The Part-Time Part-Timer

This is the name I have gotten for myself at work. At first, it was playful banter. Don’t get me wrong, I work with a brilliant bunch of people and am fortunate enough to have the most supportive boss in the world, but recently, it has niggled more and more.

My life has always been in many parts. I can’t explain why I prefer to compartmentalise my “beings”, but I just find life easier to handle this way. And of course, my most important “being” without question is as a mummy.

So when I went back to work part-time in 2017, I smiled when the nickname arose. “I get to spend 2 days at home with my awesome baby girl, don’t hate me cos you ain’t me!” was pretty much my uber mature response.

When I was allowed to start working from home to ease my physical demands, I was in the office less, the nickname used more. Never with malice, this I know. Many people in my team are fulfilling much more complex roles than I am and all power to them. I work to live and I am not a career girl. I did not dream of climbing a big corporate ladder – I wanted to be a mum. So I am more than happy to muddle through on a part time job. I am fortunate enough to do so because my lovely husband is willing to shoulder more of the financial burden.

But it occurred to me, outside of my boss, who allows me to be very frank when I say how physically and emotionally exhausted I can get, no-one has actually asked what this new chapter of my life is like for me.

Not Social Services when I pleaded for help with my newborn, not the health visitor (who, by the way, still hasn’t called on us in the 18 months we’ve lived in this house, not even after our dash to A&E when Squidge decided to lick a washing tablet, but hey ho, just as well she’s fine eh?) I haven’t been asked about how my disability impacts my life since my days working in classrooms, when 10 year olds would inquisitively question what it was that made me walk funny.

No-one has asked me about this life in 4 long years.

And I suddenly feel that I want to tell them all, because they need to know.

They need to know that no matter where I am, I work all my hours (which, actually is 4 days worth, not 3.) I’m the first in and the last out. I’m not spending my days off on jollies, as much as I’d like to. Lunch dates are few and far between, because what I’m actually doing more often than not is catching up on sleep. Because I don’t sleep. Probably because my back was hurting from sitting in my office chair for nearly 11 hours, or because my leg muscles seized again and walking is too hard today.

I don’t just get to fill my days with trips to the park and evenings in the pub because there’s no work tomorrow. More often than not, I’m slumped half-dead on the sofa by 7:30. I daren’t make evening plans with a friend because I’ll inevitably cancel through exhaustion. (I last went out 6 months ago when I went to see Ed Sheeran. I gave myself almost a year’s notice, made myself nap for an hour that afternoon and still was exhausted by 10pm and Ed was nowhere near done!) I have very little hope of a social ife because I need to take care of me first. It’s so damn sad and yet, it remains all I get.

Work less hours then maybe? Well yes, but then how does the mortgage get paid? Do I not have the right to work and provide for my daughter? God forbid, I just become one of those “scroungers” on benefits. I detest that term by the way… do not judge it til you’ve lived it. And ironically, we’ve looked into it – I’m entitled to nothing from the state, despite the fact that I’ve paid in, or that I struggle to get through every day. And that would be fine were it based on any insight into my capabilities. But it’s not. It’s based on my husband’s income. Not even just my own. But his. And we’re too “rich” to ask for help, even though me having no income at all would probably put us on the breadline. It’s ludicrous, so work I must.

Give up on my degree maybe? I’ve thought about it, but this one thing is just for me. Something I work hard at, something I treasure, something I’m determined to show both myself and my daughter I can see through, that I am capable of anything. I’m determined to give myself better options for when the life I’m living now is no longer sustainable.

I’m giving this life my all and if you knew me well enough to ask, you’d realise that far too often, I’m left with very little to give.

And even on those kind of days, you’ll still see me at my desk. I’ll already have been there for hours by the time you come in at 9am. I’m not judging you, am I? I sincerely believe in work-life balance and think everyone should work to rule and get the Hell out by 5pm to go and live life, to be with your family. If you don’t agree, fine. Go get that promotion by next year if that’s what will make you happy.

But please, don’t call me a Part-Time Part-Timer. Yes, I work part-time hours at this job, but, my God, I am full-time everything else.

The Battle for Baby #2

I mentioned earlier that I have been suffering with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of elements in my life.

Last week, like a kick in the chest, I suddenly was able to give these anxieties their unspeakable name.

“I’m not sure we should have another baby.”

Now, permit me to be clear…. Being Squidge’s mum has shown me what my purpose is in life. I was terrified to become a mum, so scared of failing my baby, but I loved her from the first second I put my hand on my belly on the way home to tell Kev I was expecting. She is mine, she is the light in my life.

I want nothing more than to go through the experience again. I feel as though I know more what to expect now, and I want to appreciate the miracle that pregnancy is, I want to take the time to appreciate the amazing things that my body, normally wrecked and ruined, can do.

But….

Parenting is hard. It is so very hard. I am so tired, scrabbling to find the energy for other aspects of my life that I cannot let give yet.

Work being the first example.

I honestly believed I would work forever, just as everyone else my age is condemned to do these days. If I needed money, I needed to work, simple as. But it took Kev looking me dead in the face and saying: “You realise you can’t do this for much longer, don’t you?” to realise how damn tired I was. And he’s right. It’s not worth giving up the quality of the rest of my life to be able to bring in a wage. People survive every day.

And so, we mutually agreed that I should phase my working hours out. I like working. It gives me a sense of normality and of self worth. It wouldn’t do anyone much good for me just to quit working outright. And who knows, we might strike a beneficial balance along the way.

I am very lucky that I now have a very understanding boss, who, in his own words “lives in the real world” and always tells me to take care of myself and that I must “tell me how it needs to be, you don’t need me to tell you you come first.” He knows how hard I find the second point because I so desperately don’t want my condition to affect my productivity at work. But he hasn’t seen a decrease and so refuses to dictate to me. I really like that and I really enjoy working for him.

He already knows that it won’t be forever, but he too is determined to help me find that balance. He also knows I envision another maternity leave in my future at the company.

But can it really happen? Childcare alone prices me out of being able to work and enjoy the miracle of 2 children. Kev’s income currently is diminished by the amount we would need to survive as a one income family and my God, I already watch every penny I spend.

And so, I put the question of income to the wisdom of the internet, trying to bring our expenditures down. I explained about my condition and the need to stop working no matter what happens, and the want we so have for another baby.

I mention to the internet how I have aspirations to do my masters after my degree. Someone asks: “Why, if you can’t work?”

And I bristle, feel myself get defensive. “Why not?” I fire back. “How else can I invest in my self worth if I’ll be at home through no fault of my own with no job and no much wanted baby to care for, because it’s for the best?” I tell this lady about my aspiration to become a play therapist and that is most likely to be sessional work rather than a 9-5, which will suit my physical health better.

She replies: “If you’re adding to your skills, your financial worries won’t last forever. Good luck.”

BAM! She’s right. I’ve never realised it before. I have always been determined to see through my degree and the masters to show Squidge that no matter how long the road to get there, dreams are obtainable. I never even thought about the fact that if I keep going, I’m not simply crashing out of having any uses, or contributions to make. I’m simply taking my time to get there. Such a simple and powerful concept, but one I’ve never allowed myself to realise.

I have spoken to Kev about all of this. I was apprehensive when I asked to sit down, so fear ful that I will make him sad, squashing another of his dreams. I already negotiated Kev down from 3 children for my physical limitations, and we were set on 2. Having to let that dream go would break my heart. To break his would be a million times worse, like I’m punishing him for loving me.

But he said he was proud of me for being able to come to him in a measured way and lay out my worries. I didn’t feel very measured. I sobbed out my guilt and stress. I so, so want another baby. Not until Squidge is at school, operating a little more independently in her own little world, but I want to do this again.

And maybe we won’t, says Kev, but how can we know that now? Why am I allowing myself to get so overwhelmed by guilt I don’t even know yet that I have cause to feel?

And he’s right too. If we don’t, then, as heart breaking as it is, it’s for the best – and there are so many children out in the world we could help in one way or another. If we do, then it will take a lot of planning, and there can be no baby before we’re ready and happy with the plan in place.

So there is money to save, care to take of myself and time to take. Because it will be hard, but thanks to the lady on the internet who made me remember that those tough times have a time limit. They cannot, and they will not go on forever. It could well be 2 or 3 years before I give up work completely. By then, my BA will be in hand, Squidge will be at school. And if I choose to pursue my masters, we might be in for 5 hard years. And that won’t be fun. But at least it has a number, like the sadness and anxiety has a name.

That is so much better than the unknown. I need to remember that.

The Twos are Terrible

Squidge is 21 months now. She is much more physical and opinionated, oh the Terrible Twos have arrived. I cannot begin to articulate how much harder being her caregiver is. There was the planking incident when I tried to get her back in her car seat at the supermarket, the throwing her weight down as I carried her upstairs for the nap she wouldn’t admit she needed. She cries every night now when we leave her in the cot.

I ache constantly. I’m sleeping terribly. I’m so horribly anxious that Squidge’s every upset is my fault, that I’m failing her. I went to the doctors today and said as much. She was very calm and kind, told me that I will always be Squidge’s normality and I shouldn’t give myself such a hard time. But how can I not when I was seconds away from cancelling the damn appointment in the first place, because I didn’t think I’d have time to dress Squidge, get her in the pram and get to the Doctors without being late. I couldn’t stand to be late, because then what would people say about me?

I know logically, the answer is nothing. No-one really cares about other people as much as we imagine they do. But everything, everything is overwhelming for me right now. I know this because I sat at my desk this week and could feel myself drifting away. It was like I was trapped behind glass, watching my world happen around me in slow motion. I had no grounding in the world and I am pertrified of losing the control I have on my own life.

I am really struggling with the changes I have no choice but to make if I want to keep any semblance of a life going. Kev & I have agreed that come my first review next year, I am going to decrease my hours. I’ve had the discussion with my boss, who is so accepting and easy-going about it all, even when I essentially said: “I’ll have to quit in a few years anyway, but please let me do it slowly.” He lets me work from home so I can sleep in, he doesn’t blink if I finish early because of pain or because I’m still nervous about driving in heavy traffic. I’m very lucky. Because I don’t want to give up work. I take pride in the fact I can have my own money.

But it was Kev who made me see I’d have to sooner rather than later, that it wasn’t worth giving up my life over.

So there’s work. That’s going. Although I plan to swap it out for a Master’s course, so maybe it won’t be so bad, I’ll still have something that is mine.

I don’t take care of my own home. We hire a cleaner once a week and my mother in law insists on doing our ironing because I’m too terrified of my tremors around a hot iron to dare.

My in-laws were away last week and my God, it was so, so hard without them. Support networks are invaluable people. I was in tears every day, Squidge was asking for them and trying to make them cups of tea in the kitchen. I started to wonder, could this really be my life if I were a stay at home mum? And it seems that both Kev & I agree, no, it couldn’t. These are the reasons I so absolutely need Squidge to be that much older before we plan the next one, and we so want the next one.

People seem to think they’re being funny or helpful by telling me it’s best to have your children close together. It’s not best for me, but no-one wants to hear that bit, do they?

I’ve decided that Squidge will go to playgroup on one of my days off so that I can have time to myself, for a bath or a massage to sort out my muscles when the pain gets too much.

She’ll enjoy it too, more children to get to know… even better that it’s local and she might grow up with these kids. So why do I allow myself to feel so terrible about it when there’s no downside?

The in-laws came home and the next night, they had Squidge overnight and Kev & I went out for dinner to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary. I had a bath and preened, had my dress all ready. And then I went for an afternoon nap before our 6:30pm dinner, because this is just how I have to do things now if I’m ever going to be able to see the night through.

I am not Super Mum – and I’m OK with that

I never thought I would be. I wanted the Instragrammable parenthood remember, all baby yoga and coffee dates. I haven’t given up on the coffee dates (caffeine keeps all us mums going, am I right?) but baby yoga can go shove itself.

We spend so much time berating ourselves for not being perfect, not doing enough. I was terrible for this even before Squidge came along and since? Well, I’m the world’s worst mother if left in conversation with myself.

Since I went back to work in August, I have worked 3 long days (8-5:30). It was my choice and I cherish being able to be at home with Squidge midweek, even if I don’t get the lie-ins I so desperately need.

Because it’s hard. So much harder than I realised. I am physically exhausted. There has always been an element of fatigue with CP, but when I was younger and had more energy, I could lie and pretend it didn’t exist. Kev has always encouraged me to rest and nap and I have always screwed my face up and protested “But I’m only twenty(something), I shouldn’t need to nap!”

How times have changed. I wake up each morning, normally to Squidge banging the side of her cot, or poking her head round to look me in the eye as she shouts “Mum-mum-mum-mum!” which roughly translates to “Well, are you getting up then? I’m hungry!” And as I drag myself out from under the duvet, I’m already craving sleep. I have to plan in naps if I dare want to go anywhere in the evenings. I can’t remember the last time I had the energy to keep plans, even though I keep making them.

Saturday night, I am planning to go watch Grease, my favourite ever film and musical, at an outdoor screening at Cardiff Castle with a local social group. I want to meet more people, take an interest in somebody else’s life! And, if I may so, £16 a ticket is a lot of money for something I can stream from my sofa. I’m fed up with wasting money!

I thought it was happening on Friday, so was trying to tell myself it was a good job I was working and would be local. But the 2 hours between finishing work and the start time? I’d be falling asleep, so I was literally ecstatic when I realised I’d got the date wrong. It’s on Saturday, which means I can nap in the afternoon! I miss having a social life so much and to be honest, if Grease won’t get me to do it, nothing will! I need some time to just be me.

But I can also no longer deny I’m going to need more and more time to take care of myself. Kev had the foresight to know this. The medical viewpoint of CP is that the neurological damage that results in CP does not worsen. But no-one ever told me the symptoms might get worse and my God! the fatigue!

He knew I cannot work forever. I never even considered it. I was just hoping that I’d be able to stay at home because I’m a mum, never because I’d actually need to. I take a lot of pride in the fact I can work, and am also very proud of the little financial independence I have managed to build. Of course, that’s lessened since I reduced my hours, but it doesn’t mean much compared to time at home watching Squidge grow. She’s not even 9 months yet and she wants to walk!

Kev is working very hard, so that I might be lucky enough to stop working completely by the time Squidge starts school. I’ll have hopefully finished my degree by then too. It feels a long time in terms of the tiredness I’ll endure and how my social life and sense of self might suffer before then, but I suppose both of those are down to me. I never thought I would need to be done with the workplace before I was even 35. It has dented my confidence a bit.

But hey ho, I get to be Mummy, the best job I’ve ever had, the thing that helped me realise what I was for, what my purpose truly is. And being a mummy is all about Squidge. Cuddles and smiles, making sure she grows up healthy and happy. It is not, so my wonderful husband has helped me realise, about keeping house, or hurting myself in the effort to do so. I am Squidge’s mum, not the cleaner.

Housecleaning-on-cleaning-free-stock-image-and-clip-art

And so – we hired a cleaner! An extravagance for some, but you know what? The relief I feel is amazing. I get to have and enjoy my lovely home, because we’ve taken steps to keep it lovely and enjoyable – and not at the expense of my back! I am so happy.

You have to look after you. In my case, Squidge only gets one mummy. I’m going to give her my all. The damn dishwasher can wait to be loaded. And I might even indulge in a nap.

Because I’m not Super Mum…. and I’m (finally!) OK with that.