The Adventure of Starting Primary School (And Being A Butterfly)

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.

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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.

But still.

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.

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Like this one…
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 …and this one

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.

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“What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson

 

*Mum, in case you haven’t worked this out yet, FTWM is Full Time Working Mum

The Adventure of Superheroes and Dreams

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.

Example:

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Er…yes…”

“And my legs?”

“Yes.”

“Both sides of my legs?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

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A lot to answer for

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.

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I’ll be Batman and you be…the green one…and you stand over there and don’t say anything

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?

Hell no.

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.

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Present Boy…Superpowers include unwrapping other people’s presents and camouflaging himself in the wrapping paper.

P.S. Can anyone tell me where to buy face paints??


 

10 Differences Between Going for a Job Interview Before and After Having Children (and a Career Break)

Until last week, I hadn’t been in a classroom for two years and three months. It’s safe to say, I am not at the top of my (teaching) game. In fact, when you take my maternity leave into consideration, I have only spent eight months out of the past four years teaching.

Before I had Noah, I was responsible for Key Stage 3 in English (that’s years 7-9 for non-teaching folk). At that stage in time, it was exactly where I wanted to be and I gave it everything I could. When I went on maternity leave, I didn’t dream that once I had a child, I would want to abandon my post and work part-time. But once Noah was here, I could not bear the idea of being away from him so many hours of the week, let alone doing a job where I had to give so much of myself. Teaching is a blood, sweat and tears kind of job and I was already bleeding, sweating and crying profusely just being Noah’s mother. So I left. Temporarily.

And now I’m back. I want to pick up where I left off. When I saw a job advertised for second in department at a secondary school that is a mere hundred footsteps away from the primary school Noah will hopefully be going to in September, I decided that was the job for me. Obviously. What could be more perfect? So I went to the interview and the Head came over to introduce himself to me and the other candidate. As he shook our hands, he clearly wanted to acknowledge that he knew something about each of us already. I was “the one who had been abroad for two years” and the other guy was “the one who had achieved ground-breaking GCSE results at a school where he was already second in department”. And I realised, quite calmly (a bit like how I imagine having an epiphany would be with sunshine and soulful music), that this was a one horse race: I was the horse who didn’t even cross the starting line.

The whole experience of applying for a job, preparing to teach a lesson, standing in front of a class for the first time in two years and going through the interview process (as well as the epiphany) was all a bit draining. A lot draining.

Here are ten differences between a job interview before and after having Noah (and a career break):

Difference 1: Location

Before – I’d pretty much have worked at any school within a 45-minute radius of my house. I’d have had a look at the most recent Ofsted report, browsed the school website and if the role was right and the kids weren’t terrors, I’d have gone for the job.

After – I want to be close to my Noah. My husband works in London. My Dad works in London. My Mum works all over the place. I feel that someone has to be close to Noah whilst he is at school and naturally that person should be me. I’m not sure why my conviction is so strong on this point. It’s what I call my Mother’s Random Logic: weird and probably ungrounded, but intense nonetheless. I don’t want to be more than 20 minutes away from his school. And 20 minutes is a push.

Difference 2: First Reference

Before – When applying for a job in teaching, your first reference needs to be your current employer, i.e. the Head. It’s fairly obvious who to put down.

After – In absence of a current employer, your most recent must be approached as first reference. Unfortunately, the head at the school I worked at for four months just before going to Vienna has retired. I had to send several e-mails before I could ascertain who my first reference actually should be and it turns out it was someone who I have never met…

Difference 3: Availability

Before – When a school rang me up and offered me an interview, I could go. All I had to do was ask for the day off.

After – When the school rang me up and offered me an interview, I informed them I was free between 12.30 and 3.30 on that day. When the school informed me the interview process was actually a day-long thing, I had to find someone to look after Noah. My Dad was working, my Mum had a pupil on a driving test, my husband was going to a funeral. The nursery couldn’t take him for the morning because they were at full capacity. My aunt was a possibility but the issue was with the car seat and ferrying Noah to nursery. In the end, my husband missed the funeral.

Difference 4: Interview Attire

Before – I had a wardrobe full of work clothes. For all of my previous interviews in teaching, I wore a black suit with a jazzy accessory to show, you know, I really am quite jazzy. For the interview at my first school I accessorised with hot pink shoes. At my second, I accessorised with a cobalt blue blouse. At my third, I wore a frilly black and white blouse with a slightly Victorian feel about it.

After – I had absolutely nothing to wear. Absolutely nothing. All of my work clothes have spent the past two years festering in my Aunt’s loft. In anticipation of getting an interview, I ordered three dresses from the Oasis sale. When they arrived, every single one of them was too low cut to wear in the vicinity of teenagers. I then had to drag Noah around the high street, buying outfit choices from Next, Marks and Spencers and Dorothy Perkins, none of which I had time to try on until the morning of the interview. Luckily, one thing fit me: a black and white dress. There was nothing jazzy about it.

Difference 5: Level of Polish

Before – I was pretty well polished when I rocked up on the day of the interview. My hair was blow-dried, my make-up was subtle, my black suit was pressed.

After – I only put mascara on one eye because Noah came in and distracted my attention from the other eye by showing me he had put his own vest and socks on.

Difference 6: The Lesson

Before – I would plan the best lesson it was in my power to create. There at the forefront of my brain would be all the things I needed to include in the lesson: engaging but challenging activities, differentiation, SMSC elements (spiritual, moral, social, cultural), progress, learning objectives, assessment criteria…The list goes on. As soon as I found out the topic of my interview lesson, my brain would be buzzing with ideas. I would be nervous about the lesson, but once I got in front of the class, I switched into role and things came naturally.

After – My lesson was distinctly average. Things did not come naturally.

Difference 7: Interview Questions

Before – I could answer the questions. I knew a time when a child hadn’t done what I had asked of them because it had happened just the day before. I knew how the department would be affected by upcoming changes to the curriculum because it had been the topic of department meetings for months. I knew of a time when I had done something in my role which had made a significant change because I had done it last week.

After – I had a hazy notion I could deal with behaviour and had made positive changes in the past, but the details escaped me. When asked about a time a child hadn’t done as I asked, my Noah’s face loomed into my mind. I am yet to meet a teenager as obstinate as Noah. Teenagers at least pretend they are going to do what you have asked.

Difference 8: Truth and Lies

Before – When asked where I see my career going, I said Head of English. That was what I eventually wanted to be.

After – When asked what I want to be in 5 years’ time, I said Head of English. This is a lie. What I want to be in 5 years’ time is semi-retired from the profession. I want to be standing at the school gate as Noah walks into school and to be there again when he comes out. I want to be a professional writer. I want to have had two books published. I wouldn’t mind having a trophy on my bookshelf for best debut novel or something like that.

Difference 9: The proof was in the pudding

Before – I proved myself at the interview for teacher training, therefore I could train to be a teacher. I proved myself whilst training, therefore I could get a real teacher job. I proved myself at my real teacher job, therefore I could get a promotion with responsibility.

After – The pudding was at a banquet eaten two years ago. In fact, because of changing schools and going on maternity leave, the last set of GCSE results I got from a class that was mine from the beginning to the end of the course was in 2010. And those results were okay. But they weren’t ground-breaking.

Difference 10: The Job Offer

Before – I got every teaching job I went for. I am not blowing my own trumpet. First of all, before I was a teacher, I wanted to be an Editorial Assistant at a publishing company. I went for thirteen interviews before I actually became an Editorial Assistant. Secondly, I was the only candidate at one of my teaching interviews and the only sane candidate at another. But still…

After – Nein.

 

Have my seven years of teaching really been wiped off the slate? Maybe not all of them –  I have had several people contacting me about jobs since I came back. But not jobs that put me right back in the spot where I abandoned my career path. This is all part and parcel of the decision some mothers make to stay at home with their children. It is part and parcel of the decision I made to go to Vienna. For, after all, I was the one with the deciding vote. The hardest thing about being in Vienna (apart from being away from my family), was the feeling of being in limbo: I felt like I had left my life behind in England and had to live in a kind of in-between state of nothingness for two years. I thought we would come back to England and everything would magically be okay. Whilst I thank God every day that I am home, I hadn’t anticipated that settling back in would be so hard. There are so many changes, so many things that have to slot back into place. It will happen. I know it will. But it is taking longer than I thought. And I don’t regret leaving teaching to look after my Noah. I don’t regret it one bit, no matter how much it may have set my career back.

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My non-jazzy interview attire. (Excuse the mess behind me – these are rejected interview outfits).

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

The Adventure of being a SAHM … or not

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.

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Ah, the park

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.

 

And yet…

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.

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I didn’t miss the time when we got caught in a downpour on the way to nursery and Noah’s trousers were soaked so he had to borrow a pair of his g.f.’s leggings.

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.

A change is coming my Noah.

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Love the park, really. Don’t know what I’d do without it.

Mami 2 Five

Noah’s 10 Strange and Slightly Annoying Habits/Obsessions of the Moment

I don’t want to moan about my son. But I am going to just a little bit. I am fully aware that Noah is a remarkable little person. I am fully aware that for every annoying habit he has, he has an even bigger endearing trait. He is three years old, I tell myself. Most of the time, I am patient. Most of the time, I try to see the world from his perspective. He goes through phases and some of these phases are trying. It’s just a phase, I tell myself. It will pass. He will grow out of it. But still, I’m just a teeny tiny miniscule bit exhausted.

Here are Noah’s top 10 favourite things to do at the moment from the least to the most annoying:

  1. He has taken to sleeping in his slippers. These are blue, slightly too big, and have Mickey Mouse on them. In itself, this habit is quite endearing. When I check on him before I go to bed, all I can usually see of him is his little slippered feet sticking out under the duvet. God love him, I think with a smile. What is annoying about this is the tracking down of the slippers just as he is climbing into bed. One is usually easy to find; the other often proves elusive.
  2. He has started biting his toenails. Surely he will grow out of this as he gets bigger and less supple? Unless he is hypermobile like me*. He then complains his big toe hurts and needs cream on it. If this happened once, or even twice, a day it would be okay…(*Please note – I do not bite my own toenails.)
  3. He insists on wiping his own bum after doing a poo. Bum wiping is not one of the aspects of motherhood that has come easily to me. I’d love it if I didn’t have to wipe his bum for him anymore. But he doesn’t do it properly which means I have to intervene which usually means me chasing him around the flat with the toilet paper. Sorry for talking about poo.
  4. He is obsessed with plasters. Last week, he insisted on wearing a plaster on his finger every day because it “hurt”. At first I indulged him. It was easier than having to suffer one of his tantrums over it. But then he used up a whole packet of plasters and I was a bit worried his finger was going to shrivel up. So I suffered a 45 minute tantrum where the only words were “I want a plaster” over and over and over and over a hundred times until, exhausted, he fell asleep. What were the first words out of his mouth in the morning (at 5am)? “I want a plaaaaaaaaaaaaster!”
  5. He is “afraid” of the Big Bad Mouse. One of his current favourite reads is The Gruffalo’s Child. Every day this week, he has drawn a picture of the Big Bad Mouse when I pick him up from nursery. The Big Bad Mouse is also under his bed. Apparently, this is why he wakes up at night. I have tried to explain to him that the Big Bad Mouse doesn’t exist, it’s really only a little mouse. I remind him of the story of The Gruffalo. But it seems that intertextuality is too difficult a concept for a three year old to grasp.
  6. He watches videos of adults playing with toys on YouTube. One is a man (American) who opens toys with his daughter. He usually opens some sort of plastic egg that has sweets and a toy inside. You can hear him eating the sweets as he gives a running commentary on the toy. Annoying. But he has nothing on the woman (also American) who plays with Paw Patrol toys. Her favourite expression is “Super cool!” In today’s video she had buried the Paw Patrol figures in a sandpit and was digging them back up again. What the duck?
  7. He puts all of his toys in bags. I can only find half of his pirates. Most of his train track has disappeared. Where are the cars for his garage? All in random bags. He often wants to take these bags out with him. Can he carry them? No. This was the conversation we had this morning as he was stuffing Happyland people into his Postman Pat bag:

Noah: Mummy, can I take some toys to nursery?

Me: You can take one toy.

Noah: I want to take lots of toys! (Gets Postman Pat bag and starts to fill it)

Me: That’s enough! You won’t able to carry all that. I’m not going to carry it for you.

Noah: I can carry it because I am Superboy.

Did he take the whole rucksack full of toys? Yes. Who carried it? Me.

  1. He pulls my hairband out of my hair. Seems like an innocent enough thing but this infuriates me. Every mother in the world feels some level of harassment when they are trying to leave the house in the morning. Right? First I have to coax Noah into the bathroom for a wash. Then I have to grapple him into his clothes whilst he won’t stand still for a second. Then I have to find a pair of matching shoes (the pair that he actually wants to wear). It is when I am kneeling down trying to get the shoes on his feet that he makes his move and whips the hairband out. This annoys me because (a) it hurts (b) I have to go back into the bedroom and brush my hair back into a ponytail and (c) he won’t give the hairband back to me and hairbands in my house are like gold dust.
  2. He refuses to scoot on his scooter. He wants to be pulled along by his scooter pull rather than scoot. On the one hand, it is safer because I know he isn’t going to accidentally scoot in front of a car. But it also means he is always bumping into the back of my heels, falling off when we go round corners or ploughing in to things.
  3. He acts like a baby. As in he talks in a baby voice. A lot of the time he doesn’t actually speak at all, just makes whinging baby noises and points at what he wants. He can keep this up all day. I have become one of those mothers in a shop snapping at her child, “Stop acting like a baby!” But when I say it, I don’t mean stop being immature, I really mean stop acting like a baby.

I am not being negative about my Noah. Not really. All threenagers are hard work, right? I know that these habits/mild obsessions mean he is developing his character. And what a little character he is. Whilst these 10 things annoy me, they also make me proud. But not number 10. Or 8 and 9. Or 2…

I’m saving these anecdotes up for when he gets married. And yes, I am planning on doing a Mother of the Groom speech.

Do you remember when Noah was three and wore his Mickey Mouse Slippers to bed? Ha ha ha. Do you remember when he wore a plaster on his finger for a month and the finger fell off? Ha ha ha.

My Noah, you are my treasure.

A few toys to take to kindergarten.
A few toys to take to kindergarten.
The big brown circle with legs is the Big Bad Mouse. The blue things are Darth Vader and his men (last week's obsession). The shadow is my arm taking the picture.
The big brown circle with legs is the Big Bad Mouse. The blue things are Darth Vader and his men (last week’s obsession). The shadow is my arm taking the picture.

You Baby Me Mummy

The Adventure of being a SAHM (Part 1)

For those of you who don’t know, a SAHM is a Stay At Home Mom. I write it the American way, because I am sure it was originally an American term. In December, I am moving back to England with Noah and I have been thinking about what I want to do on my return. As a result, I’ve been contemplating my life as a SAHM quite a lot. It’s something I never thought I would be. But here I am.

It’s not a glamorous job.

I have just looked in the mirror. I don’t do this as much as I used to. I no longer stand in front of the mirror when I brush my teeth: I make use of the time by sorting through the washing basket, wandering into my bedroom to get my clothes ready for the day or completing some other one-minute chore. I no longer give myself a full length once-over before I leave the house; it simply doesn’t enter my head. The only time I usually look in the mirror is when I brush my hair back into its daily ponytail, and even then, I only really look at my hair. When I do happen to look in the mirror for longer than five seconds, I am often horrified by how my eyebrows have overgrown without me noticing or by how dry my lips are or how my eyelashes seem to be growing thinner and fairer with age. Sometimes I pause there and try giving myself a smile. It’s horrific. My eyes have a slightly demonic glint – it’s the desperation in me to see the same reflection I would have four years ago. The skin is thinner around my eyes and puckers with the effort of the smile that quickly slides from my face. I don’t hate my appearance. I don’t fret about it. I am just slightly mystified by it.

So, I have just looked in the mirror (standing quite far away) and what I thought was this: have I become a Mumsy Mum? What does mumsy actually mean? I googled it and I found:

  • A woman who has an old fashioned appearance
  • A traditional mother
  • Dull
  • Unfashionable
  • Dowdy
  • Frumpy
  • Inelegant
  • An insult
  • Anti-feminist

Hmm. Poor Mumsy Mums.

Never have I felt more dowdy and inelegant as I did when I had just had Noah. My real clothes didn’t fit me. I was breastfeeding so clothes had to have easy access whilst at the same time being discreet. I made sure I had a shower every day but that was as far as my grooming progressed. I lived in leggings and baggy tops and UGG boots (so used they grew a shiny sheen). I put on just under two and a half stone when I was pregnant (quite normal I am told). After the birth, I immediately dropped a stone but the rest of it wasn’t going anywhere until Noah started weaning. I felt like a frump. I felt like the definition of Mumsy.

And yet…

I felt like I shouldn’t be a mum. Noah was always (a) distressed or (b) feeding. When guests came around, there were no snuggly newborn cuddles. Instead, I looked on desperately as he was passed around like a hot potato to see who could get him to stop crying. There was only one person and that was me, or more specifically, my boob. Health visitors and “experts” claimed babies should settle into routines of feeding every three hours. I was lucky to get an hour unattached. Despite this, he dropped from the 75th to the 9th percentile. I spent my whole existence, morning and night, feeding my child only for him to hover at the top of the 9th percentile for three months. I felt pressure to stop breastfeeding but I refused. I was failing him*. And then there was the love. The love I felt for my child. The desperation I felt to protect him. The load I carried in my mind of all the imaginings of bad things that could happen to him. I just didn’t know what to do with all that love. What had I been thinking, getting myself pregnant and having a child? I wasn’t cut out to be a mother!

*(Of course, I wasn’t really failing him. As he stayed in the 9th percentile, his weight gain was deemed “satisfactory”. We discovered at 3 months that his jaw was out of line. Once that was fixed, he piled on the pounds.)

So when I was looking my most mumsy, I was feeling my least mumsy. So much for that definition. I shall never use it again.

At my most mumsy...apart from the red boots
At my most mumsy…apart from the red boots

But, my appearance has changed since becoming a SAHM. I hardly ever wear make-up. I am always casually dressed. But what do I expect? I never go anywhere apart from to the shops, to the kindergarten and to the park. When I used to go to work, examining myself in front of the mirror was a vital part of the job. Did I have VPL? Who wants a thirteen year old girl sniggering at knicker lines on their backside? Not me. Was my top too tight? Was I showing any cleavage? Who wants a teenage boy distracted even more distracted from their lesson on Macbeth because he’s ogling their boobs? Most certainly not me!

And yet…

Do I buy less clothes since moving to Vienna and becoming a SAHM? Hell no. I buy clothes all the time to cheer myself up. Just ask my husband. He claims I will need to put some of my clothes in storage once we move back to our shoebox in Essex. Ha. What he doesn’t know is that half my clothes are already in storage – all of my work clothes – and they will be coming back out again when we move home. Clothes in storage? I don’t think so, dear.

When I move back to England, I am contemplating being more glamorous like my Mum and my sister. Maybe I will go for facials, get false eyelashes, get my nails done. I will certainly get my fringe cut more often and keep my roots blonde and shiny. Being a teacher isn’t a particularly glamorous job either, but I was always coordinated. In other words, I always had a necklace on to match my outfit. Now I don’t even know where half my necklaces are.

No, being a SAHM is not at all glamorous. But, it does have its blessings. The biggest blessing is time. Yes, a lot of my time involves the experience of tantrums, the hopeless emotional outpourings of a three year old boy. Here is a list of the tantrums I have lived through today:

5.15am – tantrum because I had taken the fan out of his room

8am – tantrum because I tried to force him to count the spots on the dice when we were playing his dinosaur board game and he couldn’t be bothered

1pm – tantrum because he wanted one of the chocolates my husband gave me for our anniversary last weekend and I had eaten the last one

4pm – tantrum because he didn’t want to wear his shoes to walk back from the park

5pm – tantrum because he wanted to use my iPad (I never even said he couldn’t!)

And when I say tantrum, I mean screaming at the top of his lungs. I mean having to avoid a few slaps and jabs. I mean him being inconsolable for at least 20 minutes. If I had gone to work today, I would have only experienced 40% of his tantrums. If I had gone to work today, I’d probably be feeling less fraught. I probably wouldn’t have just eaten four Oreos (I could have stopped at two). But I wouldn’t have been there on the way home from nursery when he decided to run through the sprinklers in the park. I wouldn’t have heard his squeals of glee and I wouldn’t have seen the delight on his face.

Undoubtedly, I have found being a SAHM hard. It has been that much harder because I am living in a foreign country. But it has been precious.

Who needs necklaces when I have my Noah? My darling boy who runs his hands over my face and says, “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, you’re so beautiful!”

True happiness
True happiness
A great way to cool down in 33 degree heat
A great way to cool down in 33 degree heat

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