I was looking through my old files on my laptop, seeking some research I'd done on a topic I hope to be a book in future. I came upon this short story I wrote in 2012; I had totally forgotten about it. I know that I tested it out on the writers' group I was a member of at the time and I know that I entered it into a competition, but I can't remember
which one. Needless to say, it got nowhere! But, on re-reading, I found something in it that resonated with me even five years later. And made me remember the long years of bringing up small children, when absolutely nobody notices you and days pass during which you do not conduct an adult conversation. It's tough, being a mum, and who ever says thank you? I'd like to say it now, to my mum - I'm not good at intimacy or gushing, but I do appreciate what you did for us all.
Someone Different Now
I used to be someone. Didn’t I? Or maybe I never was anybody. It’s hard to remember, now. I had an office to go to, a desk and a phone. A computer. I got up every morning and I was expected to be somewhere, at a certain time, for a pre-arranged number of hours. It was possible not to be there – if I had a holiday booked, that was logged and registered by the HR department, or a doctor’s appointment I’d cleared with my boss and told my colleagues about. Telling the colleagues wasn’t compulsory – just that if I didn’t, they might start to talk behind my back, ask questions, demand explanations, wonder why my chair was empty at 10.30am with no coat thrown over the back to denote my presence, although I was absent.
Now I’m confusing myself. All I know is that one day my world was like that and the next it was not. It all changed, over night. Well, in actual fact, it took longer than one night, but we will draw a veil over that as no good can come of dwelling on the horror. It seemed so strange, at the time, to go from being a person in control of life, not just allowing destiny to take its course undirected, to one whose timetable was as flexible as the branches of the trees that bend in the wind. Then I just got used to it.
Suddenly, there was no need to be here, there or anywhere. The days had no beginning and no end, or maybe they did and it’s just that the end went on and on until it all began all over again. That’s how it felt, anyway. Lurching, I used to call it. Lurching from one crisis to another, from one sleep-deprived, monotonous day to the next.
I used to know how to do stuff. Send faxes and correctly laid out letters with the appropriate salutation and sign-off. Organise things, make things happen, produce things. Present the solution not the problem, think strategically. Be fast thinking, innovative, a self-starter and go-getter. I could take charge of a team, bring a programme in on time and on budget, stick to a schedule and remember not to drink too much at the wrap party.
I had beautiful, eye-catching, attention-drawing Titian hair. If people spoke about me, they would say, “You know who I mean, that girl, the redhead”. I could say to someone I didn’t know, meet me at the station entrance; I’ll be the one with the long red hair. They always found me straightaway.
I trawl through job advertisements on a daily basis. They are a mirror on a changed world; they read like a foreign language. I must know HTML, CMS, PHP, Ruby and ColdFusion, and the user interface for iOS, Android, WinMo and Blackberry. I should be cognisant with Agile methodology, preferably as a SCRUM Master, but Prince2 will do. I must understand wireframing and know the difference between the UI and the UX. I just want to say, “you what?”
No one wants a plain and simple video anymore; they want a campaign, a banner and a microsite. They want interactive, multi-channel integration. They demand relevant experience with iPads, iPhone apps, mobile interaction and kiosk design. I need to know what ‘ping’ means, other than in the context where it is immediately followed by ‘pong’. I must be able to competently work with pdfs and jpgs, mp3s, mp4s and Quicktime movies, use Illustrator, Adobe CS and Photoshop, not to mention Flash (which I now know is not a bathroom cleaner). If I could throw into the mix familiarity with website updates and reskins, localisations and assets design, Rich Media advertising and Facebook Connect integration – all the better.
The adverts demand that applicants are ‘ideas people’, able to think outside the box and work in the cloud; to put clear blue water between the company and its competitors. Do not apply unless you are proactive and professional, understand new worlds, 3D augmented reality, and amazingly entertaining user experiences. A good sense of humour is also essential, and you don’t have to be crazy and under-25 to work here, but it helps.
To join this new universe, to truly partake of it, I must understand social media and all its uses. I must Google and Yammer, have accounts with YouTube and Vimeo, and build profiles on Facebook and Linked In on which I should ideally amass numerous friends and connections. I must download from iTunes and subscribe to Spotify, read books on a Kindle or Kobo, and watch the telly on iPlayer or Apple TV.
I must not only tweet but retweet.
I go to an interview. How long is it since you worked in broadcast, they ask. I leave with my head down. I go to another; and a few days later receive unasked for ‘feedback’ - I have no knowledge or understanding of business in general or their business in particular, I have zero communication skills and I would be unable to liaise effectively with internal and external stakeholders.
And a third. But you have no experience of digital media, they say as they shake their heads in disbelief. But it didn’t exist, I want to reply. Instead, I lie on the wooden floorboards of my bedroom and cry.
Before, I knew who I was because I was there, in front of myself, in one place at a time, not a million virtual selves in a reality that isn’t real. I was confident and competent, challenging and creative. Now I am outdated, an anachronism, past my sell-by date.
No one is interested in what I have spent ten years learning, what I now know. The best position for a baby to be in for a vaginal delivery, the correct temperature of a newborn’s bath, the exact dosage of Calpol according to age. When to wean and potty train and why it matters to Talk to Your Baby. That when children say they’re hungry, they usually want sweets, and when they say they’re thirsty, they would like Ribena but will settle for milk or water. The importance of vitamin D and the benefits of oily fish. The fact that socks from Gap are the only ones that stay on.
I know about feet to foot, growth percentiles and how often to visit the dentist. I know that the best nappy creams are Sudocrem for every day and Metanium overnight if the rash is bad. How children like their food spaced out, in separate compartments, and sometimes eat in colour order. That the night before they come down with a cold, their sleep will be fitful and disturbed. That bad behaviour and tearfulness can usually be put down to tiredness - for the kids as well as me.
I know how to hold a baby still for the anaesthetist’s mask. I know that I mustn’t love that baby more than my partner, or make him feel excluded, and should get back in the saddle whether I want to or not because sex is the cement in a relationship.
I can deal with bedwetting, tantrums and clinginess and am adept at folding cloth nappies for a boy or girl. I can get an infant sleeping through the night in three days. I understand and can explain phonics and number lines, the mean, the median and the mode. I can read entire storybooks without taking in a single word. I have empirical evidence to prove that the cakes that sell best at bake sales are the ones covered in candy.
I can construct Lego houses and Hot Wheels tracks, and build the biggest, longest, most wiggly wooden railway you’ve ever seen. I am particularly good at setting up the Playmobil; the baker’s shop with its miniature loaves of bread, strawberry tarts and French sticks is my favourite. In nurseries they call it ‘small world play’ and there’s something about it, and the name, that I like. It resonates.
I teach my children problem-solving, independence, self-reliance, how to take responsibility and that nothing can replace good manners. I explain to them that there is a letter ‘t’ that should be enunciated clearly in the words ‘water’ and ‘photo’ and an ‘h’ in the middle of Soho. But when they cannot stop themselves pronouncing ‘girls’ as ‘gels’, I sigh and ignore it, accept that they are Londoners and realise that it could be worse. I tell them that they must write thank-you notes after birthdays and Christmas, but when they don’t, I have to confess that I do it for them.
I turn down the radio when there are stories of child sex abuse and murder, because they don’t need to know just yet that the world out there is big and can be bad.
I have three pairs of hands, eyes in the back of my head and a sixth sense about when a child is about to throw up.
I am largely overlooked but mostly indispensable.
Not long ago, a woman stopped me in the street to compliment my children’s red, flowing locks. “Such beautiful hair, aren’t they lucky!” she exclaimed, admiringly. “Where do they get it from?”
It wasn’t cold and I wasn’t wearing a hat.
“Don’t be sad, Mummy,” the children said, to comfort me. “Your hair is browny-red and that’s nice, too.”
They are young and soft, with flawless skin and souls and expectations for the future that I hope that they will realise. Their stars are ascending whilst mine declines.
Conception happens in the blink of an eye. Child-rearing will take the rest of my life. I’ll still be doing it long after any employment I have has changed, been terminated, merged or restructured, for years after I have been laid off or pensioned off. And I’ll always know that although looking after children can often be mundane, boring and lonely, it’s worth it in the end.
When I get a job at last, I do it better, quicker, more efficiently and proficiently than ever before. I do it knowing that no job I have ever done is as hard as bringing up a child. That no job I will ever do is as important as taking my child in my arms and saying, “I love you.” That when that child turns to me and says, “You’re the best Mummy in the whole world”, they really mean it and there is no other feeling like it.
I used to be someone. I’m someone different now.
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