When most of our friends tied the knot and sold their London pads in favour of country dwellings, we saw it as a sign to follow suit.
Swapping cocktail dresses for jeans and wellies seemed like a fair exchange where our growing family was concerned. “I’m only 25 minutes away from the city!” I gushed to my London friends when they tried to picture the world outside the M25.
Dreaming in eggshell blue and tickled pink, I packed away my career ambitions and enclosed my world within the walls of our new baby-friendly house, ready to embrace the most natural thing in the
world – being a mother. Exactly how natural and fair this swap was I was about to find out.
Another morning began with a blast of information: early-riser friends’ text messages, a sneaky glance at the news before the TV is hijacked by the shorter population, Post-It notes from me to me on the ceiling lights, cooker and fridge.
Scribbled on yellow paper squares were reminders to feed the cat, complete a sci-fi story and a scientist costume for my daughter’s school project, a no-nappy day for my son, feed the kids, let the cat out, not let the cat in unless the neighbours complain about the loud meowing. Again.
Pleased with the steady decrease in the amount of the yellow notes, I check my Filofax for near misses in the task cascade before sweeping in a tidal wave the aforementioned short population towards the exit and out of the house.
Seconds later we are back in the kitchen to pick up the notebook with my sci-fi story, which WE left recklessly on the kitchen table. “Silly mummy...” mumbles my 4-year old “Look, I’m a writer, I like telling stories and imagining things. But I also forget things!” I run out of excuses.
The “so far, so good” morning threatens to show the first signs of failure when I see the results of parental enthusiasm towards the school project. Appearing from the surrounding streets and cul-de-sacs are alien invaders, space rockets and astronauts in very convincing moon boots, foil gloves and bubble shaped helmets. As I help my daughter out of the car, I reassure myself that some parents have far too much time on their hands. Wearing industrial goggles, oversized rubber gloves and her dad’s white shirt with a nuclear sign and "keep calm and carry on" badges pinned to it, my four-year old looked just as convincing.
As I shuffled back into my kitchen, deflated post-school run and armed with a mug of very strong coffee, I prepared myself for the next information blast – emails.
Scrolling through my messages and resisting the temptations of free spa trials or sharing billions with an African banker, I spotted a letter from my friend entitled "It's all in the name!"
Intrigued, I read on and found out that Jane was expanding her jewellery business, adding new lines of sea-inspired designs and art objects.
Slight ripples of self-disappointment went through me. Jane was now asking me to help her find a new business name. “Well, with all that time to herself and no children, of course she’s expected to do well
in something!” I carried on with my self-reassurance.
Feeling uneasy, I scrolled further through my emails and saw a Facebook message from Jenni - a long-forgotten friend and a former colleague.
From Jenni’s previous Facebook notifications I knew she had got married, bought a house, had a healthy baby girl and called her Scarlett. Reading on I expected this message to be news of a) another baby b) a pending divorce or c) a scheduled flight to the moon.
Nothing prepared me for the shock Jenni's email bore - she has written a book and was now marketing it through Facebook.
Jenni, who for years “slaved” in the same job as me and then, like me, moved out of London, severed herself from the blissful partying lifestyle and became a full-time mum, has now WRITTEN, COMPLETED, and PUBLISHED a book?
It is astonishing how quickly someone's good news can turn another’s day sour.
I knew I wasn't jealous. Far from it, I honestly wished I could squeeze both of my friends’ hands, do a girlie jump and scream "Oh my God, Jenni/Jane, what wonderful news!"
And yet I felt empty, suddenly seeing my perpetual rush as a sham, just filling time and my self-esteem with endless tasks and pointless mini-achievements. Was I missing something?
It seemed that while I moaned about my life as a mother of young children, others went quietly about theirs, achieving the uneasy goals of establishing themselves as writers and designers.
And while I fretted over not baking enough with my children, never having the time to play with them as washing, cleaning and cooking took priority, others developed plans, researched, no doubt sacrificed and, more importantly, worked hard to realize their dreams.
Was I too slow, ineffective or unproductive?
According to The Guardian’s recent article “Celebrity school run chic” it is no longer enough for a modern day mum to give up high achieving careers, move to the country, set up a standing order with the nearest Cath Kidston shop and produce an insane amount of cupcakes. It wasn't even about our feeble attempts to maintain the pre-brood glamour.
In the post “I don't know how she does it” world, it seems the glamour is only good when backed by substance. Like by achievements stretching beyond the perimeter of one’s back garden.
And just when I thought I had finally come to terms with my countrified living, clad with Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets, my friends’ refusal to stay or become stay-at-home mums revealed my own
insecurities. Was my life really slipping away achievement-free and worthless?
Why are there so many pressures on modern-day mums to achieve?
With 75 percent of women returning to work after having children, how many choose to do so for their ambitions and not just for financial reasons?
Many of the working mothers I know said they found it easier to return to work than to be a full-time mum. And yet they seem happier playing monsters or rolling Play-Doh snakes with their children than I ever manage to be.
Perhaps in the days of all-day children’s TV channels, playgroups and classes enrolling babies as young as four months old, raising children may seem an easier task than the pre-washing machine generation might have experienced. Yet how many of us avoid engaging in our children’s
activities and hide behind computers sending non-essential emails or looking for handbags online? I know I do.
Has hiding become a running theme in my life? And what was I hiding from? The world of grown-ups and their achievements, hoping to get away with my mediocre baking?
Or was it the fact that my friends’ achievements were more tangible, like an art object or a book, which they could decorate other people’s shelves with? Unlike the clean washing piled up unsuitably on top of my bed-side table.
Did I feel deflated? Yes, but also liberated. Maybe it was time for me to stop hiding behind the impossible schedules of a high-functioning full time mother, never achieving those goals or fitting into the image.
Maybe it was ok to admit that it never really was something that made me happy. It was ok to keep looking for my true self, even if it had nothing to do with being a yummy mummy. How about a glammy mummy with substance? And whatever it was that made me happy – a full day of uninterrupted writing or the silence of a city library – it was ok to embrace that too.
The pressures are there for us all to be busy mums and to strive to do more - this much is true. But so are the choices. The choice to stay professional, career-focused, not to feel guilty looking after yourself. I know it might be a tough game juggling motherhood with staying individual in the chaos of school runs, homework and school projects. And perhaps for some of us to maintain both sides of our
lives separately borders on insanity, but I also realize it is vitally important to keep juggling and not to lose sight of the women we once were.
As for the notorious cupcakes and being a writer? I made peace with myself when I realised that baking is a good time-filler on a rainy afternoon and an excuse for a messy kitchen and happy children. And however mediocre the baked result might be, there is never a crumb in
sight at the end of it.
As I was kissing my daughter good night that day, she wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered “When I grow up, mummy, I want to be a writer just like you. I like telling stories too. And I won’t forget things”.
Did I feel tired that day? Yes. Fulfilled? You bet!