Shrink Grows Kids is 2 years old! And more exciting things are happening: I have been offered two book deals and am about to sign up with the lovely people at Pan Macmillan for my first ever book. So thank you to everyone who has read and supported my little site. Your reads gave me the confidence to continue and it has led me to things beyond my imagination.
Those who followed my journey from the start may have realised by the tone of some of my blog posts that I started this blog as a child psychiatrist that had been somewhat cast aside by her profession for her decision to work a maximum of 3-days a week such that she could be there for her children. Working so little is highly frowned upon in a profession where apparently working till 10pm and on Saturdays is deemed a standard working week (thanks Mr Hunt). In the battle of children vs career, for me children had to win out.
It’s a tough decision faced by many driven parents and I respect the individual choices made by others even if they differ from mine. For me, I am lucky enough to be married to a banker who pays the mortgage and financially as my post-tax income would have been equivalent to quality childcare, money was negligible in the decision making. Unluckily, being married to a banker means that for much of the time parenting responsibility falls to me as Banker is often out of the house before 06:30am and not back again until 8pm, if he is even in the country. Thus I squarely felt the responsibility of how our children turned out was down to me. As a child psychiatrist who spends days and years hearing and helping children and families that have struggled, it seemed implausible not to at least attempt to practice what I believe and preach: spend time with children.
For quite some years I took positions that allowed me to work a 3-day week by virtue of my being over-qualified and under-paid and saw friends and colleagues speed by in the race to the top. It was not without its frustrations, anger, tears, self-hatred and despair. What was the least anticipated, yet most destructive was the loss of identity. I would never have seen myself as one for airs and graces and felt that I took people on face-value, but it was amazing how naked I felt when stripped of a prestigious job title. Signing on reluctantly for gym membership post-baby fat one time I felt wounded to see that the lady had listened to my description of my work circumstances and had written: Occupation: House-wife/ Doctor.
I had never identified myself as a house-wife. A mother yes, but not a house-wife. I don’t and doubt I ever will darn my husband’s socks (although once my mother-in-law did offer to teach me).
It was with this inkling that I wanted something more that I tentatively set up my blog. Slowly by slowly, with your help, a sense of confidence and purpose grew that even if the system would not support me, I could use my skills to support myself. I started speaking to friends about work outside of the NHS which although I loved, had rejected me for my lack of ambition/ work-ethic/ dedication because of my insistence on limited hours. We set up a little private practice which has been doing great. This led to more confidence in my ability, to connections and friendships which have led to more and more opportunities, which have eventually culminated into a return to a prestigious NHS position on MY TERMS – 3 days a week. Alongside, the material from my blog has continued to grow, albeit slowly of late, and I am still pinching myself that a publisher is willing to support me in growing it into a book. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I could or would become a writer.
My horoscope predicted that 2016 could be one of the best years of my life (so be happy all Pisceans) and I am really looking forward to the year. My message to other parents that chose children over career is to say “Believe in yourself”, give it time, you never know where it might lead you and soon you’ll be back on top.
THANKS FOR SUPPORTING MY BLOG.
WATCH THIS SPACE FOR NEWS OF MY BOOK!
Here are some posts from rock bottom that might help:
I’m writing from the eaves of the in-laws’ farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in rural France. Sunlight is pouring in from the mosquito netted windows where the shutters, traditional of the region, have been flung open against the two foot thick walls.
Outside, set against the gently undulating silver of wheat fields that form patchworks with the bright-yellow of the sunflower fields, a blue oasis nestles like a magnet to small brown children. I can hear their high pitched squeals and splashes of water as they cannon-ball/ dive/ slide/ leap into their granny’s pool. The sun is forever shining; the ipad-hardened eyes of gritty-city children have opened to the simple delights of warm weather and water. This is not the chlorine infused, electrically heated sanatorium-like institutions where they are used to being drilled to swim strokes, but a splashing/ shouting/ dive-bombing free-for-all under the semi-watchful eye of Banker relaxing on a sun lounger.
And the best part?
I don’t have to be there.
I can hole up in a room of my own with my laptop. I feel I can only now truly understand Virginia’s sentiments.
September is upon us and I wonder if there are other parents out there like me who are finally feeling free? Feeling that for the most part the intensive back-breaking part of our job as a parent has been broken. The start-up we started has flourished and is headed for break-even. That we can finally breathe.
This time last year, I was still weighted with nervous anticipation about how Lil Bro would fair at school and mourning the loss of small kissable feet and their replacement with sweaty ones laden with verrucas. This year, having seen Lil Bro gain in confidence and social skill over the last year and Big Sis continue to thrive, I feel differently; almost as if a weight has been lifted; a strange mixture of relief, freedom and entitlement. As the kids approach 8 and 6 years, not even the most chauvinist can dare say that their needs now require the “maternal” instinct. Having given up sleep, life and career for the best part of a decade, I feel excitement that these next years might be my time to reclaim my life. That “me-time” that had been consigned to history might actually make a re-appearance and that I might actually be able to take time to feed my soul with books, art, writing rather than my children broccoli, cucumber and disliked super-foods. Requisite selflessness can now secede into my more natural selfish position.
That yoga class, that recipe, that job opportunity, those designer clothes, that hair-cut, that book I meant to write. That woman I meant to be. It now seems so much more possible. I would have shouted it to the roof tops “THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!”, had I not known it to be inhabited by a family of loirs.
Then in strops Big Sis, wet and dripping, fresh from the pool; a vision in pink which is now “so babyish” but whose body had failed to grow as quickly as her attitudes meaning that she is still forced by me to wear the pink goggles, swimming costume and flip flops. She is closely followed by a trail of wet footprints.
Big Sis: Where’s my towel?
Me: I don’t know. Where did you leave it when you last used it?
Big Sis: I dunno
Me: Well, where did your father say it was?
Big Sis: I didn’t ask him. I came to ask you.
Me [incredulous]: You walked 50 metres from the pool where your father was and where your towel is most likely to be, to ask me hiding up a flight of stairs on my laptop having been nowhere near the pool today where your towel is because you think I might know?!!
Did I say a light at the end of the tunnel? I meant a firefly…
Becoming a parent, makes you marvel for the first time about your own parents. My mother had frequently said as we were growing up “Wait till you are a parent, you’ll see it’s not so easy”, which I basically took as her excuse for not letting me have my own way. Now I can see myself parroting this to my kids. Banker is already practising in front of the mirror how he will deliver the immortal words “As long as you are under my roof…”
Before motherhood, I rarely thought about my mother having an independent life before me. She’s “just my mother”, and yet, as I became a mother myself struggling with identity, it made me think about my own mother.
My mother was the 5th child of 8 (one of whom died in infancy), born to a primary school teacher and headmaster in Taiwan. Being one of the tiger economies that developed rapidly in the latter half of the last century, Taiwan 60 years ago was quite different from the urbanised and high-tech country it is today. Developing-world poverty, high infant mortality and child labour were still the norm. Luckily for my mother, teachers in the East are very highly regarded and as such, my mother was more privileged than other children. For instance, she and her siblings were the only children in her class to wear shoes. Despite this, when the school held a maths competition with a pair of shoes as the prize, she won it and became the only person in the school to own 2 pairs of shoes.
My mother had studied entomology at University. She had not done as well as she had hoped in her exams and therefore didn’t get on the course she wanted. Despite pleading with her father to re-sit, she was told by my grandfather that as she was a girl and therefore destined to become a teacher and then ultimately a mother, it didn’t make any difference what she studied at University. That’s how my mother, an academically and socially able woman became a reluctant entomologist and subsequently a secondary school science teacher and a mother. Choice didn’t come into it.
When my mother went into labour with me, my father had moved abroad to study. By then, labour was already old hat to mum as I have two older sisters. She hopped on to her moped and scooted off to hospital by herself. Through contractions she weaved through the traffic ever aware that third children have the habit of flying out due to the pelvic floor’s diminished function from prior encounters with large skulls. She got to hospital and out I plopped. No doula, no water bath, no-one else present – just pragmatism.
Later, she joined my father in the UK, bringing 3 kids, aged 3, 5 and 6 years with her on her first ever time on an aeroplane to start a new life abroad in a foreign country, knowing no one and speaking not a word of English. I struggle to take 2 kids abroad on holiday despite being a seasoned traveller!
In the UK, we were poor. As a family of 5, we lived off my father’s PhD funding. We did not have a washing machine or enough money to visit the laundrette and my mother washed all our clothes by hand on a wooden washboard. She knitted our clothes and as shops in 1980s South Wales did not sell “exotic foodstuffs” like noodles, she would make noodles from flour and water by hand and hang them to dry off broomsticks in the kitchen. Occasionally she ventured into strange western cuisine by trying her hand at a packet mix “Blancmange”.
At our birthday parties, we had no entertainers or bouncy castles. My mum and dad bounced my friends and I up and down on a taut blanket. That basically sums up my mum: a fun, resourceful woman with a can-do attitude. Although we were poor in childhood, she ensured that we ate free school meals with pride, we never felt inferior and we never knew deprivation.
I never wondered if she had dreams and aspirations that had not involved her children. Shamefully, even now, I expect her life to be focused on me and her grandchildren and I have a spoilt brat attitude to finding out that she has her own social life. What about me? Such is the way of great mothers that they appear always available for you, and sadly much taken for granted. The “wind beneath my wings”.
Sometimes I wonder what my children will think of me when they are adults. To be sure, they will not be thanking me for:
the pain of squeezing their ginormous heads through my birth canal
the cracked nipples
the sleepless nights
the being victim to their projectile vomits
the bottoms wiped
the temperatures taken
the bruises kissed
the sandwiches made
the homework checked
the meetings cancelled
the playdates arranged
the sports days cheered
the play lines rehearsed
the books unread
the body neglected
the shelved career plans
But if my children regard me with an ounce of how much I regard my own mother, I will be very happy indeed. A friend, whose father has recently suffered a stroke reminded me of the fragility of health in people of our parents’ age and the urgency in making time count. It is with this in mind that this Mothers’ day, I want to say a big “Thank you” to my mum. And with regards to my own motherhood, to remember sometimes, it’s not the spoken “thanks” but the little things that make it all worthwhile.
HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY EVERYONE!