Now that it's September and I'm not the proud owner of a new academic diary, the truth has sunk in

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Like you, I've been preparing to go back to school. I've been doing the usual stuff that teachers do in the precious six weeks of summer: dentist's appointments, seeing relatives that I ought to visit more often, cooking the odd meal that would take too long on a school night. Three weeks to go, I thought to myself in the middle of August, two weeks - doesn't time fly - one week, and then it's back to Sunday nights of planning and wishing the excesses of Saturday hadn't been so excessive.

Except for me this year, the first week of September has come, and I'm still at home. Since my son was born two months ago, I've been living in a sort of limbo, overwhelmed with the new direction my life has taken, yet reluctant to let go of the past. It didn't help that he was born at the start of the summer holidays. With colleagues dropping round and afternoons spent in the garden, I was able to kid myself that things were normal, except for the bottle cleaning and a little appendage sleeping in a basket by my bed.

Now that it's September and I am not the proud owner of a new academic diary, the truth has sunk in. This is my life. I'm on permanent summer holiday without, of course, the money, the time, the sleep-ins, the trips to the theatre, cinema, exhibitions, the long lunches, the late suppers, or the opportunity to reintroduce myself to my other half and have conversations that don't start, "Do you realise how hard I'm working?" So I'm on pretty familiar territory.

I used to believe that having a baby wouldn't make much difference to my life. I thought I would be able to fit it in in much the same way that you fit in an evening class. He would slot into a few convenient gaps around my busy schedule. I remember a few colleagues raising their eyebrows at my innocence, but if anyone had tried to put me straight I wouldn't have listened to them, or I would have secretly decided they were simply unable to cope. The busiest people always get things done: that was my view of the world. In retrospect, I wonder if those busy people have a baby who wants to sleep all day and play all night; it's amazing how something so tiny can defeat all your best, and busiest, intentions.

Now that reality has kicked in, I've clicked that my life isn't mine to call my own any more, but I'm still not sure how I feel about that. Do I file away my hopes and ambitions into a "must do" folder and forget about them - much the same as my dreaded department development plan? Or do I throw myself into an exhausting regime of baby-related activities, open my dusty copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess and get cooking? Do I snigger ironically through my local National Childbirth Trust get-togethers and start trawling the area for a good childminder so I can get back to work at the earliest opportunity?

None of the above really seems ideal and so, like most mothers, I spend my days sterilising everything that moves and wondering what to do with my life. Everybody I speak to has a different take on the issue, but everyone agrees that it's hard. In the meantime, my new baby is notching up milestones amazingly quickly; he has just grown out of his first set of clothes, and begun to realise that one of his smiles can make his mum do anything for him. Perplexing decisions aside, I don't think I'm ready to exchange that for anything else.

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of special needs in a north London secondary school. She will contribute to Friday magazine occasionally over the coming year. Email:

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