Sunday 26 May 2019

The bittersweet return to life as the 'other me'

Following her maternity leave, it's an end to being a stay-at-home mum for Sinead Fox. She reminisces on a year with her children and the positives she will take going forward

Sinead Fox with sons Ciaran, Cathal and daughter Laoise.
Sinead Fox with sons Ciaran, Cathal and daughter Laoise.

Sinead Fox

LIKE all good things, my maternity leave must come to an end, and that's just happened.

As I write, it's the night before I return to work after nearly a year off.

Tomorrow, I'll rise at the crack of dawn, get back into my black work gear (hopefully with black, not navy tights this time), pull on the heels, trowel on some make-up and drive the 90km to work, as if I had done it every day forever, as if nothing has happened since the last time I performed the routine. I'll replace the photo of the boys that has been safely stored in my desk drawer for the last 12 months with one of the three now (that I have yet to print) and I'll get back into the rhythm of it all again.

The boys know it's coming and haven't expressed any concerns at all, they adore their childminder and are looking forward to hanging out in her house again. My three-year-old even said "yay, I can't wait" on our way to her house for our "practice" day.

My baby girl doesn't know what's going on but will be absolutely fine as long as she has someone to play with and an endless supply of snacks. I know that they are in very good hands and well cared for. It's made even easier by the fact that their daddy is minding them this week, so there are no lunchboxes to get ready or clothes to lay out, they are at their leisure. I suspect (in fact, I have been told) that the small girl will be changed from her babygro just before I arrive home, but what harm.

I've been talking about the return (a lot) to try to convince myself that it is actually happening but still, only hours beforehand, I find myself in denial (and not just about which of my work clothes fit me).

Sinead Fox
Sinead Fox

I've done this twice before, so I know it's never as bad as I think it's going to be. But the first time, in the height of the recession, my hours were reduced to three days a week, and that seemed to soften the blow of leaving my firstborn with a lady who then was a stranger, and now is like a family member.

Two years later, having been made redundant after my second pregnancy, I thought I'd never find a job when something came up out of the blue, and I found myself back full-time with 180km of driving per day.

That was hard, and tiring but I made it work, or rather my husband and I did together, we had to, without his support and flexibility it couldn't have happened. And I know we'll make it work this time too. It's just that the initial thoughts of getting back into the hamster wheel, the routine, the lunchboxes, the guilt, and the driving are all on my mind.

I'm trying to think of the positives, but somehow going to the toilet alone, wearing clothes that only get dirty if I spill something on them myself and drinking tea while it's still hot don't feel like a good trade-off for what I think I'll be missing out on.

Sinead with Laoise when she was three-months-old
Sinead with Laoise when she was three-months-old

I know that I'll value every moment of silence, all the headspace and the eating lunch at lunchtime (not between schoolruns) and without interruption, and will delight in the adult conversation, but today I can't focus on that.

This time is the hardest. This maternity leave wasn't just about my new baby, it was about getting to spend time with her brothers too.

I've seen Cathal go from the shy little two-year-old who clung to me when we met new people this time last year, to a confident three-and-a-half year old, a self-confessed chatterbox.

Ciaran too has grown up so much in the last 12 months, he's a "big school" boy now, he suddenly has all these outside influences, he brings home stories and new words from school, he's going to GAA training with his hurl, helmet and gumshield at the ready.

Sinead Fox with Laoise, now at 11-months-old
Sinead Fox with Laoise, now at 11-months-old

A year has made such a difference to us all.

I know that I'll look back and remember all the good parts. Watching Miss Laoise grow from a squishy newborn to a little girl who got her first pair of shoes today.

I'll reminisce about bringing Cathal to storytime at the library, about collecting Ciaran from the door of his classroom every day, afternoons spent at friends' houses for playdates or at the playground, and walks on the beach. I'll remember doing make and do (those three times) and baking and spending quality time with the kids.

At the same time, I'll completely wipe from memory the drudge, the effort involved in getting the three of them in and out of the car on a wet morning for school, with one refusing to wear shoes of any description, the war against the housework (I lost).

I'll forget the battles of wills, the tantrums, the shouting (by both them and me), the colic, the sheer exhaustion of caring for a newborn and her two older brothers, the long days longing for adult company, the laundry piles, the sticky floors, the puddles of pee and spilled milk (and pesto, and oil), the hiding in the utility room while checking my Facebook for a minute's peace, the dinnertime battles. (Of course many of these will still occur when I'm back to work, just in a shorter window).

The tiredness and the laundry too will remain constant.

But hopefully, what time I spend with my three children will be quality time, and I won't need to hide in the utility room quite as much.

That's what memory does you see, hones in on the good, and rose-tints everything, my memories of maternity leave will be sunshine and smiles, not the dark days when I wished it was time to go back to work sooner.

After a few days, possibly even a few hours, I expect I'll remember that despite it all I do actually like what I do and I enjoy working, and relish being called "Sinead" not "Ciarán's Mam" all the time.

Then, I'll try not to feel guilty about enjoying that hot cup of tea quite so much. I'll think about how lucky I have been to have so much time off with my kids, and to have a job to go back to this time, and one that accommodated my parental leave application.

Fast forward a few weeks and we're all getting used to things now, my body is reacclimatising to the early starts and the heels, my caffeine intake has increased significantly.

Now I can talk about my children at work without my voice quivering. The kids are getting on great as I knew they would. There are fewer tantrums to deal with, the laundry pile is the same size that it always was.

I'm beginning to remember the other me, the one that was hidden while I was on maternity leave. Life is going on.

But sometimes, when I'm having a low day, a guilty mammy day for missing something that I don't want to, or thinking that I'm missing something, I'll come back to this post and read it and remember that while it's been lovely, without a doubt being a stay-at-home mother is the hardest job that I've ever done, (and I've only done it in the suspended reality that is maternity leave).

But it's also the most rewarding, the stickiest, the slimiest, the longest hours, the most fun. The best.

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