So the inevitable was bound to happen one day. My maternity leave came to an end and I returned to work after 7 months of crash course in motherhood. Coming to terms with the new status quo has been a bumpy ride, to say the least. Especially those first months when we were getting used to having a new person in our life and the baby was getting used to, well, life. Apparently, the journey is never to cease.
Despite various trials of the strength of the spirit and hilarious tribulations often involving lots of wipes and paper towels, I can report that the baby is still alive and well and I have not been apprehended by social services. That has to count for success, surely. And I didn’t even attend any parenting class nor read any books on the topic, blindly relying on my maternal instinct.
There had been a few times when I thought that I had inadvertently killed the baby. I worried constantly. Do I give her enough milk or will she end up malnourished like those African babies seen in charity campaigns? What if I feed her too much and she’ll grow to be the fattest little cherub among dainty angels in the nursery? Do I keep her warm enough or will the morning find her blue-lipped, her tiny fingers stiff with cold? Perhaps I wrap her too much? Am I thus one of those pushy mothers stifling the child spiritually also, and so early on in the childhood? This can only end up in a nasty rash and suppressed neurosis in later life. Have I broken any of her tiny bones without even knowing it?
At every baby clinic I imagined the nurse’s condemning eyes watching me, waiting for the tell-tale sign of child abuse. I noted how the other mothers breezed through the undressing, nappy changing and dressing their tots with easy elegance of motion and self-assured serenity written all over their faces. Sensing their disapproval of my baby-handling techniques, I imagined their head-shaking, their contemptuous sniggering behind my back.
At the end of the clinic, another mum smiled at me.
‘My firstborn,’ she said apologetically. ‘Glad I didn’t break him.’
‘Oh, mine firstborn too,’ I said.
‘No way,’ she said. ‘You make it look so easy.’
Thank you, unknown mum. That comment perked me up.
Because this baby is very unfortunate to have an extremely clumsy woman for a mother. This woman also happens to have very low levels of manual dexterity. I have gone through a good deal of both joy and fear that made a pact to co-exist against the odds. As a result, I am sure the poor little biscuit must have picked up not merely on my physical ineptness but also on the emotional imbalance (although that I blame on hormones). Well, we’ll see what her future psychotherapist will have to say…
I concluded the baby would be safer in her father’s charge. Since the Boy’s occupation allows him to stay at home and take care of the girls during the day I am free to work regular business hours. And so the decision was made and on one sunny summer morning I discarded the loose shapeless garments and put on my work clothes, stretching a few seams here, straining a few stitches there in the process. As I stepped into my work shoes I felt I was stepping into my smart old self again.
But I wasn’t much prepared for such a blow to my ego. While at home, I did have a nagging sensation that the connection between my brain synopses was becoming slower. When I took the baby for a routine check, and the nurse asked to confirm the baby’s date of birth, I willed the words to come out but I just blank-stared, my mouth opening and closing, like a netted carp. The thought-embryo remained trapped inside my head as the cells failed to relay the information. The spark had gone out. The nurse waited, impatiently tapping her pen against her note pad. To spare me an embarrassment she looked in the baby health book herself and triumphantly jabbed the page with the ball point.
‘Ah!’ she said. ‘Here it is.’
‘Yes,’ I nodded sheepishly. ‘That’s it, right there.’
‘Don’t feel bad,’ she said. ‘I’ve already had my coffee!’
There had been countless occasions when my grey matter had proved sluggish and neurons had taken their sweet old time to shift but the baby clinic faux pas should have been my warning sign. What sort of mother doesn’t remember her child’s date of birth?! Especially when the birth happened so recently.
But I ignored it, being determined to become once again a woman of rational thought, sharp perceptions, eloquent expression and quick wit. On the morning of the first day I evilly cackled at the thought of the Boy being stuck with the baby and pans and pots while I am out and about, being all professional.
Well, I can tell you that smirk of mine froze my face when I caught myself staring helplessly at the flat screen at my old desk, unable to recall what it was I actually used to do here. Someone asks me a perfectly reasonable work-related question. I nod vigorously while inwardly I am willing the brain to decode the meaning of a perfectly ordinary range of words arranged in a logical order. A demented grin is the best I can do for now.
By mid-morning I try to think of ways to keep my lids off of my eyes. All I can think of is sleep. If I do allow a little indiscretion and slip into a micro kip, images of Little Princess, Peppa Pig and Mr Men flit behind my closed eyes.
Naturally, the pesky little characters all have their own catchy tunes and they always worm their way into your head. Thus I have been heard involuntarily humming the silly melodies at most inappropriate moments. Like when absently acknowledging concerns (bordering on complaint) from a very important associate. Don’t worry, in the end the endearing song from 64 Zoo Lane turned him in my favour and we made friends and closed the deal. All ended well.
Despite drinking endless cups of strong coffee to keep awake at the end of the work day I want to crawl under the desk and forget about the world (only when caffeine-induced palpitations signal the impending collapse will I begin to worry). Instead, I forgot to get off at my stop as I had sunk into deep sleep on the train. When I asked one of the underground staff how the hell I am supposed to find my way out of this labyrinth, he seemed worried. I think that he interpreted my exasperation as a cry for help on some existential level. I couldn’t blame him really. By this time, I was dishevelled, with dark circles under the eyes and ravenous (hunger makes me quite frighteningly irritable). For a moment I thought he might consider calling security but he appeared to take a pity on me instead and pointed the way to fresh air. It was humiliating but I didn’t care. The good thing is that at the end of the undignified first day as a working mother, there was the sweetest little girl waiting for me at home. And she doesn’t think I’m stupid.