End of an era

Yesterday I officially returned to work after over nine months of maternity leave. It was the end of an exhausting, busy, fleeting, yet endless time of frustration, joy, tea, cake, sleep deprivation and laughter. As it is Easter holidays I am not actually back at work but it seemed a good moment to reflect on what I have and have not achieved.

Lots of mums see maternity leave as a challenge – or possibly a void of days empty of adult company to be filled with something, anything. Or they want to make something meaningful of their time, which is obviously a laudable aim. I’m not sure I set myself any particular targets, but just for fun here is a list of things I did NOT manage to do during maternity leave:

Write a book
Learn a new language
Take my daughter to a regular, educational group involving more than tea and biscuits for myself
Put make up on before leaving the house
Shower and wash hair every day
Carefully coach my baby to learn new skills such as clapping, waving, crawling and meaningful babble
Visit museums, historic buildings and places of interest so my daughter could absorb culture by osmosis
Plan an activity to take us out of the house every day
Teach my elder daughter to ride a bike
Dress myself and both children in tasteful outfits which complement each other
Leave the television switched off except for specific occasions
Keep the house clean and tidy and the clothes beautifully ironed and pressed
Sort through and selectively dispose of the thousands of pieces of ‘artwork’ my daughter has created

But on the plus side, here are a few things I DID do during maternity leave:

Feed both children, myself and my husband every day
Get the children up, dressed and to school during term time
Get the children up and dressed the rest of the time
Experiment with new breakfasts – thank you eggy bread for coming into my life
Manage a possible reflux/ dairy intolerance
Hold it together while my husband was suffering from a serious mental illness
Wash, dry and put away everyone’s clothes
Use reusable nappies
Read with my elder daughter every day
Venture to new places to meet new people
Make dozens of virtual friends who have become very real
Hold a million beautiful babies
Hold my beautiful babies
Help my daughter sleep through the night (which is the subject of another post)
See my elder daughter grow into a proper schoolgirl while attending parents’ evenings, literacy and numeracy workshops culminating in her shock win at the Easter bonnet competition
See my baby grow from a tiny newborn to a person in her own right with her own unique personality
Soothe a thousand tantrums, wipe away a river of tears, kiss away pain that I cannot see or understand and rock and cuddle sadness into oblivion

I think I can find meaning enough in there. Maternity leave is not housework leave. Most of us will not have time to start anything new or complete any big projects or fulfil any ambitious goals. The mothering part of maternity leave is pretty full on and full time. And it won’t stop with my return to work, although I can thankfully relinquish some of those tasks to others.

It has been a blast. Filled with cuddles and kisses, laughter and tears from all of us, minor and major crises both averted and confronted. I won’t ever have this time back again and I don’t regret any of it. The next phase will have new difficulties, frustrations, excitements and rewards. I hope I am up to the challenge.

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