One very cold, very dark and dangerously icy night my husband drove for what felt like an irritatingly long time. I thought he was having joke at my expense and driving purposefully slow. I had made this journey countless times before and always felt like it happened at warp speed. This wasn’t warp speed, this wasn’t like ‘just round the corner. Up the A177, turn left, turn right and you’re there.’ This was one long, heavy contraction after the other. This was PAAAIIIINNNN… The hospital was about 15 miles away and it turns out that when it’s snowing, -15C below and the dead of night, this is a treacherous arsehole of a trip. So he took it slow and fortunately we made it there without too much drama and our beautiful pink little bundle of noise, mess and tantrums arrived three hours later. We instantly became fairytale perfection: a happy relationship, two healthy children, one of each… And we all lived happy ever after. The end.. No not the end. NOT
THE END, scratch that. We all lived happily. We’ve all lived happily for the last six years since that poignant moment but dare I say it? Dare I *whisper* that mummy, me, this PERSON is not particularly happy? On paper I have a fantastic life – I have had the luxury of being able to stay at home with my children in their pre-school days and I don’t begrudge a minute of it. I have a lovely home, great friends and an exceptionally supportive husband. Yet if you take a peep behind that curtain of that wonderful fiction the sight of the crumbling walls, the filth, the dirt of backstage and that dank smell of resentment might knock you back a little. You see, ten years ago I made a stupid decision. I had just begun the career that I had wanted since I was clacking around in my mum’s high heels, lipstick around the outside of my lips and my hair in a side pony tale. I had always wanted to write, so I worked hard and managed to bag a job for a magazine as an Editorial Assistant. Yay, go me! (Smug).. and then I fecked it all up. My then boyfriend (now husband) of 10 years, and I got pregnant – not entirely on purpose and when he said, ‘But I wanted to go back to university to retrain!’ I stupidly said the following words: “Well, you still can.” And that Ladies and Gentlemen was a monumentally daft thing to have said. Within six hours of finding out I was pregnant I had given the less sensible one in our relationship the permission to quit his stable London-based job, sell our house and move us to the North East of England where we had no friends or family and therefore no support network. I had also pulled the chair out from under myself where my career was concerned. What was I thinking?? I blame it on my hormones and my vulnerable position, fearing that if I didn’t agree to it I’d be either a single parent or trapped in a relationship with a resentful man who would blame me for holding him back. So that’s what we did. Seven months after the birth of our son we moved lock stock to a former mining village in County Durham. The only reason we chose this place was because it is central to five towns and the house looked out onto a pretty village green. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. One thing we did learn pretty quickly was the politics of village life. Ssssh, don’t tell anyone anything you don’t want everyone to know. Careful what you say because this is a place where the grand life event of Moving Out or Fleeing the Nest actually means moving next door to your parents and everybody knows everybody. Also don’t take it personally if no one wants to talk to you because you know what? You’re not local. Get used to it. London this ain’t. I was thrust into being a new mum, with no career, no family or friends and we’d moved into what can only be described as the inspiration for the League of Gentlemen. Funnily enough one of its writers Mark Gatiss grew up down the road from there. Maybe not such a coincidence after all. But for all its quirks I loved it. I found the people welcoming at the toddler groups and I threw myself into full time Mumming. Coffee mornings, baby gym, swimming, parks, baking and messy play. For a long time, years even, I was able to put myself in the Mummy Bubble and I put my babies first. I didn’t think about what I was going to do with myself when this all ended because I was happy. But fast forward 8 Years on and things are very different. My husband is still not to be trusted with any decision making for this family, but we have moved house to a new village where the people are a bit more worldly wise. They’ve been to Newcastle at least, which is more than can be said for some of the people I met in the pit village. The kids are settled in a fab little school and are really enjoying life and my husband has his own business with which he’s desperately trying to make great things happen. My parents have even bitten the bullet and moved up here from the South East to be near us. And then there’s me. Mum… Still Mumming but now on a part time basis. More of a cleaner now. A laundry maid perhaps? I really can fill those six hours the kids are away being educated with housework… I still go for the odd coffee with friends but now that the children aren’t with us it feels illicit. It feels like we ought to be doing something more worthwhile with our time. Like charity work, like a course or the Holy Grail, real paid work. If you can get it. That’s my problem. That’s why I’m not happy. I feel like I’ve failed. I had all those dreams of having a career in Publishing, I had it within my hands and then I crushed it for the sake of love and the very worthy reason of being a mother. Only this morning my boy said to me, ‘Mum, you are the best mum in the history of all the mums,’ and I feel terrible but it’s not enough for me. How selfish. I resent having given up that piece of me. That piece that was my identity but I guess I’m just a mum now. I’m struggling to find something I’m interested in so I have taken jobs for the sake of working. I took a job at a major UK retail company that paid minimum wage and had to juggle every shift. They said it would be 16 hours a week and it turned out to be 40. It was unsustainable. My husband was having to take a lot of time off to look after the kids in the afternoons, his work was suffering and so were the kids. Every time that uniform came out there were tears and I barely saw them. I’m now working for a teaching agency that farms people out as Cover Supervisors for everything from Secondary schools to Nurseries. I found Secondary was not for me AT ALL. I reckon all my years with the little ones have softened me and the teenagers terrified me. Why oh why in the name of sweet Ja-heezus then was my first lesson (FIRST LESSON) alone with a class full of 12/13 Yr olds about PSHE: Sexting and Legal Highs. I text my husband in horror and all he could offer me was:
Yeah, thanks love. Needless to say it was a bloody disaster. It was like Educating Yorkshire but I wasn’t inspiring or witty or masterful or interesting. I was not in control at all. I ended up shouting til my throat was sore, three boys got detention and I nearly threw one out of the window. Nobody was listening and no one was interested apart from Katie, bless her, down the front who just said, ‘Don’t worry miss, don’t let them put you off. Can I have a merit?’ It was a horrendous experience that I don’t wish to repeat EVER. So doing a PGCE is out the window. There goes that career option. When I go to the nurseries I do 9 hour shifts for £50. Is that legal? I have a lot of respect for those girls who do that relentless, thankless job for little more than minimum wage so that thousands of other mums can go out to work. Thank you girls and occasional boys! But this is what I wonder – if you earn minimum wage but have to use childcare, what are you working for? Is it just to keep your job for later in case you end up like me? You can’t be going home with much after you take out the expenses. Having been out of work for so long I don’t feel I’m ever going to be able to command a higher wage. Isn’t that depressing? All that work I did – those A’Levels, that degree, post grad work and volunteering and all that promise sold to me by the girls school I went to who prepped us to rule the world. NOT ONCE did they tell me – Danielle, if you want a career, don’t take a break to do the family thing, they won’t let you back in. They’ll wedge the door shut, probably because you smell of kids. Just a job it is then. Just a job to make ends meet for someone who’s just a mum.