October 2012, Balgowlah, Australia
We had a visitor this week; my lovely friend, Clarabelle, whom I have known since we were both the ripe old age of 8. She arrived on Monday and we had four days of chatting and laughter and whirlwind tours of my favourite places in Sydney.
Although amazing friends like Clarabelle require no real effort in terms of falling immediately into our lifelong friendship groove, I pulled out all the stops in preparing for her arrival, which would mark the last 4 days of her month-long tour of Australia. The agenda was easy enough (there are so many places I wanted her to see, many of which we couldn’t fit in) but I knew her nomadic adventures would have seen her sleeping in hotels and on sofas and I wanted her to feel comfy, cosy, at home.
I dropped Miggins at school at 8:30am, grabbed a coffee and told myself that everything would be in order by 12pm, when I would collect Miggins and drive to the airport.
I cleaned and tidied for almost 3 hours to knock the house into sparkling shape and even then there was quite a lot of stuff being shoved into the laundry room (which is thankfully closed off from the rest of the house but which I still felt compelled to show Clarabelle after showing her around…). At 11:47 I made TJ and Miggins a picnic for the car journey to the airport and after a fraught negotiation with TJ about leaving the house, I hared it to school at 11:58. Bad.
The school car park was full so I went to park in the next street along, which was of course blocked by a removals van, so I had to park one more street over. 12:05 and 25 degrees. I grabbed TJ and ran as fast as I could with a 3-stone 2 year old (who was holding his jam sandwich and shouting and laughing ‘Mummy I’m getting jam in your hair’) and got to school a sweaty, panting mess at 12:08. A lovely friend stopped me outside school to give Miggins a belated 5th birthday present and pushing aside my usual British politeness I just blurted ‘I’ve got to be at the airport at 12:30’. Luckily, she was characteristically unflappable, handed me the pressie and stepped aside as we all galloped back to the car, with Miggins shouting breathlessly and excitedly ‘why are we running? why are we running?’, her oversized backpack sloughing from side to side and TJ still trying to finish off the jam sandwich whilst I was now carrying him horizontally like a newborn, my arms breaking. Once in the car and on the road we took a breath and we smoothly pulled into the public pick-up area of Sydney airport twenty minutes later than expected but miraculously just in time to collect Clarabelle, who was none the wiser and, thankfully, a few minutes late herself. We greeted each other like the old friends we are and chatted excitedly about the first stop on our tour.
October 2009, London, 8 months pregnant with TJ
I used to start looking desperately at the clock from about 4pm, knowing that I had precisely 1 hour and 11 minutes to finish everything that I needed to do that day to be able to run to Cannon Street station to catch the 5:21pm train. That train would get me home in time to let our nanny, the wonderful Miss J, finish her day at 6pm and most importantly gave me a precious hour with Miggins before I tucked her into bed.
I know what you’re thinking; a lawyer, finishing at 5pm, how did she land that one? The truth was, there was no finishing. The red light flashed continually on my blackberry, the demands interminable. I had, though, made a promise to myself and to Miggins that I would try my very best to be home every night for bathtime and to tuck her into bed and no matter what pressure that put me under I managed it all but a handful of times, each of those missed opportunities weighing heavier than the last. Guilt crept in at those moments, saw the chink in the shiny armoury that that was my professional, well-groomed, suited self and taunted the maternal instinct that told me I should be there, whatever, no matter what.
There was no doubt that I loved both roles of my dichotomous self, as a lawyer and as a mum, but I have yet to be convinced that it is possible for anyone to truly feel that they ‘have it all’; that they have for themselves and for their family successfully and happily sustained those two parallels.
I digress, but I hope I have set my scene.
I was two weeks from the start of my maternity leave but things were far from winding down. My last meeting that day had overrun and I returned to a plethora of emails and calls, each demanding an urgent answer (their authors fully aware of an imminent handover of their file). 4:57pm. I called Mister – straight to voicemail; he was on a lengthy conference call. I hesitantly called Miss J, who almost always said yes to staying later but who had no choice but to get home on time that night. 5:04pm. I quickly packed a Court bag with work to take home with me, put my trainers on and logged off, diving into the lift. 5:08pm. 6th floor to ground usually took all of 30 seconds but it stopped at floor 3, then floor 2. People in the lift chatted amiably, their day over whilst I just stared at the doors, whispering ‘please, please’ desperately under my breath. As the doors opened on the ground floor I bolted, supporting my bump as I ran, cumbersomely dragging the court bag behind me.
I knew I wouldn’t make it, I couldn’t possibly make it, it was a 10 minute sprint without the 8 month bump, but I jog-walked-jog-walked, all the time bumping that ridiculous bag behind me, which sounded like an express train clattering across the pavement, drawing yet more attention to my ungainly self. I was met with looks of amusement, sympathy, disbelief, a rare anomaly amidst the sea of cloned commuters.
When I finally panted up the steps at Cannon Street station, with that bloody bag thump, thump, thumping up each step behind me, the 5:21 was long gone. I called Miss J, apologising profusely, half sobbing, half breathless and although she assured me in her usual calm, upbeat manner that it was really ok, I knew that she, too, was panicking about getting herself home on time.
In the end, I was twenty minutes late. Just twenty. But by then, I had worked myself up into a hormonal, tired bundle of guilt, and it was Miss J who was witness to my raw, desperate relief as I loped, exhausted, through the front door and into the living room, where 2 year old Miggins, already bathed and in her pyjamas, was happily and obliviously absorbed in her favourite bedtime television programme.
I tucked Miggins into bed, changed into my comfy clothes and sank into the sofa, clicking open the oversized black bag, my companion for the evening.
October 2012, Balgowlah, Australia
I used to say that if you watched me from the moon, you would see a red dot sprinting across London, trying to get home. A red flashing light, the Earth’s own Blackberry. If you happened to be watching me from the moon this week, you might have seen that frenzied dot again, rushing to get someplace on the other side of the world. But I think you will also have seen a rush of colour in my wake….. and possibly a small amount of strawberry jam in my hair.