I have now been a salaried worker (note my pretensions to more than mere wages) for some four months. I will admit it has been rather a shock to the system to return to a five-day working week. And not only to my own system. The Infant Phenomenon and the Inexhaustible Baby have required much time and attention in order to reach a stage of simply accepting it. I cannot say that either of them is even yet enthusiastic about Mamma's return to the workforce. I have, wisely I believe, attempted to ignore the heightened debate following the release of a recent cinematographic entertainment on the subject, entitled 'I don't know how she does it'.
I skate over (and save for another occasion) the highs and lows, the enjoyment of my new occupation and the occasional pangs of guilt. My topic today is simply the relentless nature of working motherhood. I occasionally wonder what I used to do with all the free time which is now taken up with the time-consuming details of everyday life in a family of four.
Eyebrows are being raised - there may be ladies reading who cannot decide whether to pity my naïvety, disdain my stupidity or deplore my choices. I am not concerned with any of these.
In actual fact, though I should not tempt fate by saying it, I am simply astonished that as yet I have managed to keep my head above water. I do not expect it to last. When first I returned to employment, the Infant Phenomenon was still at nursery and certainly life was extremely busy, but it was manageable. Since she started school in September, however, our weekly routine resembles nothing so much as a particularly complicated cotillion or quadrille. Even small matters become complex: I have to deposit each child in a different place, each with the correct belongings - everything from nappies to ballet kit. I must ensure that their evening meal is not the same as whatever they had for lunch - much harder to achieve now that they have different lunches. And there is an almost endless requirement for things for the Infant Phenomenon's school career. Culminating today in a dinosaur outfit.
Unsurprisingly, one sometimes forgets something. This week however, I did so to the brink of disaster. The Infant Phenomenon had been invited to an after-school birthday tea party. I was not sure this was a terribly good idea since she is so fatigued at the end of the day, and her friend's house is at the top of a long hill; but I didn't like her to miss it, so I accepted the invitation and procured a suitable gift for her friend. I then promptly forgot all about it.
Yesterday morning, sitting stationary in the traffic at the summit of Reigate Hill, I received a message from the party-giver's Mamma. Was the Phenomenon all set for that afternoon? You can imagine my horror. The Phenomenon finishes school at 3.15, the party started a bare quarter of an hour later and involved a long walk and no possibility of an omnibus. The Phenomenon is a slow walker at the best of times and she has no sense of urgency. The gift, all unwrapped, was in a bag in the kitchen at home. The party theme was fairy tales and the Phenomenon was in her school uniform. It was fast approaching the hour at which I am due at my desk and I was 40 miles from home. There was little I could actually do. I did not realise until afterwards that the peculiar whirring noise I could hear was my brain revolving ways and means.
To my eternal astonishment, and thanks to a great willingness to help in Miss J, the young lady who collects the Phenomenon from school, the situation was retrieved. Miss J called in at the house before collecting the Phenomenon. I described to her in some detail where the gift was (it was in a bag with several other gifts, which Mr B had put on top of the refrigerator as some scant protection from the Marauding Inexhaustible). I told her where to find paper for wrapping. I told her to take one of the cards from the same bag. I instructed her to avail herself of the emergency domestic funds and book a cab. But my pièce de résistance was the costume. The direst necessity proved most truly the mother of invention. I actually managed to compose a fairy tale costume 'remotely'. Red tights from her drawer and her new poncho from the coat rack in the hall, turned inside out to show the red lining. Hey presto, the Infant Phenomenon went to the party as Little Red Riding Hood and Mamma was not guilty of the awful social crime of accepting an invitation and then not showing up. Or (equally heinous in the Phenomenon's eyes) of sending the Phenomenon to a fancy dress party in her school uniform.
I think the moral of the story, as the Duchess would say, is that juggling requires infinite skill and practice and that even the best performers will still occasionally drop a ball. I am far from being expert in the art, and will probably drop several on a tolerably regular basis. I can only hope that I manage to cobble together an equally suitable solution each time.