As you read this on Thursday morning I will have got up, got dressed in my nicest of nice new outfits, done my makeup, my hair, found a little jewellery from the drawer and some heels and gone. Out the door, through the station, onto the train and back to work. It will be H who gets Kitty dressed for school, who helps her get her tights the right way around so the ridge is on the top of her foot not the bottom, who persuades Elma that if she wants to wear a sundress she needs to add leggings and a jumper, and who bundles our little boy into something snug for the walk up to school. It will be H, Elma and Pip who blow kisses and wave bye bye at the classroom gate, and H, Elma and Pip who greet her with big hugs at the end of the afternoon.
And I won’t be there.
Writing this now, on Wednesday afternoon it seems impossible, still a far off dream turned nightmare that isn’t really going to happen. As I write I can hear H and Elma painting in the studio, Elma narrating every colour she’s using while H tries to remember what he was doing before he was asked to get the other red out of the packet because the red she had wasn’t really red. Pip is snoozing in the sling; he fell asleep while we were washing up and I can feel him, warm and floppy-heavy against my back, his breath tickling the nape of my neck. Right now, I cannot imagine not being with him for the best part of every day as I have been for every single day of his life, and right now I am afraid.
It’s been creeping up on me over the last couple of weeks, at least in part brought on by a good handful of men telling me how working full time means they barely see their children which was ….helpful! I’m not afraid of my job; I’m good at it, I work with some great people who I consider friends as well as colleagues, and I enjoy what I do most of the time. The fear is of how much this is going to hurt.
And the problem is that I already know the answer. When I went back to work when Kitty was small I got ‘this close’ to throwing it all in a couple of times in my first week because it just felt so wrong to be without her, and when I went back and left Kitty and Elma I sobbed into my supper every work night for the first few weeks. This time I’m leaving three of them, and even though Kitty is going to be off at school and Elma and Pip will be at home, starting an amazing adventure with their Daddy, I’m still not sure I can bear to be without my little trio, and thanks to an incredible summer together I’ve got rather used to spending all my time with H too.
There’s a good part of me right now that wants to stamp her foot and shout “I’m not going, I’m not leaving you, you can’t make me!”. It’s the pricking in my eyes at the end of the last playgroup that I get to go to, or the last gym class and the “see you tomorrow” at the school gates when I won’t.
Yet it is absolutely the right thing for our family. It’s the way by which our children get to have a stay at home parent during their primary school years and the way in which after five years of it being my go, H gets to have a turn at the best job in the world. And it’s also the way in which I can show all three children that you don’t need to be restricted to gender stereotypes, or that having children prevents you from having a fulfilling career.
A very wise friend of mine told me to approach my return to work with the same spirit of adventure that took us around Europe and it’s good advice. Going around Europe was quite often hard work. There were times when we doubted just about everything about ourselves as parents and when we wondered whether we should just have gone to the beach for a week, but they were more than overshadowed by the wonderful moments. The truth is that in life as in parenting, sometimes the things that are right are the things that are hard. But what got us around Europe was optimism, a good smattering of team work and hope.
Tomorrow is going to be hard, I can’t will that away, and probably so will the rest of the month. But I’m setting out with hope and trying to build my spirit of adventure, and maybe, just maybe, when the dust settles we might find our new family rhythm.