I have mixed feelings about my return to work after maternity leave: anxiety (how will Asher cope? How will I cope? How the ever-loving heck will we all leave the house by 8am?), anticipation, guilt, indignation that I feel obliged to feel guilty… All the feelings. I have alllll the feelings.
In time-honoured fashion, I have turned to personal grooming in an effort to ignore it all, and thus avoid being flattened by the snowball of emotions as it thunders towards next Tuesday, ever increasing in size.
And so I bought a hair doughnut and some new tights. A hair doughnut, if you don’t know, is used to create a sort of plumptious bun on the head of the wearer. They apparently came into fashion several years ago, and since I am a very late adopter (I expect to start urging people to watch a brilliant new series called The Wire some time in 2015), I have just cottoned on, and am now the proud owner of a doughnut. In (on) my head, by resolving to wear the doughnut, and buff my nails daily, and apply hand cream regularly to my hideous claws (why, the moment you become a mum, do your hands become as dry as sandpaper?), I am somehow seizing control over the very daunting prospect of returning to work.
I’ve done this since high school. Each new term would be met with a fresh set of stationary and a list of grooming-related resolutions jotted in my diary:
buy and use eyelash curlers
pluck eyebrows every week
buy and wear clear lipgloss
(Traumatic memories of my year nine crush saying, thrillingly, ‘Becky your lips are all shiny’ and then in the next breath, ‘it’s all over your chin as well’)
Then when I was very pregnant with Leila and suddenly seized by birth- and baby-related anxiety, I performed some quite impressive contortions to pursue my belief that as long as my legs were smooth and my toenails painted, it would all be fine.
This makes it sound like I am some beautifully-coiffed style and beauty blogger, about to admonish my readers, with a simpering frown-smile, that ‘there is no excuse for tatty cuticles’ or ‘you owe it to yourself to look your best’. Far from it. Maternity leave has seen my standards of personal grooming (though not, thankfully, hygiene) spiral downwards. I’ve failed to apply make-up for all but a handful of school runs, and hence am probably known amongst my fellow nursery parents as ‘you know, the tired one, looks sort of ill’. I don’t actually know where my hairdryer is (where IS it? How do you lose a hairdryer?). Ivana Trump I am not.
[Side note: I've held Ivana Trump up as the epitome of grooming, ever since I read, in around 1990, her then-husband Donald declaring in response to a gossip mag story that she had a ladder in her stockings (those were more innocent times) that this couldn't possibly be true, as she changed her stockings every hour or so. This seemed impossibly glamorous.]
But if I am unsure about pretty much everything about going back to work, at least I can be sure that my brows are tidy and my doughnut bun neatly pinned.
Perhaps this is symbolic. As I re-enter the world of work, am I reclaiming the ‘me’ that is not just Mummy? The me that wears tights and heels, and has hands which feel like human skin, not the scaly hide of a desert lizard, and can wear tops all the way up to her neck because she no longer has to whip a mammary out at any given moment (this being unlikely to happen in the office, despite what you may have heard about the TV industry).
More likely it’s a case of ‘fake it til you make it’. Though I may be a convulsing mass of insecurities inside, I can at least look in control. No matter how frantically I’ve roared ‘put your pants on, put your pants on, PUT YOUR PANTS ON RIGHT NOW!’ five minutes before we need to leave the house; no matter what hour of the night I was standing in the dark with feet like ice, pouring bonjela and calpol into the face of an infant who may or may not actually be teething; and even if I shower my colleagues with ancient shards of breadstick as I pull my notebook from my bag…. My doughnut, and therefore my dignity, will remain intact.
(But I really must check my feet before I leave the house. Somebody- it may have been me- spent the whole day at work wearing odd boots shortly after returning to work following mat leave with their first child. That’s right- one brown and low-heeled, one black and high-heeled. Ivana would have plenty to say about that, I’m sure).