dressed, fed, cuddled and ready for nursery by 7.25am. I am weary from a full on year of looking after the two of them but heartbroken and guilty because I’m leaving them behind.
I’ve done this once before so why is it harder this time round? People can’t wait to tell you about what having a second child is like (you’ll feel more relaxed, the children will have totally different personalities, you’ll never fill in child number two’s baby book) but no one ever mentions that when you go back to work for a second time you will also feel totally different.
It was all so simple with one. I came back to work and had a very pliant pre-schooler placed at the local nursery. I still had time to do things like exercise, get my eyebrows threaded and take a jacket to the dry cleaners. When I came back to work the first time, if I’m honest, I did feel part of a slightly smug mother’s club. We patted ourselves in the back for having survived the entry into motherhood while still bothering to have a career.
And on days when it was tough, when the baby was ill and up all night or when the boss bawled me out for something that wasn’t my fault, I had in the back of my mind back my get out of jail free card that I was going to have another baby and another maternity leave, another year “off”.
But with two children everything is a whole different bag of bones. And it’s not just double the guilt and double the childcare costs. Something more is going on. I feel more disconnected from the workplace. Maybe it’s because with two children you are at the cold face of parenting. It’s not just an extra baby with a bit of feeding, weaning and chucking some scoops of Aptamil in a bottle. This year I have been potty training, teaching, disciplining, explaining and playing. I have been swimming, jumping, fruit picking, baking and planting. I have cooked over 300 hot meals for my children. We have play dates, parties and trips to the farm. We have four passports and a Wendy house.
But everything at work has changed too. On a recent “Keep in Touch” day I discover the people I was closest to have moved on to other jobs. I don’t know the new faces or feel part of a team. Somewhere along the way I lost my footing and now I feel like the awkward work experience girl shifting around looking for something to do, somewhere to sit, someone to talk to while everyone around me is seemingly so busy, talking in a new kind of staccato, aggressive font while I’m distracted by sucking subconscious thoughts of Peppa and potties and stickers and gentle stories at bedtime. I thought having a second child was supposed to turn my world upside down, but that didn’t feel like much of a challenge compared to finding my swivel chair back on the work jungle gym.
But, I’m fighting back. I haven’t worked for this long and for this hard just to quit. I’m going to return and show them what they’ve been missing. And if, like me, you are too old to be young, but not ready to be farmed out for glue read my next post on how to make the perfect Mumback.