Once I’d got used to being a mother, I thoroughly enjoyed almost every minute of my maternity leave (which just so happened to coincide with one of the best British summers of recent years – woop!) Even though looking after a baby is hard work, it was such a luxury to be given 10 months away from the responsibilities of my job and the need to make a living – time wholly reserved for getting to know my child and acclimatising to my new life, without stressful commutes, overflowing inboxes and office politics cramping my style.
When that glorious hiatus came to an end and I returned to work part-time, I discovered that far from being fried by a combination of baby-talk, too little sleep and too much sun, my brain had assimilated the experience of new motherhood and transposed that skill-set for use in an office environment. I didn’t feel woolly-brained, scatty and on the verge of tears – a stereotype too lazily foisted upon working mothers by TV programmes and women’s magazines. In fact, most of the time I feel sharp, focused and ready for anything.
The most important skill I honed while on maternity leave was the ability to ruthlessly prioritise. When Oscar went down for a nap, I would quickly assess the things I most needed to do in the event of him waking up after only 15 minutes. Result? However much I wanted to snuggle back under the duvet, attack the mountain of washing up or tidy the lounge, every activity had to wait until I had expressed milk. I made the mistake of putting off this all-important task in the early days, only to find that Oscar woke up before I’d got round to it, meaning I had sore boobs all morning, no milk for the first night feed, and a full night ahead of me on-duty. When the stakes are that high, I learn quickly…
Women are famously fantastic multi-taskers, so the scientists tell us. I know that since Oscar has been around, I have never entered or left any room in my flat empty-handed, no matter what reason I had for going into it in the first place. Breast-feeding while doing an online shop, turning boring tasks such as folding clothes or washing up into entertainment, and shovelling food into my mouth with one hand while feeding Oscar with the other have all been excellent training for a return to the office. At work, not a minute is wasted – if I’m on the phone, I’m also drafting an email or completing some sort of mindless task that I can tackle while talking. After all, I need to be out the door right on time…
Which brings me to… speed. I have always been a fast worker, but armed with the knowledge that the smooth running of Oscar’s dinner-time, bath-time and bedtime hinges on me leaving the building right on schedule has made me even more productive in the office. Before becoming a mum, I never, ever clock-watched (apart from on Friday afternoons, obvs). I used to routinely stay at work until the task in which I was engrossed was finished; nowadays, there is no option but to complete that task before I turn into a pumpkin. I start work at 8.45am, and at 4.45pm I head for that revolving door and sprint to the Tube, to-do list nuked.
4. 100% full-throttle
Oscar tends to sleep through the night now, but that blessed return to full stretches of deep sleep for everyone means that every morning is now an early morning for me. Gone are the days when I drag myself out of bed just in time to catch my commute to work and slowly wake up at my desk over breakfast. By the time I get to the office, I’m wide awake and firing on all cylinders, having already been up for three hours. So my employer gets the best out of me from the moment I clock in.
As a new mum, you learn to expect the unexpected – and deal with it. You’ve managed to put on clean clothes and a full face of make-up? Your baby will vomit in your hair before the feeling of satisfaction has settled (but after you’ve left the house). You nailed nap time yesterday? Today, your child will remind you who’s boss. You’ve remembered all the essential components of your nappy bag? That baby is preparing to do something so unusual you will still look and feel unprepared. When challenges are thrown your way every day for nine months, you quickly learn to adapt. After that, catching curve balls in the office is childsplay – whatever crazy schemes your boss dreams up, you’ll be able to handle it.
6. Bullet-proof Zen
No unreasonable boss or challenging colleague can truly get to me these days, because I have the emotional rhino-hide and wry perspective of somebody who has spent more than a year at the 24/7 beck and call of a tiny human who simply cannot comprehend tardiness, failure or insubordinance. What’s more, the legacy of all those sleepless nights means I am too tired to care so much about perceived injustices. I just put my head down, get on with my work, and thrill inwardly at the simple pleasures of office life, such as the freedom to make a cup of tea whenever I want one AND get to drink it before it goes cold. Bliss.
Have you acquired any super-powers since returning to work? Or do you wish maternity leave could have lasted forever?