I’m often asked how I manage to work when I don’t use childcare. Often, people seem to think I’m doing something super-human, but really, it’s not that difficult. As a freelance writer, I can do 99.9 per cent of my work from home, when it suits me. The Baby sleeps for at least two hours at lunchtime, maybe a bit more, and both children are usually in bed by 7.30 in the evening, giving me another couple of hours to work before bedtime. So, four hours a day, five days a week (or six or seven, if I’m busy) actually adds up to a pretty respectable 20-ish working hours a week. I have periods when everything goes crazy and I don’t have enough hours in the day, and there’s the odd occasion when I have to interview someone at an awkward time (i.e. when The Baby is awake) and have to pretend I live next-door to a nursery. But generally, it fits in reasonably well.
Every now and then, though, I’m forced to make a foray into the outside world. And that means taking The Baby with me.
I know, it sounds incredibly unprofessional, doesn’t it? But 1) my meetings generally last less than an hour, so it’s hardly worth making alternative childcare arrangements (either getting DH to book a day’s leave, or asking my mum to make a 220-mile round trip), and 2) the only person who ever summons me for a face-to-face meeting is the editorial director of a parenting website, and therefore sympathetic to the whole working-mums thing, and quite willing for me to bring The Baby.
I’ve taken The Baby to four meetings so far in her little life. The first was easy; she was only six weeks old, so I stuck her in the sling, lay her on a sofa while I talked shop, breastfed her when she whimpered, and then slung her back home again. The second and third meetings were a little more challenging, involving things like pushchairs and public transport and preparing lunch for her to have on the run. But they were still manageable and didn’t drive me to the verge of a nervous breakdown.
It didn’t start well. I woke up at 4.50am, mentally running through the list of everything I had to take with me (diary, notebook, pen, lunch for The Baby, toys for The Baby, books for The Baby, nappies, snacks, drinks…) and travel logistics (should I walk to the nearest station, avoid too many steps but have a longer journey, or drive to a farther station, but then have to tackle the Underground’s longest escalator with the buggy – the very thought of which gives me palpitations?). Seriously, to think I used to commute into London every day…
Anyway, despite my early start and neurotic behaviour, things initially seemed to be going to plan. I dropped The Boy at school, came home, and drove to the station, having come to the decision that I’d walk the mile or so from the mainline station to the office, rather than negotiating Angel’s escalators with the pushchair. I found a space in the station car park, managed to make the pay-by-phone parking service work (for once), got a nice man to help me up the steps, and boarded an on-time train.
So far so good.
On the train, The Baby was at her best, flirting with people, grinning, pointing at things through the window and shouting, ‘Train! Train! Train!’ with great delight. We got to St Pancras in good time, and slogged our way up the Pentonville Road (goodness me, that hill is steep) in the sunshine. The Baby was still happy (‘Car! Car! Car!’) and all was well.
Until we got to the office. I thought that having been restrained in the buggy or carseat all morning, The Baby would be thrilled to be unleashed. And for the first few minutes, she was perfectly endearing, smiling, looking at her book and saying, ‘Uh-oh!’ when she dropped it on the floor. But then she started to whinge – and from that point on, it was downhill all the way.
I brought out secret weapon #1: a cereal bar. She crumbled it into the floor. I brought out secret weapon #2: one of her big brother’s toy cars. She batted it away. Secret weapon #3 (my pen) was thrown at me in rage. Even secret weapon #4 (the pick of anything in my entire, overstuffed changing bag) failed, when her inability to pull cards out of my purse led to full-on meltdown.
By now, we’d progressed from whinging through tantrum to proper sobbing, tears and all. All the while, I was trying to placate The Baby as calmly as possible, while simultaneously taking in what my editor was saying. I think I got the gist of it (just about), and I managed not to lose my cool (just about), but all I could think was how flipping unprofessional this all was, despite the ed’s reassurances. Mortified doesn’t even come close.
By the time we’d wrapped it up, The Baby was in such a state that I was beginning to think she might be poorly. But no. As we stood up to leave the room, the tears and wailing stopped instantaneously, and she turned and waved to the editor with a big smile and a jaunty, ‘Bye bye!’ And, back on the train, she duly grinned and chatted to her fellow passengers again, all while demolishing her Marmite sandwiches.
The little toad.
To add insult to injury, as we got back to the station car park, a gust of wind blew The Baby’s coat (her new coat, her one and only item of Boden clothing, the coat that I’d abandoned all hope of putting on her mid-strop) off the hood of the pushchair and into a muddy puddle. Oh, hello edge, how nice to be tipped over you…
A two-hour nap (The Baby) and a cup of tea and a chocolate brioche (me) later, and we’ve just about recovered from our ordeal. But one thing is certain: that is the last time I *ever* take my daughter to work.