Chapter Twenty Four: Hair Doughnut (aka the one where I go back to work next week)

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).

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Chapter Twenty Three: Happy and Blessed

‘Asher: Happy and blessed’

I spotted your name in a baby book from the ’70s or early ’80s, found by my Granny at a church jumble sale or similar when I was pregnant with Leila (suggested girls’ names: Roxanne and Doreen). I was flicking through idly one day after Leila was born, not even thinking about planning another baby yet (in fact I was still in the ‘would definitely cry if fell pregnant’ phase, which precedes the ‘it wouldn’t be the end of the world’ phase, followed by the ‘let’s do this!’ phase), when I saw the name Asher and fell in love with the name and its meaning. Must have a baby boy, I thought- not yet, but I must have my Asher, and I stored the name in my heart.

So before you were born, even conceived, I already had ‘Leila and Asher’ in my head. I’d imagine the future with my girl and my boy. And now I have my Leila and Asher for real- or Asher and Leila, as the ‘second child’ in me insists that the first child doesn’t always get to go first.

And today you are one year old *face explodes into mess of tears, snot and great wracking happy-sad sobs*. I still adore the name Asher (even though it is sometimes greeted with confusion over whether it is a boy’s or girl’s name, and once or twice just with a ‘you crazy’ grimace).

And I adore you, fiercely. The adoration makes it hard to resist constantly squishing your fat cheeks against mine until it hurts a little, inhaling your entire head in a single breath, and bellowing baby-talk endearments into the sticky folds of your neck. I only do those things some of the time. Mostly not in public. Luckily you are well up for squishing, chomping and nuzzling, being one of the cuddliest babies of all time, with an especially heartbreaking way of resting your little head on the shoulder of whomever is holding you. You are also pleasingly Mummy-centric, and have been known to dissolve into tragic and furious tears when I have come near you but not picked you up for a squeeze. I say ‘pleasingly’- and I am slightly embarrassed at how pleased I am, sometimes imagining ‘Close To You’ playing as a soundtrack as you scramble in my wake urgently wherever I go- but it does make the prospect of going back to work next week (gulp) a little more daunting, and the process of you settling into childcare a little more delicate. I hope, I trust, that we will both be fine in our new worlds before we know it.

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about Mummy- you’re full of love for ‘Da Da’ too, and dizzy with idol-worship for your big sister. She still drags you around by your neck, but you can pull hair now, and bulldoze effectively and unwittingly through her carefully-constructed soft toy tea parties in a flash, so things are evening up a bit. And today, for the first time, she actually instigated a game WITH you which didn’t involve her body-slamming or love-bombing you until you squawk- a soft toy tea party, as it happens- which pretty much made my year. You spent the tea party eating a small suitcase of doll’s clothes, but it was a glimpse of things to come.

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You are wonderfully cheerful and sunny (apart from when you are ill, when the world ends and we all know about it), often bursting into hysterical giggles merely as a response to eye contact, kneeling up and bouncing eagerly with your two-toothed grin. You dance to music, head bobbing from side to side like a merry little jester. You have just started to learn some words, and spent a chunk of today repeating breathily your baby version of ‘hairbrush’ (all toys are ‘hairbrush’, because you like to play with your hairbrush). When you ARE feeling grumpy, the solution is simple: food. You love to eat with as much ardour as you love to cuddle, and you’re one of those babies who will pretty much eat whatever food they are given. To my joy, the experience of feeding you is relaxed and easy (if a tad frightening in terms of sheer volumes consumed).

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However, lest I seem smug about you being A Good Eater….. Asher (stern face). I cannot let a post marking your first year of life pass without mentioning the sleep thing. It didn’t take long for me to realise, as I lay for the umpteenth time with my feet on the pillow of my bed so that I could reach through the bars of your crib more easily and keep my hand on your tummy FOR THE ENTIRE GODFORSAKEN NIGHT, that you were not A Good Sleeper. You sure put the ‘sh’ in Asher. In your defence, you have, in your life, slept through nine nights, not consecutively. But seven of them were in the last month! These drips of encouragement are nectar to the sleep-deprived parents of a sleep-challenged infant. To be fair, I am dramatising slightly. Your true reign of terror- during which I would avoid other mothers on the street lest they start telling me about their kid’s great sleep and I might actually weep- is far(ish) behind us. The nights are much better now (and not just because my own standards of ‘a good night’s sleep’ have plummeted through the floor).

The good thing about your at times horrifying sleep, is that it has shown me that it doesn’t matter, not really. In terms of unsightly eye-bags, and safety behind the wheel of a car or operating heavy machinery, and sometimes sanity- yes. But not in terms of how 100% fabulous a baby can be; how happy they can make you; how much amazing fun you can have during daylight hours. I’ve always disliked the obsession with good sleep that seems to permeate parent culture these days, with a good sleeper being held up as the ultimate prize. In my sunken and red-rimmed eyes, you can keep that prize and give me instead the prize that stretches his arms up for a cuddle so eagerly that he sometimes topples over, the prize that is so happy to see his Daddy each evening that he gives him a round of applause when he walks through the door. The prize that we won a year ago, and didn’t we strike gold?

So, Asher. You are one. You are happy, we are blessed. Here’s to you, boy of my dreams.

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