Today marks the end of an era. Tomorrow I am going back to work full-time. I will become a FTWM. How to I feel about this? Don’t ask me. I try not to think about it. When I do, it’s incomprehensible to me. How am I going to manage it? My days will go something like this:
6.30 a.m. get up, get washed and dressed and have breakfast. Get Noah up, washed and dressed.
7.25 a.m. coax Noah out of the house by any means possible
7.30 a.m. leave Noah at Breakfast Club
7.35 a.m. arrive at work, then work solidly without time to come up for air
4.00 p.m. (if I am lucky) get home, cook dinner, force dinner down Noah’s throat, play with Noah (more likely to involve us both flaked out on the sofa watching TV)
6.30 p.m. Noah’s bath and bedtime (my husband shares this if he is home in time)
7.30 p.m. work
10.00 p.m. admin for the next day and getting ready for bed
10.30 p.m. bed
Where is the time for sitting down and reading a book? Where is the time for series 12 of Grey’s Anatomy? Where is the time for writing blogs and baking cakes? Where is the time for going to the gym? Plenty of women live with this daily routine so it must be possible. But how? How will I do it without being broken?
And to top it all off, Noah has gone and grown up into a school boy.
Back in July, Noah had an induction morning at his new school. Parents had a two-hour lecture in the school hall and the kids were ferried off to their new classroom to meet their new teacher. The Head Teacher met everyone at the door. She asked Noah his name, ticked him off the list in her hand, and passed him over to an older pupil who took him down the corridor to his classroom. This was a significant moment for me. First of all, it is the first time he has ever left me without me stealing a kiss or a cuddle. I was unprepared. I wanted to run after him and squeeze the life out of him. But I am far too frightened of the Head Teacher to do anything like that. As I watched him walk away, I realised that Noah was taking his first steps into the world by himself. And he didn’t look back.
Hot on the heels of his school induction was his graduation from nursery. Parents were invited to sit on chairs in the garden whilst the children were all inside. The Principal of the nursery welcomed us and made a joke along the lines of, “I hope you’ve all got your tissues ready.” I laughed politely. Ha ha ha. I didn’t have tissues: I wasn’t about to cry. Then the children filed out and sat in a circle and started to sing: the Graduation Song, Butterflies, I Can Sing A Rainbow, He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands. During all this, one of my eyes – just the right one – leaked continuously. I couldn’t make it stop. And then one of the kids arrived late so they did it all over again. It’s the Butterflies song that gets me the most. I don’t know if it’s an official song or if it’s something that this nursery wrote because it’s called Butterflies. It’s a song about them being caterpillars when they start at nursery and butterflies when they leave – “time to fly”. The metaphor is as old as time, but as I watched Noah mouthing the words and making a half-hearted attempt at the actions, I realised how true it was. Noah is going to school. It’s time for him to fly. I can help him, I can guide him but I cannot control him. It’s up to Noah now. Not that the choices you make at four years old define you, but the whole school experience goes a long way towards defining you and that’s what this all represents.
What about me? I am starting a new job. I am picking up exactly where I left off three years ago. Career path back on track. Am I a butterfly? Is it time for me to fly? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels a little bit like I’m an ant in a production line, carrying my own little scrap of bread back to the nest. We need my salary to buy a bigger house in this area. Noah is going to be at school so there is no need for me to be at home. In truth, being at home would kill me. I would die of boredom and lack of direction. I am an experienced and skilled teacher. I like many things about teaching and I am not cut out to be a Housewife. What else am I supposed to do? It’s a no-brainer.
I am not taking Noah on his first day of school. I have been there for 99.9% of Noah’s firsts in his short life so far. But not this time. My husband is taking Noah to his first day of school. And why shouldn’t he? Noah loses nothing by me not being there. But his first day of school is just the first in a long line of things that us FTWMs* have to miss out on. I can’t go into the school and hear children read like some parents do; I can’t go to the parents’ tea afternoon they have once every half-term; I can’t go to Noah’s class assembly. I don’t even know if I will be allowed to go to his school play at Christmas. It’s a loss and I feel it right in my core.
It doesn’t help that Facebook is kindly throwing memories at me every day of my Noah as a baby.
Of course, I need to woman up. I need to get over it. Having three years out of full time work to raise my child has been a privilege, not my right. And my child is strong, he is clever, he is confident and he is good (for everyone on the planet except me…and sometimes my husband…and occasionally my parents…). He is ready for school. I believe in him. I believe he will fly.
It’s the end of an era.
Good luck my Noah.
*Mum, in case you haven’t worked this out yet, FTWM is Full Time Working Mum
All my Noah wants in life is to be a superhero. Judging by the number of superheroes that exist in the world of television these days, I am quite sure that a lot of four-year-olds share the same dream. Of course, with Noah, the superhero fixation is intense. And although I find it charming, although I am proud of the boy’s imagination, I do find it all a teeny tiny bit exhausting.
Last night, my husband was working late, therefore not in the proximity at bedtime. Noah knows what’s what. He knows what he can get away with. He knows I am the weaker one, the one with the more wobbly and changeable rules. My husband is the first to attest that Noah never plays him up at bedtime. Oh no. He saves that particular superpower for me. Two minutes after I said goodnight and left him in his bedroom, he was calling me. I trudged back upstairs.
“I need to be blue, Mummy,” he said. “Blue like the Blue Beetle. How can I get a blue face?”
“You can get face paints. Goodnight, Noah.”
“Will face paints make my face blue?”
“All over my face and my eyes?”
“Yes. Now, goodnight.”
“But not inside my eyes, Mummy.”
“No, not inside your eyes.”
“Because if paint gets inside my eyes, I won’t be able to see. And it will hurt.”
“Okay. Goodnight now, Noah.”
“Wait, Mummy! What about my feet? How can I get blue feet?”
“You can put face paint on those too. You should have been asleep ages ago so I’m going now.”
“Face paints on the face of my feet?”
“And my legs?”
“Both sides of my legs?”
“And I need blue arms.”
“You can use face paints. We’ll get lots of face paints and you can be painted completely blue. But right now, you need to go to sleep.”
Every day, Noah wants to dress up as a superhero. He can go through several different personas in the space of fifteen minutes. I have to watch his superhero moves on my bed. “Watch this, Mummy!” And he launches up in the air at a contorted angle. “And Mummy! Watch this!” And he attempts some sort of gymnastics, landing in a heap. Putting the washing away takes about half an hour because I have to enthuse over so many of Noah’s moves. The bedsheets, pillows and mattress protector have to be reattached to my bed several times a day. There is no escape from the superhero downstairs, either. He launches off my chair (which I am not allowed to sit in) and throws himself across the room crying “Super cat speed!” Every time he needs to pick something up, he declares “Super Gekko muscles!”
I am also required to be a superhero myself in role plays where Noah is director, creator and controller of the game. He tells me everything I have to say and every move I have to make. I often get things wrong which enrages him. There is no room for improv on my part and no opportunity for my own creative exploration. Noah is a creative dictator.
Noah’s passions have always been relentless from the moment he was born. His first passion, of course, was breastfeeding. As a baby, this was all he was interested in doing all day and (especially) all night. Until he discovered the delights of food and breastfeeding was just at night. All night.
Noah is a spirited and an intense child and I often question whether I am cut out to be the mother of a spirited and intense child. I wonder whether I’m getting it wrong somehow. When we are in a restaurant and Noah is hanging upside down from his seat, refusing to talk in anything but baby speak, refusing to eat anything, I look around the restaurant and every other child of his age is sitting there eating dinner calmly. I have no idea how other parents manage this. Okay, so a lot of these quiet children are on ipads so maybe I do know how a lot of parents manage this…But I have to wonder – did I eat too much Haribo when I was pregnant? Did I make Noah like this? Because I did eat a lot of Haribo.
And yet, as my Dad is fond of saying, it’s the Noahs who change the world. Passion is a gift. Spirit is a gift. Dreams are a gift. So I play along with these superhero games with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. I often find myself gritting my teeth and waiting for Noah’s phases to pass. But do I actually want this phase to pass? Do I want Noah to give up on wanting to be a superhero and get the bad guys? Do I want him to stop believing he can do the impossible?
Today I turn 35. Every time I think of this, I feel like a bucket of ice has been tipped over my head. I am closer to 40 than I am to 30. I am virtually middle-aged. I have grey in my hair and frown lines between my eyebrows and little pouches under my eyes when I smile. I have a little lump that comes and goes on my leg, about the size of the fingernail on my little finger, and I am terrified it will turn into a varicose vein. My metabolism gets a bit slower every hour (although that could have something to do with the amount of jaffa cakes I consume to get me through each day). Today I turn 35 – that magical age when a woman’s fertility suddenly takes a nose dive because my eggs are all old and my ovaries are weary. Yesterday, when I was 34, I was so much more fertile than I am today. But today I turn 35 and I am still chasing after my dream.
Since I was twelve, I have wanted to write novels. In fact, I have written several novels. I wrote a series of novels when I was a teenager. Think Sweet Valley High. Think Sweet Dreams. Think Point Romance. I created my own version called The Kool Kids. I wanted to have a novel published before I was 30. When I was 28, I decided I had better get cracking so I religiously wrote for 20 minutes every single day. After ten months voila I had my first novel. Alas, it wasn’t good enough. So when I went to Vienna and faced two years of unemployment, I decided to neglect my Hausfrau duties (such as doing the washing or tidying up) and spend my free time writing another novel. But an average literary agent receives fifty unsolicited manuscripts a week from people like me. That’s 2600 a year. An average literary agent takes on about three of these writers. This is the kind of thing they teach you at the writing events I have been to: how unlikely it is that you will ever get published. The book I have just written is better than the book I wrote six years ago. But is it good enough? Look at the odds.
If this novel gets rejected 50 times, if this novel doesn’t make it, it will be disappointing. No, it will be soul destroying. Every rejection hurts. Of course it does. I am not particularly resilient by nature. I am not particularly confident or driven. But eventually, I know for a fact, my soul will heal, I will get over it and I will start writing another novel and maybe that will be the one. Who knows?
My spirit and determination is altogether a quieter thing than Noah’s. But I am 35 and I still have a dream. I still have a dream because my Mum and Dad believe in me and they are as close to real life superheroes as you can get. By the time Noah is 35, I hope he is everything he wants to be. And if he isn’t, I hope he still has a dream.
So when Noah is at nursery today, I will go to the shops and find him some face paint. A lot of face paint. And I will come home and paint him blue if that is what he wants. And I will let him paint me green. Or red. Or stripy. I will do whatever I need to do to keep him believing he is a superhero for as long as I possibly can.
P.S. Can anyone tell me where to buy face paints??
My Noah is four. Last week, he had a dinosaur-themed birthday party at the local park which consisted of an hour and a half of outdoor activities. From the moment I booked it, I worried it would rain on the day, but it didn’t. It was lovely. My dinosaur cake also turned out well (if I do say so myself) but there were a few hairy moments where I thought it was going to be a lost cause and I felt like throwing myself on the floor in a Noahesque tantrum.
As I watched him at his party, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much he has grown up since last year’s birthday. Rather than ignoring all of his guests, he revelled in being in the thick of it. Some things remain the same: the tendency to whinge, the emotional rollercoaster he rides every day, the unshakeable wilfulness. I had hoped the threenager would become a distant memory, but he has merely turned into a fournager. Oh, well.
But he is also a good boy.
“I’m not a baby,” he responds indignantly, when I call him such. “I’m big!”
“You will always be my baby,” I tell him. This week, I got a tiny leaf, about the size of a grain of rice and showed it to him. “This was how big you were at first and then you grew into a baby in my tummy. That means you will always be my baby because I grew you.”
He contemplated the leaf for some time (at least five seconds) and then agreed that he would always be my baby and went back to eating his dinner.
But the truth is, he really isn’t my baby any more. He is a remarkable little person in his own right. Here are 10 things I love about Noah as he turns four:
He is extraordinary at colouring in. He favours A3 colouring books and Crayola Supertips. Nothing else will do. And he is very possessive over them. He uses one colour at a time, forms an orderly line until he has used every colour and then goes back to the beginning. He often colours a tiny spec of the picture then abandons it, but occasionally he will persevere and finish one. Twice, he has finished one of these fantastic pieces of artwork, only to get angry at something and rip it up. Both times I was devastated. Everyone wants one of Noah’s colourings. He has a backlog of orders. Only very lucky souls will eventually get to own one.
At least once a week he goes to nursery in one of his fancy dress costumes. This week, I went into nursery for his birthday walk, a little ceremony they have when it’s someone’s birthday. Noah had to wear a huge birthday cake hat. It even had candles on top. As if this wasn’t funny enough, he was also dressed as a Power Ranger.
He speaks to his toys. When I am in another room and I overhear him having a conversation with his lion or one of his dinosaurs or Buzz Lightyear, I stop what I am doing, stand very still and listen. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.
He knows all of the words to the introduction and song for P J Masks. The tempo is quite quick and he struggles to keep up, but this doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the task.
He will sit and watch a film. Finally. I thought the day would never come. We can actually sit and watch a film together now. He won’t get fed up after twenty minutes and ask me to put a different DVD on. He won’t stand on the arm rest of the sofa and hurl himself at me. Over the Easter holidays, we watched lots of new films together: Brave, Inside Out (my favourite), The Good Dinosaur, Penguins of Madagascar, The Princess and the Frog, Dino Time (Noah’s favourite).
He is ready to learn. I bought him a lift the flap Usborne book for his birthday about the human body. He is full of facts such as: “Mummy, did you know, that when we eat food, our tummies break it down into tiny pieces to give us energy?!” Or, “Mummy, did you know, that we could fill ten thousand balloons with the breaths we let out every day?!”
He thinks Father Christmas is the most magical person in the world. I suppose he would be if he actually existed.
He has mates. Proper little mates. As each friend arrived at his birthday party, he greeted them with a hug. Whenever we go to soft play, he always finds himself a friend. He makes friends easily. This is a gift and I hope he retains it throughout his adult life.
He will speak to anyone: the postman, shop assistants, delivery men, old ladies walking down the street. I find delivery men are the least likely to want to engage with him. He often disappears to get a toy to show them only to find they have gone on his return. For some reason, this leaves him heartbroken. I truly think half of Essex must have known it was his birthday last week, because he told every single person who crossed his path.
He is so much more confident and independent. Over the Easter holidays, I booked him into a “create and play” session at the local theatre. We went along and I imagined it was something we would be doing together, or I would at least be watching. When the woman running it asked me whether I intended to stay in the building whilst it was going on, I was taken aback. The children would be taken off upstairs to the session on their own?! I also felt a bit panicked as I didn’t know how Noah would react. A few months ago, I’d have had to play gooseberry and sit in or else he wouldn’t have taken part. But my Noah was happy to go off without me. After I watched him disappear up the stairs with the other kids, I hurriedly phoned my husband and my mum to share the momentous news. I was proud of him. And it was nice to sit there and read my book for a couple of hours. But I also felt a little bit lost. He really isn’t my baby any more. The world will have to be adapted accordingly.
I can’t help but wonder if all birthdays will be this way now. Every year he will get bigger and stronger. Every year he will need me less and less. It’s the way of the world and the way it should be. It means he is being raised properly. It means he will have the tools he needs to tackle the big wide world out there.
But it hurts just a teeny, tiny, eeny, weeny, minuscule, little bit because I know that the day will come when my Noah no longer needs his mummy at all. By then, of course, I won’t even be Mummy any more: I’ll just be Mum.
Anyone who knows me, knows my mum even if they have never met her because I talk about her all the time. I talk about her because she is what is commonly known as “a character”. But when I started to think about what to write about my mum on Mother’s Day, I didn’t know where to start. There is too much material. My husband calls her “omnipresent” and he has taught Noah to call her that too. (He has also taught Noah to call her “doolally”…).
To put my thoughts into some kind of order, I am going to write ten (slightly random) facts about my mum which will hopefully serve both to depict her character as well as show what she is like as a mother.
She always gets what she wants
I am my mum’s first born child. She wanted a girl, a princess, a dolly to dress up. When she was in labour, her midwife was listening to my heartbeat and told my mum that she was having a boy because of the heartrate. “I’m having a girl,” Mum said with absolute certainty (obviously, they never used to tell you the sex from a scan in 1981). The midwife disagreed; she was sure I was going to be a boy. Mum was more sure. Experience and expertise amounts to nothing when my Mum is sure about something. Obviously, I was a girl. In my Mum’s own words: it’s better to be born lucky than rich. Mum was definitely born lucky. She somehow always comes out on top. As my nan used to say, if my mum fell down a manhole, she would come up with a bunch of flowers. My family like a good proverb.
Except there was one time she was wrong…She was convinced Noah was going to be a girl. She was so sure that she bought girl’s clothes in the Monsoon sale almost as soon as she knew I was pregnant. When I had my 20 weeks scan and found out I was having a boy, I was in a state of disbelief. “Are you absolutely sure?” I asked the sonographer. She pointed to his hazy little willy on the screen (which I couldn’t make out myself but trusted she knew what she was talking about). I had so much faith in my mum’s certainty I was having a girl, that I felt a bit shaken. We had actually been referring to the baby as “Nellie” after my Nan. Then I went into Baby Gap and bought lots of boy’s clothes and all was fine with the world. And I wouldn’t change my Noah for no girl.
When I was pregnant, I nicknamed her Granzilla
My god was she excited she was going to be getting a grandchild. She was, quite literally, delirious with excitement. She bought him several £60 baby grows. Here is an excerpt from one phone conversation a month before Noah was born:
Granzilla: (excited tone) The knitted outfit I ordered to be made has come. It’s so cute! Knitted hat, cardigan, mittens, leggings and booties.
Granzilla: He needs to keep warm. It’s so cute!
Me: What colour?
Me: (incredulous tone) MINK?
Granzilla: (stern tone) You’d better tell me if you don’t like it because it was expensive.
Me: I don’t like it.
Granzilla: Wait until you see it first. Nina thinks it’s cute, don’t you Nina?
Me: I don’t want my son looking like a giant squirrel.
In the run up to the birth, she couldn’t sleep a wink. She said if she could give birth for me, she would. At the time, I thought she was being ridiculous. And then I gave birth. And I understood.
She could have been anything she wanted to be
She has the kind of brain that can wrap itself around anything. If something’s broken, she will tackle it until it is fixed. When she is reading a detective novel/watching a thriller on TV, she always knows who dunnit. But she left school when she was 15 without any qualifications. She went to work in the family driving school business and later became a driving instructor. She is like one of those cartoon characters whose eyes scroll over with pound signs. She has expensive tastes (e.g. one babygrow for the price of six) and that was no different when she was a teenager. She would save her earnings to buy designer items. “Buy cheap, you buy twice,” she often tells me, lover of Primark and Asda that I am. She has always worked hard, sometimes seven days a week for seventy hours. Even now, approaching 65, she shows no sign of slowing down. Her work ethic is incredible. My sister has inherited it; I have not. I work hard to be the best teacher I can be but I am not interested in making any more money on top of that doing hours of tutoring. I’d rather be poor and have time to read a book.
Of course, she is the best driving instructor there is.
She is a glamorous woman
My Mum’s outfit for my sister’s wedding cost more than my wedding dress (and my wedding dress wasn’t cheap). She saw a picture of Helen Mirren in a magazine at some awards ceremony and admired her dress. She admired it so much that she scoured the internet until she discovered the source of this dress. My Mum, my sister and I traipsed up to London to this exquisite dress maker and looked at her designs and materials. They were beautiful. Mum designed herself an outfit with minimal help from the shop assistant and picked herself a matching hat. As we left the shop, she decided she wouldn’t get that dress, it was too expensive. A few days later she had decided that yes, she would have that dress: your daughter only gets married once (she hoped). Imagine how many driving lessons she has had to do to pay for that dress. But it made her happy and that’s what’s important in this life, right? “You’re a long time dead,” she says. It was the dress of a film star or a Queen and she deserved it.
She delights in winding people up
In December, I received a text message from her informing me she had bought me a new set of bathroom towels for Christmas. Towels?? Towels? I didn’t care whether they matched my new bathroom perfectly. I phoned her straight up, full of outrage. I didn’t want towels for bloody Christmas. Ha ha, only joking, she said. Wind up. Noah can often be heard roaring at the top of his lungs, “STOP WINDING ME UP NANA!” and she loves it.
She is the most generous person I know
My sister and I have always had everything we wanted, as well as everything we needed. We both had sparkly new cars sitting in the driveway on the morning of our seventeenth birthdays. We had the best education. We had the best clothes and the best toys and the best birthday parties and the best holidays. There was nothing we didn’t have. (Of course, this is due to the generosity of my Dad as well as my Mum). It’s the same with Noah. My Mum loves to give. Everyone she knows gets a Christmas present. Do you have to buy that person a present, I ask (usually because I have been tasked with finding the present whilst “nipping” to Lakeside)? Another thing about my Mum: she like to delegate.
She had the worst gallbladder that Princess Alexandra Hospital had ever seen
A week after my sister’s wedding, my Mum took herself to A&E and was admitted to hospital. Her gallbladder was choc-full with gallstones. They had spilled into the bile duct and were blocking it. Her gallbladder was inflamed and infected. It would have to be removed. Because she was born lucky rather than rich, it was a week after the wedding and not a week before. Last February, she went into hospital to have it removed. It was a procedure that would take 45 minutes. She would be out later the same day. Except it didn’t and she wasn’t. It took five hours and later that same day, she was in intensive care. The surgeon started to attempt to remove the gallbladder by keyhole but had to call in his superior. It was the worst gallbladder they had ever seen. The nurses later told her that she was the talk of the hospital. Hadn’t it been causing her any pain? She shrugged. What is pain to my mother? A minor inconvenience.
It was the worst day of my life. My dad was prowling the corridors of the hospital trying to find out where she was, what had happened? I was at home with Noah and my sister, waiting for news. When she finally came out of surgery, we kept being told “she’s in recovery”. This went on for seven hours and I came face to face with my biggest fear: would she recover?
But she did. After the surgery, she had an infection. The thing that scared me most was that she was out of radio contact. Usually, I hear from her several times a day. She was in hospital for two weeks. She had a week off after that and then she was back on the road. She’s my superhero.
We have no secrets
It’s hard to keep anything from my mum. She asks a lot of questions. She likes to be aware of every little thing that’s going on. I speak to her every day, sometimes several times a day. Even in Vienna, we Skyped every day. When I was at university, my mum and dad went on a cruise. Mum told me to call her, rather than the other way around because calls from the ship were £4 a minute. My phone bill came to £350 that month. It seems that calls to the middle of the Caribbean ocean cost £8 a minute from a university landline.
She was there at Noah’s birth. Yes, she likes to be involved, but it wasn’t just about that. She’s given birth twice and she wanted to be there to oversee what was going on. It wasn’t just that she wanted to be there for the birth of her grandchild; she needed to see with her own eyes that her daughter was okay, rather than waiting in the corridor for news. Every time I had to be examined by the midwife, I sent my mum into the corner or behind the curtain. Even I have to draw the line somewhere.
It’s unusual to have a mother who knows everything about you, but that’s not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge is that she can’t keep a secret to save her life. One of her sayings: “I know something you don’t know!” said in a singsong, delighted voice.
Her family is her life
My husband calls us “hillbillies”. My Mum is one of four children. I am one of eight grandchildren. At one stage, we were all living off the same road: us, my grandparents, my two aunts’ families and my uncle’s family. Now my grandparents are gone and my uncle has moved away, but my mum and her sisters are still there, the three witches (Mum being Chief Witch).
Her love is fierce
It’s the fiercest thing there is. I didn’t really understand how fiercely you could love someone until I had Noah. Sometimes, when I have contemplated whether I will have another child, I have wondered aloud how I could possibly love it as much as I love Noah. How would I find the space inside myself for all that love all over again? How could I carry that much love around with me? Surely it would break me? “Don’t be ridiculous,” my husband once said in response to these musings. “You have your mum’s capacity to love.”
My mum’s capacity to love. But I am not as tough.
I hope I can be half the mother to Noah that she has been to me.
Mum, when I’m with you, I’m standing with an army (as Ellie would say).
Please note: The photos of my Mum in “the dress” were taken by the fabulous David Michael at David Michael Photography who was the photographer at both my wedding and my sister’s. Mum chose him without consulting me. “I’ve booked the photographer, ” she rang me up and told me one day. And I’m very glad she did.
Some months ago, I wrote The Adventure of Being a SAHM (Part 1) which focused on how not going to work has affected my appearance. I had a whole host of blog posts planned on being a SAHM; I had a lot to say about the matter. But after reading Part 1 (which actually only scratched the surface of my feelings), many of my friends and family members were a little bit concerned about me. My Dad found it “depressing”; my husband “had no idea I felt that way”; my Aunt “felt a lump in her throat as she read it”. Friends texted me promising a “big night out” next time I came home from Vienna. Soon after, my husband put a picture on Facebook of me without a smidgen of make-up, a wonky smile and a squinty eye, and I was bombarded by comments from my loyal friends about how fantastic I was looking. So, not wanting to cause any further alarm, I let the subject of being a SAHM lie.
Until now. Because now my SAHM days are numbered. Soon I will be but a part-time SAHM and, not long after that, I won’t be a SAHM at all.
My husband works in London. He sees Noah in the morning for half an hour. He goes in to Noah when he wakes up, has breakfast with him and then goes to work. He gets home ten minutes before Noah goes to bed. This is hard for my husband, especially when he gets home and Noah is in a bad mood (a.k.a. Little Shit Mode). On bad days, when he comes home to find me face down on the sofa wailing about how awful my life is, about how terribly Noah has behaved, about how I can’t cope with this existence for one more day, he informs me that he would “give his right arm” to swap places. Of course, when he says this, I would like to strangle the man. But I refrain, because, actually, if I could only spend forty minutes a day with my Noah, it would break me in half.
Being a SAHM, I find my days are often long. So very, very long. I live quite an isolated existence and it can be mind-numbingly boring (sorry my Noah).
“Shall we all go to the park?” my husband sometimes suggests at the weekend.
“The park?!” I sneer. “The park? I spend my whole bloody life at the park. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than go to the park on a Saturday!”
“Well, I’ll take Noah to the park, then,” he says.
“And leave me here on my own? I spend my bloody life on my own!”
And so on.
Sometimes it feels like my days have no purpose. Over the past two years, I have missed using my brain, using my training and skills. I have missed adult conversation. Most of the time, I feel like I have no idea what I am doing. My main responsibility (apart from ensuring Noah is safe and well) is to know where Leo the Lion is at all times so he is not left anywhere or lost, so we know where he is when bedtime finally rolls around. Before, I was responsible for hundreds of teenagers’ exam results. Results which they will write on job application forms for the rest of their lives. It just felt a bit more important.
Our days are precious.
When I am not with Noah, I feel slightly untethered, like I am missing something. Slightly. Sometimes, when he is asleep, I actually miss him even though he is just upstairs. Every day, a hundred times a day, he makes me smile. In fact, despite everything, despite the fact that I had to move to another country to enable it, I am lucky that I have been able to spend these two years as a SAHM. I haven’t missed a thing.
This is especially important because Noah (like all children) has grown up so fast. Everything is a phase. All those clichés are true. God knows, Noah’s sleep has been a nightmare on and off (mostly on) since the day that he was born. But the time will come when he calls out for me in the night for the very last time. Just like he used his pram for the last time or used a nappy for the last time. His development over the past few months has been staggering. Many of his sentences start with “Mummy, did you know…” – “Mummy, did you know that the sun is a STAR?!” “Mummy, did you know that inside a volcano is LAVA?!” “Mummy, did you know that my shadow gets bigger when I move further from the wall?”
This one is my recent favourite:
“Mummy, did you know that when it’s daytime, the stars don’t disappear, they stay in the sky but you can’t see them because the sun is too bright?”
“How do you know that?!” I asked, aghast. I’m sure I didn’t know this until I was about 10!
“Ben and Holly.”
Of course. Who else?
We live behind a Premier Inn and Noah thinks it is an “astronaut school” because the sign has moon and stars on it. Where did this ability to interpret signs and symbols suddenly come from? His nursery teacher told me his writing is exceptional for a boy of his age. I’m not quite sure what they’re on about with this because, apart from writing his name, he just writes a load of gobbledygook. I suppose it’s the fact he is trying to write at all. My point is that children advance so quickly in these first years of their lives that time together is all the more treasurable.
After Easter, I am going back to work two days a week. It’s definitely time. When Noah is at nursery, I spend a lot of time tidying up after him or shopping or breaking my fingers trying to create roses out of royal icing (don’t ask), or going to the gym. But sometimes, when I am not doing any of these things, I feel a guilty for having nothing to do. Two days of work is ideal because the balance is still tipped in favour of not working. I’m not even working on consecutive days so I get a rest in between. I’d happily work two days a week for the rest of eternity.
But life isn’t like that. In September, Noah will start school and I will have to go back to work full time. I want to be the one dropping Noah off in the morning and to be the one waiting for him at the school gates at the end of the day. I ache for it. But I won’t be there. I’ll be at work. “Welcome to my world,” my husband says. I’ve had my time and soon I will have to give it up.
I have toyed with the idea of a career change. I’d quite like to be an exercise instructor doing aerobics classes and spinning and Body Pump. When I mentioned this to my Mum at dinner last week, she almost choked on her food. “With your education?!” she demanded in a shrill voice. Alternatively, I’d like to be a cake maker (hence the royal icing flowers) but there are plenty of those about, all of them more skilled than my novice self.
The truth is, I am not a cake maker, neither am I an exercise instructor: I am a teacher and to teaching I will return. I will pick up my career where I left it. Once more, I will work hard to be the best teacher I can be. Instead of dragging, the days will whizz by. I will have much to do and not enough time to do it in.
I have made myself a promise. A promise I hope I will keep. I have thought about what I want from my job carefully, about what will make me happy and what will make me unhappy. I have written a list. I have made myself a promise to be guided by my list when going for a job. More and more, I have realised that so many things happen in life that are out of our control. Last year, my Dad was investigated for prostate cancer. It’s the biggest killer of men in the UK. Blood tests and scans indicated it was 50/50 either cancer or simply an enlarged prostrate. It all came down to the results of a biopsy. I remember waiting for these results was like standing at a junction. Looking one way, there was cancer. Looking the other, there wasn’t. And there was nothing anyone could do to make it go the good way. It either was cancer or it wasn’t. It was terrifying. It wasn’t cancer.
A job is just a job. It’s necessary for most of us, but it is something we have control over. Unless I want to go gallivanting off on another foreign posting (which I most certainly do not), I am going to have to give up my SAHM mantle. Teaching gets a lot of bad press at the moment and there is no doubt it is a challenging career, but there was a reason I went into it and there are lots of things I love about it. I intend to find myself a full time job for September that will enable me to focus on the good.
What do you want to be when you grow up? A classic question adults ask children to make conversation. Someone asked Noah this question recently. I awaited his answer with interest. He doesn’t really have a proper concept of what a job is. He knows his dad goes to work; he knows I don’t. He knows that pilots drive planes and that astronauts drive space ships and that teachers look after you at school. If you’re a builder then you’re Bob the Builder and if you’re a fireman you’re obviously Fireman Sam. Anyway, according to Noah, he wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up.
In this day and age, it’s never too early to decide what you want to be when you grow up. There are roads into lots of careers nowadays that weren’t available to my generation. There are qualifications in a vast array of subjects which weren’t available when I was at school. Want to be a famous writer? Do a Creative Writing A Level, a Creative Writing degree, a Creative Writing Masters and even a Creative Writing PHD. Want to be a popstar? Go and audition for the X-Factor.
I was raised with the secure belief that when I grew up, I could be whatever I wanted to be. The world was my oyster. I was given every opportunity a child could possibly be given, but most importantly, I had two parents with an unshakable belief in me and everything I did. If I had said I wanted to be a ballet dancer, they wouldn’t have said “yes, of course you do, darling”, whilst sceptically looking down at my ever-so-slightly chunky legs. They’d have arranged lessons, rigged me out in the best sparkly tutu that money can buy, ferried me there and back and sat through every performance, full of pride. And that’s what I want for my Noah. Although, I’m not sure what I can actually do to help him fulfil his ambition to become a dinosaur…
Taking into account his personality and his interests, here are 10 possible careers that might be suitable for Noah in the future:
1. A baker. The boy loves cake. We make a cake every week. I have to limit them to one a week because of my ever expanding waist-line, but Noah would happily make a cake every day. He has even started telling me what kind of cake he’d like to make. Today we made a strawberry cake. We like to be ambitious.
2. A rugby player. He likes jumping on people, climbing over them and tackling them. My husband (the expert) claims Noah has natural skill in rugby. I must admit, I have concerns about this possible career choice already: my Noah has the most beautiful, delicate, perfect shell-like little ears. The thought of them turning into cauliflower ears hurts my heart.
3. An actor. Before the boy could speak, he could act. He is theatrical. He loves dressing up. He does different voices for different toys. He is also a bit of a straight-faced fabricator.
Me: Why were you calling me in the night? You know it’s naughty.
Noah: I was scared. (Does shivery, scared action. Speaks in small, scared voice.)
Me: What of?
Noah: Darth Vader was in my bed.
4. A librarian. Noah likes playing libraries. He likes the order of stacking books. He also likes reading, which helps. Mind you, libraries might be obsolete by the time Noah grows up. I hope not.
5. A pilot. Noah is a well-travelled three year old. He’s very used to flying back and forth between Vienna and England. He takes flying in his stride. He’s also been to Spain, Florence, Brussels, Helsinki and California. One of his first words was “plane” (although he pronounced it “ham”, I knew what he was saying). One of his first ever sentences (repeated multiple times) was “draw plane” meaning he wanted the nearest available person to draw him a page full of planes. He loves the Disney Planes films. Look Inside an Airport is also one of his favourite books.
6. Technology/media genius. I can’t really tell what specific jobs technology/media geniuses will do by the time Noah has grown up, but he has a definite interest (obsession) with mobile phones, ipads and television. Maybe, instead of it frying his brain and making him a couch potato like some might suggest, it will make him his millions in the future.
7. A naturist. By this I mean a nudist rather than a lover of nature. He strips off as soon as he gets through the front door, even when it’s freezing and I’m in thick socks and two jumpers. I don’t suppose a naturist is actually a career though, is it? But still.
8. A dancer. Noah never can resist getting up and boogying to the hot dog dance on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He likes performing to his piano too.
9. A dinosaur hunter. He has a mild obsession with dinosaurs. At church this week the vicar was talking about favourites and how we shouldn’t be prejudiced against people who don’t fit with our ideas about what is best. The vicar (bravely) put the microphone under Noah’s nose and asked what he thought of when he said the word “favourite”. Noah said dinosaur. When we were at Centre Parcs recently, we went to an activity where the children were shown a few different animals. At the start of the session, the woman leading it, asked the children to put their hands up if they had a pet at home. I almost fell off my chair when I realised Noah’s hand was up because I’m pretty sure we don’t have any pets. It seems like I was forgetting about the pet dinosaur we keep at home.
10. A politician. He switches his ears on and off depending on what he wants to hear. He is asked not to do something but does it anyway. He has an answer for everything. Just please don’t be a Michael Gove, my Noah.
I cannot quite believe I have decided to write a blog post about vomit. Previously, back when I was someone else (i.e. before I was a mother), I had a phobia of sick. On the occasion when a child I was teaching was sick in one of my lessons, I reacted no better than the rest of the hysterical room full of twelve year olds. Even in the early days of motherhood, I coped with the poo and wee but the idea that one day I would have to clear up sick, or even worse, be sicked on, made me go cold with horror. I didn’t think I would be able to do it. But when the day did eventually dawn earlier this year, I coped. Of course I did. We never know what we are capable of until we have children.
So here it is: a few hundred words on the subject of sick…
On Tuesday night, I was dramatically woken from my slumber by the terrifying noise of my Noah making choking, gagging sounds in his sleep. We are in England this week so are sleeping in the same room. Yes, he was being sick. I lifted him from the bed and took him to the bathroom. Once he was confident he was not going to be sick again, we had to go on a hunt for clean sheets for his bed. We went into my sister’s room and started hunting through clear plastic boxes of sheets but couldn’t find any to fit the toddler bed. (Don’t worry, my sister wasn’t in there: she has her own house now but the room still belongs to her just like my room still belongs to me).
I then attempted to wake my mother in order to ascertain where the elusive sheets are currently kept. But despite her claims of being a very light sleeper, she could not be roused. I must admit, I only stood by the side of her bed whispering her name. I was fearful that if I woke her too forcefully, the shock of opening her eyes to see me and my Noah standing at the edge of the bed, bathed in moonlight, would be enough to give her a heart attack.
So I put him in my bed. He was sick again. We went back into my sister’s room and found some old sheets for my bed. Whilst I was changing the bed, bedroom lights blazing, my Mum finally appeared. Noah gleefully danced around the room telling her he’d been sick as if he’d just won a medal. Once we were settled, sheets changed, mother soundo once again, he was sick a third time. Luckily, I’d put a towel under us and it only went on that.
Noah went back to sleep and didn’t wake up until seven (a small miracle). But I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep at all. Here are ten things that were going through my mind on a loop:
Is he okay? It is just a tummy bug, isn’t it? Or is it something he has eaten? Is it something I gave him? Could it be something more serious? What did Dr. Google tell me last time he was sick? Could it be meningitis? Is he breathing? Is he asleep or unconscious and how is it possible to tell?
Is he going to be sick again? What if I fall asleep and he is sick and he chokes and I don’t wake up?
If he is sick again (i.e. for the forth time), how am I going to change the sheets when the spare set have already been used tonight for both his bed and my bed? Does he have a third pair of clean pyjamas?
I feel guilty. I lost patience with him earlier when he wouldn’t brush his teeth and shouted at him. I asked him, for the love of God, when was he ever going to do what he was told? I should be more patient. But how? I don’t mean to snap. What was it Supernanny said in her book (in the half I read)? Stand back and observe the situation before reacting. Should I give Supernanny another chance and read the other half? Do I need her to come round and sort me out? Or the Three Day Nanny? Should I get in touch with Channel 4 and offer myself up for the next series? Why does he never do what he is told?
Why can I still smell sick when we are both wearing clean pyjamas and the sheets are all clean and all the sicky stuff is in the bathroom, not the bedroom?
Should I have stopped him drinking lots of water after he was sick for the third time and it was all just water that came up? I gave him one sip and that’s it. Is he going to be dehydrated? What are the symptoms of dehydration? What did Dr. Google tell me last time he was sick?
Will he be well enough to go and see The Gruffalo show in London on Friday?
Should I move him over and risk waking him up? It’s difficult to get to sleep hovering on the edge of the bed with a small child glued to your side as if you have an extra hip and leg.
Am I going to get sick? When am I going to get sick. Am I going to be able to go and see The Gruffalo?
How long will it take us as a family to recover from letting him sleep with me tonight? How many night-time hours will he spend attempting to get in our bed for the rest of the week? Or will it take longer than a week? Will he ever sleep through the night again?
Do you know what I wasn’t worried about? Noah being sick on me. It never entered my head to be worried about that. Until earlier this year when I caught Noah’s tummy bug, I hadn’t been sick for twenty-three years. I lasted three years at university without having been sick through alcohol*. Motherhood has changed me. It has made me braver.
*However, I have sat down on the toilet in a club and not been able to get up. I have fallen over a few times. I have been escorted out of a night club. I have suffered alcohol induced memory loss. I have accosted DJs who weren’t playing enough cheesey music. I have been put to bed at six p.m….I could go on. My point is, I’m just not a sick drunk: I’m an annoying one. This doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic of this post, but I thought I should elaborate to avoid confusion and give people the wrong idea about me.
I am inclined to see drama and disaster in everyday things. It’s my vice. Never do my Mum and Dad board a plane home after a visit to Vienna, without me feeling a chill as I consider the fact the plane might fall from the sky. Highly unlikely. But possible. My husband often goes out for a run. Sometimes he is longer than he says he will be. A lot longer. Has he been hit by a car? Has he collapsed? No, he simply decided to do ten miles more than he had planned, but I am scouring the internet for reports of local accidents, or ready to call an ambulance (I don’t know the phone number for the police). My husband fondly calls me “a lunatic”; my mother fondly calls me “a pessimist”. I like to call it having an overactive imagination. Never is my disaster-inclined imagination rifer than when it comes to my Noah.
It’s very hot in Vienna at the moment and Noah has a slight fever. The top windows in his bedroom lift out. I wanted my husband to remove them in time for Noah’s bed, but my husband is AWOL at work. I got the stepladder out but I couldn’t reach them. So I have opened the bottom window, guaranteeing myself a sleepless night tonight even though it is far more likely Noah will suffer in the heat than fall out of the window. This leads me on to the first of the top 10 things I am constantly (irrationally) afraid of:
Noah falling out of the window
We live on the third floor. By third floor, I actually mean fifth floor, because there are two weirdly named floors before the first floor (the names probably aren’t weird at all if you speak German). Anyway, we live a long way up from the ground. Our windows open straight out and if you should accidentally fall out of one, you are a gonner. When we first arrived, we insisted on a lock and chain being put on all of the windows. The locksmiths puzzled over this for weeks, as if the request were previously unheard of. My Mother (the very same one who calls me “a pessimist”) would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about Noah falling out of the window. She hounded me about this like crazy so I hounded my husband and he reluctantly hounded the locksmith and we ended up with windows that only open an inch unless you release the catch which is too stiff and fiddly for three year old thumbs to master. And yet. Tonight I will worry that Noah will get out of bed, drag a climbing device across his room to the window, open the curtains, lift up the blind, master the unmasterable window lock and throw himself out of the window. It’s never going to happen. But I am already imagining it.
Noah throwing himself off the balcony
We have a very small balcony which overlooks the picturesque view of the rubbish bins at the back of the building. I only ever use it to hang washing over the clotheshorse. The balcony has apparently been child-proofed. That means it has had a Perspex sheet fitted around the iron bars, secured with plastic cable ties. In my mind, the balcony is anything but child-proof. Noah is forbidden from going out there but Noah is a child for who rules are made to be broken. We often have the balcony door slightly open because of the heat. I have been known to sit bolt upright in bed, just as my husband is falling asleep, and question whether the balcony door has been closed. Throwing the word “lunatic” over his shoulder, my husband throws the sheets off, stomps across the room and goes to shut the door. Why would Noah get out of bed in the middle of the night, find his way to the balcony, get himself a climbing device and throw himself off? He wouldn’t. But I cannot sleep if I know the balcony door is open.
Running into the road
When we are out and about in Vienna, we always have Noah’s scooter in tow. He knows to stop at the roads and he does stop at the roads. But sometimes he lets go of the scooter and it rolls away. What if it rolled into the road and Noah, unthinking, dived after it and a car was coming? I worry about this every day.
Coughing in the night
Sometimes Noah has a ten second coughing fit in the night and then there is silence. It always wakes me up. He has probably rolled over and gone back to sleep but I long to go in there and check he is okay. I am awake for quite some time, listening carefully for any noise. The reason I don’t go in there is because it is entirely possible that Noah is wide awake and me walking into his room will remind him of my existence resulting in him demanding the pleasure of my company until he falls back to sleep (which could take hours).
Toys in the bed
Noah likes to take his toys to bed with him and he likes to put them in his mouth. He is not allowed to take his die-cast cars to bed with him in case the wheels come off in his mouth and choke him. But what if there is one in the bed and I haven’t noticed? The same applies to coins.
Noah’s preferred way of eating an apple is whole with the core taken out and the skin removed. Sometimes he has an apple while I am getting ready in the mornings. I have been known to get out of the shower half way through washing my hair to check he hasn’t choked. I like to be in the room when he is eating that notoriously dangerous food, the apple.
Nothing freaks me out quite like Noah sleeping well. It’s so unexpected that I wonder if there is a catch. Is he okay? Has something happened to him? My emotional capacity lasts until seven-thirty and then I send my reluctant husband in to check on him which usually wakes him up.
Something happening to him at kindergarten
Noah’s kindergarten is nothing like the nursery he went to in England. Noah comes home with scratches, bite marks, bruises, bloody knees and the kindergarten staff look confused on the odd occasion I ask them how he came across these injuries. In England, there would be an incident report giving a blow by blow account of the crime which I would have to sign as soon as I arrived to pick Noah up. When they go to the park, there is a member of staff at the front and one at the back. In between the children go marching two by two. That’s seventeen children between the ages of one and three, walking along a main road and crossing it to get to the park. Nothing ever happens to these kids; all the kindergartens here do it. But the UK nursery is my safety benchmark and the kindergarten here falls significantly short of it.
Someone stalking and stealing Noah
For several reasons, I decided to put my Noah’s name and photographs on the World Wide Web and start up this blog. Some mummy bloggers (and there are thousands of us) don’t use their children’s names. Some don’t even use photographs. I made a conscious decision to use Noah’s name and to share facts about our lives. But what if someone starts reading my blog (a real bonafide lunatic rather than a novice one like me) and uses the details to stalk us and becomes obsessed with my Noah and takes him one day whilst I am daydreaming in the park?
Adjusting badly when he starts school
In this instance, I am worried about Noah’s emotional safety rather than the physical. Noah isn’t starting school for another 14 months and already I am worrying about how he will adjust. He has been potty-trained for a year now and he still won’t go to the toilet at nursery. Will this pass by the time he starts school? Or will he hold his wee for seven hours instead of three? Since we moved to Vienna, Noah has not been looked after by anyone but me and my husband. If we get a babysitter for a night out, we cannot start getting ready until Noah is soundo: he somehow sniffs it out and refuses to go to sleep. Will he be one of those children who cry every day when their mother leaves him at the school gate? He cried for a month when he started kindergarten here. But everyone has to start school, don’t they? It’s an important life stage. Of course, what I am really worrying about here is my own emotional safety – my baby starting school? How will I cope?
All this isn’t that crazy is it? All mothers worry about their children, right? I’m not a lunatic or a pessimist really, am I?