Mother, wife and part-time Power Ranger
- Credit: Archant
Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country
IT WAS my son’s first day at nursery school last week. And I missed it.
I’ve never missed a milestone before.
I was there for his first smile, tooth, step and word (which was, most unreasonably I thought, “Daddy”).
I witnessed the first time he drew a circle, slept in a big bed, threw a major tantrum and used a potty.
I was the one who taught him to ride a tricycle, catch a ball, climb a tree. I was there to kiss him better the first time he fell and grazed a knee.
And yet, on the day officially marking the end of his baby years, I was absent.
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Let me explain. I’ve got myself a part-time job, you see.
I was becoming tired of freelancing – the unreliable income stream, working from home in a pair of pyjamas and interacting with other humans only over the telephone – when I was offered a position at a PR firm locally.
It feels dreadfully grown up to be sitting in an office abuzz with adult conversation.
My desk at home is littered with wax crayons and toast crumbs; my computer covered in sticky fingerprints, raisins squeezed into the crevices of the keyboard.
But at work, everything is minimalist and calm. I can focus, I can concentrate and I am not interrupted every five minutes to help find a Power Ranger, clear up a pool of Ribena or draw endless pictures of superheroes.
I made the decision to return to the workplace after receiving a letter confirming my son had a place at Kyson Primary School Nursery.
Initially a wave of panic swept over me.
“This is it; time has run out,” I thought. “My baby has grown up and I am a stay-at-home mum whose role is redundant.”
I wandered around for a week, mumbling illogically: “What will I do with myself when I am at home all alone?”
Illogical because, aside from the constant stream of washing, paperwork, cleaning, Hoovering and clearing up any mother (working or not) has to contend with, there is plenty I have longed to do in the five years I have been at home bringing up babies and not had the time or energy to get on with.
Top of that list is pursuing a career that has been much neglected.
I may be blowing my own trumpet (someone has to) but I’m a fairly good journalist who has worked for a number of newspapers and even won a few awards along the way.
So when the opportunity arose to put my skills to good use, I jumped at the chance.
After all, I thought, it makes sense that now, when the nappies are gone, the buggy’s for sale and my handbag is no longer the receptacle for spare pants, sippy cups and chewed dummies, I can rediscover a little bit of the old me again.
I started work in high spirits and then the first day of nursery arrived.
My husband, who is now sharing the childcare duties to allow for my new job, had the honour of getting our son dressed in his brand new uniform, remembering his book bag and gym kit and taking him in to meet his new teacher.
At work I spent much of the day staring out of the window, wondering what he was up to, and I raced home at 4pm to quiz him on his day.
“Was it fun? Did you make friends? What did you play with? Who did you sit with? What’s your teacher like? Did you miss me?”
“It was no big deal, mum,” he replied, shrugging.
“It is to me,” I whined as my son joined my daughter on the sofa to veg out in front of the TV.
Am I missing something here? Do the big steps and heartwarming moments really mean something only to us parents? Do kids just take these things in their stride, completely unaware of their magnitude?
A recent study found that one in four women have missed key moments in their child’s life because of work, with almost 75% saying they felt guilty about this.
Another report found that dads miss out on nearly all the landmarks but less than half were worried about it, accepting that they could not be there for every major moment because of work commitments.
I get the impression my husband was rather pleased to have the opportunity to witness one of these milestones in my place.
“It was no big deal,” he said, parroting my son, but later he filled me in on the whole day, remembering tiny details like the picture of the fish on my son’s coat peg and the colour of the spot he has to sit on for registration in the book corner.
I have a feeling our new approach to shared childcare might turn out well for us all.
The only thing left to work on is our morning routine.
Despite being woken by our son at an ungodly hour each day, there seems to be no elasticity in our timetable to allow for two working parents and two schoolchildren to get ready at leisure.
There is always a scramble of cereal eating, a search for clean tights, some last- minute homework and a quick blast of the iron on anything I deem clean enough to wear to the office.
I get ready in such haste that my colleagues are probably already wondering if I’m testing out some new radical hair trend.
Having said this, I am beginning to see that my children, rather than being upset that I am going to work, are not only accepting of the fact but are pretty proud of it.
This weekend I found out why.
I overheard my daughter telling her friend that I was now a working mum.
“She is a writer but she is also doing some PR,” she said.
“Oooo, what’s PR?” asked her friend.
“Not sure exactly,” said my daughter. “But I think it must stand for Power Ranger.”
Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.