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The end of the beginning

1
I am fresh from dropping my youngest off for her first day at school and am now in a local café, laptop in hand, to try and capture my maelstrom of emotion in writing. Half of the occupants of the café are the hippest of hipsters, tapping away on their MacBook Airs, and the other half are NCT mums with tiny new babies, shiny new prams and an impressive array of muslins.

I feel suspended between the two tribes. I still identify with those new mums, their radiant exhaustion and obsession with someone else’s bowel movements, but actually it is over

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10 years since I was first part of that tribe, and nearly 5 years since I last was. Having spent 10.5 years as a stay-at-home mum to a pre-schooler, it is now the first day of the rest of my life as well as my daughter’s.

In between my two children I started a brand new career as a writer, and published two novels, Two for Joy and To Have and to Hold. I haven’t published anything since my youngest was born, but now I have the space and time to see if I have got what it takes to forge a proper career as a professional writer, and take my place with

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3
the hipster Macbook tappers. Well, ‘hipster’ might be pushing it. I am currently wearing a maxi dress which, if memory serves correctly, I bought five years ago as maternity wear.

I am a mass of conflicts, though. My head is thrilled that S is starting school. She was so happy and excited, and is totally ready for it. As am I in so many ways. I will finally have some time to properly engage with my writing, prioritise my own physical health for the first time in a decade, and, it goes without saying, learn Italian, bake my own sourdough, remodel

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the garden, redecorate the house and undertake some voluntary work.

But my heart is, if not breaking, then certainly feeling incredibly fragile. My little baby girl isn’t a baby any more. A whole phase of my life – a phase I have adored – is unequivocally over. I always knew I wanted to be a mum, and ideally to be able to stay at home with my children when they were small. I have achieved that aim, and will be forever grateful, but my teen/early twenties imagination was full of cuddling babies, holding the hands of those just learning to walk

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5
and jumping in puddles with yellow welly clad toddlers, but never really encompassed my role in this next stage.

Today, looking back on the first 4 years and 9 months of her life feels like a film in slow motion. The first time I held her in my arms, those endless hours snuggled on the sofa in a cluster-feeding marathon, the expression of wonder and delight the first time I pushed her on the swing at our local park, our weekly Monkey Music classes from the age of 3 months to 3 years, a little chocolate smeared face as we baked cookies together, the

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way she called me Mimi before she could say Mummy, and the first time she told me she loved me.

As well, of course, as the tantrums, the efforts to strap a rigid and resisting little body into the pushchair so we weren’t late for school pick-up, the tears of frustration when my independent girl couldn’t manage something for herself but was damned if she would accept any help, the sheer boredom of many hours spent playing incomprehensible imaginary games in which she was director, producer and star and I was all members of a rather unpromising

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support cast. Some of it will still happen, of course. Particularly the tantrums, I imagine, and hopefully a few cuddles and I love yous as well. But she isn’t exclusively ours anymore.

I know from experience that children don’t cease to need their mum once they get to school, but there is now a period of 30 hours a week when that primary identity as Mummy rescinds, and I need to redevelop one as Helen to fill the gap.

 

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- 13 Sep 19

I am fresh from dropping my youngest off for her first day at school and am now in a local café, laptop in hand, to try and capture my maelstrom of emotion in writing. Half of the occupants of the café are the hippest of hipsters, tapping away on their MacBook Airs, and the other half are NCT mums with tiny new babies, shiny new prams and an impressive array of muslins.

I feel suspended between the two tribes. I still identify with those new mums, their radiant exhaustion and obsession with someone else’s bowel movements, but actually it is over 10 years since I was first part of that tribe, and nearly 5 years since I last was. Having spent 10.5 years as a stay-at-home mum to a pre-schooler, it is now the first day of the rest of my life as well as my daughter’s.

In between my two children I started a brand new career as a writer, and published two novels, Two for Joy and To Have and to Hold. I haven’t published anything since my youngest was born, but now I have the space and time to see if I have got what it takes to forge a proper career as a professional writer, and take my place with the hipster Macbook tappers. Well, ‘hipster’ might be pushing it. I am currently wearing a maxi dress which, if memory serves correctly, I bought five years ago as maternity wear.

I am a mass of conflicts, though. My head is thrilled that S is starting school. She was so happy and excited, and is totally ready for it. As am I in so many ways. I will finally have some time to properly engage with my writing, prioritise my own physical health for the first time in a decade, and, it goes without saying, learn Italian, bake my own sourdough, remodel the garden, redecorate the house and undertake some voluntary work.

But my heart is, if not breaking, then certainly feeling incredibly fragile. My little baby girl isn’t a baby any more. A whole phase of my life – a phase I have adored – is unequivocally over. I always knew I wanted to be a mum, and ideally to be able to stay at home with my children when they were small. I have achieved that aim, and will be forever grateful, but my teen/early twenties imagination was full of cuddling babies, holding the hands of those just learning to walk and jumping in puddles with yellow welly clad toddlers, but never really encompassed my role in this next stage.

Today, looking back on the first 4 years and 9 months of her life feels like a film in slow motion. The first time I held her in my arms, those endless hours snuggled on the sofa in a cluster-feeding marathon, the expression of wonder and delight the first time I pushed her on the swing at our local park, our weekly Monkey Music classes from the age of 3 months to 3 years, a little chocolate smeared face as we baked cookies together, the way she called me Mimi before she could say Mummy, and the first time she told me she loved me.

As well, of course, as the tantrums, the efforts to strap a rigid and resisting little body into the pushchair so we weren’t late for school pick-up, the tears of frustration when my independent girl couldn’t manage something for herself but was damned if she would accept any help, the sheer boredom of many hours spent playing incomprehensible imaginary games in which she was director, producer and star and I was all members of a rather unpromising support cast. Some of it will still happen, of course. Particularly the tantrums, I imagine, and hopefully a few cuddles and I love yous as well. But she isn’t exclusively ours anymore.

I know from experience that children don’t cease to need their mum once they get to school, but there is now a period of 30 hours a week when that primary identity as Mummy rescinds, and I need to redevelop one as Helen to fill the gap.

 

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I'm author of novels 'Two For Joy' and 'To Have and to Hold' and mum to two daughters aged ten and four. As well as writing, and my children, I love reading, cooking, eating and exploring London (and further afield when I get the chance). I was born and brought up in Liverpool, studied English at Oxford University, and now live in East London with my husband, daughters and cat.

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