Today is my last day of maternity leave.
I know in the rational, grown up, balanced decision making part of my brain that my going back to work is absolutely the right decision for our family. And it isn’t just about returning to being a two income family, although it will be nice to be contributing to the family coffers again, there are some other extremely sensible reasons for that extra level of security.
Kitty is at a nursery staffed by wonderful people who cherish her and help her to thrive, rather than merely babysit her, and my little Elma has gone through her settling in sessions with barely a backward glance. She smiles adoringly at the girls when she arrives, goes off without a tear for cuddles and toast, and while she very loudly tells me off for going when I come to collect her, all reports are that she’s settling really well, and their photos for the day back it up, showing me a smiley baby sploshing in the water tray, pushing cars down a ramp, or playing hide-peepo behind a shiny blanket.
So why in the face of all of that, does the very childish, not very 33-year old part of me want to put my fingers in my ears, screw up my eyes and shout:
“na! na! na! I can’t hear you! You can’t make me!”
I’m not ready for it to be over.
They say everything goes faster with a second baby but really it’s been ridiculous. One frosty winter’s day I held a tiny squirming newborn in my arms, then it was Christmas, and then I must have blinked because suddenly my newborn has become a bonny nine month old who can crawl, who keeps trying to escape onto the patio if we leave the back door open, who’s fascinated with the stairs (but thankfully can’t quite work out how to climb them – yet), who claps, giggles and who blows the most beautiful kisses, all bright eyes and cheeks sucked in.
And yet for all of that she’s still my little tiny baby. She seems so much younger than Kitty was when I went back after my first maternity leave, although in reality she’s a shade older, and coping far far better to boot.
I thought that it would be easier the second time around, that the knowledge that I could do it and it would all be OK would make it an easier transition, that there would be security in knowing that after a few weeks you stop feeling like you can’t breathe as you walk away and leave them, and that finding enjoyment in your work, adult conversation, and the very serious perk of wearing clothes not gently patterned with little yoghurty handprints doesn’t mean that you love your babies any less.
But in truth I think it just makes the knots in my stomach tighten more. Work has a lot to live up to. It needs to compensate me, not just in financial terms (which incidentally if you are my boss and you are reading this is still very important) but in fulfilment, to make parting from these lovely daughters worth it.
I’d be fibbing if I said I’d loved every minute of my maternity leave, there were some moments that I’m horribly ashamed of, when the sleep deprived, intensely frustrated shouty Mummy got the upper hand, and I had to get a grip on myself, apologise with tears, cuddles and kisses, and move on, and some moments that made me long for the sound of H’s key in the lock, and the chance to hand over at least one daughter and stop being so torn in two by the conflicting needs and wants of two tiny people.
But there has never been a day without some part that I treasured; watching Kitty learn to be a big sister, watching Elma explore this bright new world. I’ve loved quiet days with my girls, the silly moments of giggles and tickles, lunchtime chats, runs around the playpark, story time, and making big messes in the kitchen.
I’m fortunate to be going back part time, and there will still be plenty of days left to fill with laughter and memories. And I’m going to do my very very best not to let a single one of those precious days slip by unnoticed in a haze of shopping and laundry. I won’t always succeed, and the shopping and laundry will still have to be done at some point, but if I can bottle up this feeling of unlimited time, the relaxed pace of my time at home, and carry that with me, I know that we’re going to be more than fine.
And so the next chapter in our family story opens. At least it will if I can find my left shoe, the one missing piece of my working wardrobe current evading detection.