So it’s here. Here I am. It’s the start of term and here I sit, alone alone-o.
No work to do. No kids. Nothing but time running through my fingers between drop off at 9-ish and pick up at 3.30ish from now until, well – until half term I guess.
At various moments I have felt a sort of panic, or horror or sadness or something rising up behind my solar plexus, but I try to smooth it down, press it away.
I have wanted my kids to be out having fun with their friends at school and nursery since they were born. I’m crap at entertaining kids and they know it, so when they see me they bellow “Can I watch telly can I have a biscuit??” because they know I will probably say yes. So it’s better for everyone, more fun for them, if they’re off running about with their mates.
I don’t miss them, because I know they’re coming back. And I’m not worried about them because I know they are at lovely places having a lovely time.
And yet, it’s hard not to panic. Because what now? What? Now? I have taken a look at my paid work and decided to call time on doing the sort of journalism I’ve been doing for the last 5 years – sad mummy stuff, endless photoshoots, personal pieces. I don’t want to do it any more. I’ve backed myself into a rather tight corner and the only way out is to set fire to the entire room and stunt roll out of a window. So that’s probably the end of my career in journalism.
So then there I am, staring blankly into the abyss, like Dory – waiting for help to appear out of the gloom to remind me who I am and where it was that I was going before I lost my way and it was… and then… and… then…
I’m not panicking though. I’m really not. I’m not going to get a puppy or any other small creature to take up my time. I’m not going to enrol on a curtain-making course or re-train as a yoga instructor or an aromatherapist. I’m not. I won’t! And I’m making it my mission over the next year not to do any of those things. If you can’t focus on a positive, focus on a not-negative.
Anyway while you’re thinking about it, here are some photos of some lovely Moroccan rugs from Larusi, who has a studio round the corner from my house. She didn’t start importing and selling rugs as a business until she was 40! So there’s hope.
I always think of Brenda Blethyn at these times, who was a bookkeeper till her mid 30’s and then decided to have a go at acting as her marriage had ended. She ended up winning a ton of Oscars and other awards.
Whatever you do, don’t get a puppy.
But you are so good at writing. If I had your ability I’d do it all the time. Take it from a mother who has twenty odd years on you and who used to work full time away from home: while your children are still living at home, there are huge advantages in being able to do what you’re good at there too.
Tired in Twickenham says
Please don’t become an aromatherapist! Please keep writing, I love your voice, your point of view. Our lives have been running in parallel for the last 5 years (I know, a bit creepy, especially since you don’t know me!) and whatever I’m feeling about life, but can’t quite sort out in my head, you nail every time.
My youngest is nearly 3 and I have done nothing else but be at home with her since she was born so I have this creeping panic as to what happens next. I didn’t quite burn the bridges to what I was doing before so much as let them crumble slowly behind me. I CAN’T have a third. I’m not doing a good enough job with the two I have half the time; I know I’m at my limit. I went through a slightly broody phase a couple of months ago (despite never having been broody before) and that has been replaced by slightly wistful glances at puppies so reading this I felt a huge thwack of recognition. Conclusion: hold tight and don’t do anything you might regret when you’re cleaning up after it at 4 am. Good luck out there xx
I am sitting at my desk in my post-summer holidays empty house, avoiding writing a report by flicking between looking at puppy pictures on Pinterest and reading about interior design courses…!
I hope you’ll keep writing – love your stuff. My youngest starts school on Monday… sadly I’ll be working 9-3 in a dismal office. If you have a chance to do what you love grab it with both hands!!!
But you’ll keep blogging, right??? I ONLY like your blog* and I always read it after nursery drop off. And, it makes the occasional glimpses of you very exciting! *I also follow another blog but only because it is incredibly boring and yet has over 1,000,000 hits. Why do so many people like it? Needless to say, I follow yours because it’s good!
Elena where do you glimpse me? In the street? Come and say hello?!
I definitely hate-read some blogs, this is not one of them though!!
I did get a puppy in Jan one of those handbag miniature Yorkies (to try and cheer up one of my teenage daughters who has been diagnosed with mild depression). I literally hated dogs and secretly loathed people who posted endless pictures of their dogs on social media. But I was begged for years and wanted my daughter to be happier. What a sucker I am. My teenage daughter is still depressed (Im a bad mother too) and hates the bloody puppy as it chews everything. I on the other hand LOVE the puppy to bits and literally could not live without her now. She makes my life worth living!!! Sad but true and my husband loves her even more than me!!!
Re career my lawyer career went down the pan when I had my three kids all under the age of 3. Madness!!! But I dont get depressed about it and have endless lists of new business ideas etc not that any of them ever seems to make me millions because Im too busy looking after said puppy and clearing up after depressing teenagers X
Sarah I love this
Please write a book Esther. I don’t care what it’s about. Just use your talent. I would absolutely buy it.
Oh babez. you would be the ONLY one, seriously xxx
I would buy a book too. I bought the other two.
Yes, keep blogging.
Me too. I love your first two books, and regularly re-read sections of them. You are a wonderful, honest writer.
Thanks Tasha xxx
Keep writing…..pretty please 🙂
I would buy it too! I still flick through Recipe Rifle (the book version) on the train home looking for inspiration as to what to cook for dinner.
Jess Helicopter says
Esther LOADS of people would read your book. You have a bossy, funny, irreverent way of writing that captures so many women’s imaginations. And you talk to them like they are friends….which makes you even more engaging. Stop being so writing dismorphic! And write another book. I’ll come to the launch and sing Onward Christian Soldier with you after a couple light ales!
Wow, you just described my own life to a tee.
If you decide what to do please let me know because I’ve been faffing about doing all those things you are not going to do (yoga, sewing etc) for the last two years and I still feel pointless and haven’t found the answer.
But I am quite clever and fairly useful so I’m sure I have something to offer the world.
PS. Do not get involved with fundraising for your children’s school (you didn’t mention that one), I know from experience that this is a thankless, time consuming task. And don’t try making cupcakes for a living.
You know all the nutters who write unpleasant things under your stuff on The Times are actually insane, right? Purely, head boilingly nutty. They’re the sort of people who read articles about pencil cases and then whinge that they would have preferred to read about dogs.
I know! I know I know. But it’s all just really bad karma to invite that kind of negativity… xxx
Angela O'Donovan says
It sounds so though you feel a need to fill that space. Why not just give yourself a year, even six months, with the rule that you don’t make plans -unless of course something drops on your lap out of the blue.
I’m way older than you-just got my ‘Boris card’ (gold dust in London) but came to motherhood late. Due to circumstances with first child, too sad for here, I was stay at home mother and carer. No regrets. I did some courses. Always was a bit all or nothing so made all interlined curtains, blinds, etc, tried upholstery but too physical for me, then IT to good level. Loved meeting people all ages, backgrounds, great chats in coffee breaks, fresh air for the mind.
Had a walking phase too, then got into Bridge which is brilliant despite the many views about it.
I’m rambling here but think its always good to drop off the whirl of busyness now and again.
Just me maybe and I’m a bit lazy by nature!
Anyway, enjoy your space! Ax
Oh my God I had the same kind of thing in the summer vacation and thought I’d become a yoga teacher and even told my kids so. Huge mistake, that.
Then I did one class of beginner’s yoga after the break and was so bad at it that I thought of course I will never be a yoga teacher, I am always the worst one in the class (I thought I would have a niche as a very teachter whos is very approachable because she is very bad at yoga).
And I don’t even like chanting!
Now, my kids ask me every day when I will be a yoga teacher.
I would see a huge market for ‘realistic fashion advice’ in magazines for you, that’s why I love your blog (and also because of personal, very relatable posts like these).
I’m a journalist just like you, have written lots (literally 1000000s) of columns about motherhood etc, and am going to write a book about my mother now. As a change of scenery (and also, or mostly, because I am just really interested, she died very young and I hardly know anything about her).
So there. All the best!
Don’t get a puppy. Everyone gets a puppy because they finally stagger out of the baby years and their hands feel empty. This is utter insanity. Like volunteering to carry a piano around for five years.
Because I’m a control freak and think I’m right about everything I think everyone should give themselves a year to get used to the quiet and empty hands and if they’re still googling ‘best dog that doesn’t drop dog hair’ or staring at cockapoos on Pinterest then, and only then, can they call up the nearest sad puppy farm and slap a grand down on a non-shedding shitting machine that their children will insist on giving a duff name.
Because my youngest is five and has done a full year at school I’m coming out of the dark, empty-handed, puppy googling phase and I can feel the sun on my face because I don’t have a smooth-haired dachshund called Peanut eating the back out of my sofa.
On an aside, the whole poodle-mix thing, whilst eminently sensible, makes me laugh as it reminds me of a neighbour’s dog when I was a child. They had a black poodle called Bimbo who was forever running off so the husband would have to tramp around the fields and lanes shrieking “Bimbo” at the top of his voice. This was about the only funny thing that happened in my 1970’s childhood so I’ve a lot of affection for permed dogs.
I’m stumped for suggestions of an alternative to dog buying or having a third baby. As I had a third (awesome) baby, frankly I’d enjoy myself loafing around at home eating dark chocolate whilst making sure my contraception was watertight, but this may not be enough. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with a little boredom and idleness after the SLOG of having babies and small children but somehow we all put ourselves under this pressure to be always doing something with a smile on our face. Why does being a mother only come with the option of perpetual motion? These are questions I ask myself when I’m tidying the house at 11pm at night.
Tess this is extremely, extremely brilliant
I meant ‘a niche as a very bad teacher’, sorry, am sick at home and seem to not be able to type anymore
Love your writing so much, I hope you continue. It is an interesting discussion; the ‘void’ that’s left when kids move onto full time education. The Yoga teacher thing made me laugh, such a cliche (I know a few!) I work 4 days a week, so when my youngest is finally at school, I personally absolutely cannot WAIT for that full day off to myself to run, read, nap, shop without interruption!
Katherine Mullen says
Don’t give up writing ! I love your blog and used to really look forward to reading recipe rifle- i used to love your stories about you and your kids – they made me feel like I was doing an ok job after all !!
First few months of last child going to school is awful, you feel so aimless. ‘Your way will open up’ as my Scottish granny used to irritatingly say, and and then it’s AWESOME. I sent my second off for a second year and skipped off in glee to my the studio, but spent the first year desperately thrashing about trying to make a business work (would not recommend the children’s accessories industry).
Do not get a puppy. Do you know what I spent last night doing? Trying to retrieve a mouse the cat had helpfully brought in, and let go, all the time battling off the spaniels, one of whom eventually ate it.
Write more, I also read your books and LOVED them. Bet they sold more than 700 copies…. Happened upon Giles’ programme the other night – v good.
Wait. What do you mean? Don’t go! Don’t leave us!!
On the face of it you and I have very little in common (I’m an unfashionable cheapskate with only one kid who eyes £250 quid shirts in the manner of a skittish horse eyeing a plastic bag stuck to a fence) but over and over your writing strikes a chord with me. Please don’t pack it in.
I’ve very recently reached a point in my life where I suddenly realised I hated my job and I couldn’t face doing it for the next umpteen years so packed it in and have gone back to university to retrain as a teacher. Could you do something similar? If you wanted to stay sort of in the same field I bet journalism and writing courses would be falling over themselves to have you as an associate lecturer. Or what about running cookery courses? Or interior design? Or forensic science?? This feeling of disconnect and doom is a good thing (really it is!) – the possibilities are endless!
Thanks Alison! I won’t stop the blog because it’s fun, but I can’t keep doing the same sort of stuff in the papers that I’ve been doing… I like your story about packing it in to be a teacher, I do love career change stories. And forensic science HAS always fascinated me… xxx
I see you about locally- I live near the Heath! Dunno about saying hello- what would we say? I think you’re right about not writing too much more “mum stuff” because it’s only interesting when funny and only funny when it’s awful. Dwelling on the awfulness is not a good idea long term, particularly when they get bigger and are no longer awful. Yes, there laundry and toys everywhere but you don’t have to crawl about building towers or playing peepo. My 3yo is great company most of the time! Anyway, my point is I sort of agree that it’s a good decision. However, working out what to do next is hard. I imagine that you don’t have to work to eat (unless Giles has a bigger gambling problem than it appears from Twitter) so it’s hard hard hard. I think the people saying take time are right. This isn’t helpful but I wish it was- am very fond of you after years of reading your blogs. My main thing is trying to work out how not to be defined by HAVING HAD CHILDREN. Some people manage, others don’t. Good luck and keep blogging.
you HAVE to say hello now
1. Please keep blogging, you are genuinely a pleasure to read.
2. There are LOADS of local charities who would love you to volunteer for them. I can put you in touch with some if you would be interested. And the roles are really varied, more so than you might expect. I run one myself but we are over in Paddington which I am guessing may be a bit far?
Hope you might be interested in the volunteering, we need people like you!
What about writing a novel? I think you would be brilliant at it, as extremely clever and funny.
I felt the way you describe a few years ago. I did get a puppy- big mistake as now have to shell out £££ to a dog walker, having realised what I actually want to do.
I found it really helpful to try to get in touch with my old self (really old, I mean- what I was like at about 10) and think what I wanted to do then, as a reminder of what I actually like doing and who I am. Otherwise is hard to see through all the childcare crap and the lifestyle stuff and you end up getting a puppy and starting a cupcake business and getting over-involved in the PTA in a mad passive-aggressive way, because that’s what’s in front of you and you can’t see anything else.
Maybe I ought to be your dog walker xxx
By the way, does this mean that your son has now started school? Or is he still at nursery?
he’s at nursery! but he goes every day 9-3 so it’s basically like school
You’re a writer. Write. I’d definitely read it.
Heather A says
Please don’t give up writing, if I had your talent I would definitely write a book. How about interior design? You seem to like it and have lots of good ideas.
Esther, I think I speak for us all when I say please don’t stop writing!
I can understand not wanting to write more pieces about the horrors of motherhood – especially because newspapers have a habit of throwing their writers under a bus with troll-bait headlines. But you have such a nice, fresh way with words – it’s a really rare gift
Thanks Ellie. Definitely no more car-crash big-pic pieces. You’re so right about the throwing-under-the-bus thing. You are properly tossed to the lions, it’s awful.
Youngest started nursery today. Puppy arrives Saturday, not even joking 😬
Ha ha! it’ll be so cute though
Realistically, if you were to get a puppy, you would have 14+ years of picking up dogshit.
The best preparation for having a dog is to go out for a really long walk four times a day, regardless of whether you are ill / it is raining / you have errands to run / your children don’t feel like it. On each of those long walks, make sure you handle some really foul, noxious substance, protected only by the barrier of an incredibly thin plastic bag. Carry that bag for a while before you find a bin.
The experience will be enhanced if you can wear a gorilla costume so that all the north London parents shrink in horror at the sight of you and shriek “Keep away from the ravenous beast, children!”. When they do this say “Oh he’s just playing / friendly / not rabid!” in an irritatingly cheerful manner.
Sorry, I do like dogs. I just think that they are a big responsibility.
that has only confirmed all my suspicions about owning a dog
Dogs are awesome. And I feel defensive about my joy of being part of the PTA. Shit. Maybe my life really IS quite empty and I’m unaware????
not at all. you’re just one of those lucky happy people
I feel really worried that my PTA comment offended you. Didn’t mean it like that at all (I’m in the PTA myself)- was thinking of the people who get involved in the PTA when it’s clear that, deep down, they actually wish they were back at McKinsey or whatever, and turn up to harvest festival with a spreadsheet and powerpoint, then get passively-aggressively huffy when other people aren’t so serious about it.
Weirdly it’s given me another log in. I’m ece9600.
God no, not at all. I actually agree with your first point, it was something to do when my eldest started nursery that wasn’t directly child-centric (meetings in pub etc…) and I kinda regret it every now and again. I don’t do passive aggressive powerpoints though 😉
Oh fuck sorry Elizabeth, I thought you were talking to me *self-obsessed*
don’t be ridiculous! you have to get very personal to offend me
Write another book, last two were great. Laughy out loud. Do it, do it! (and of course please keep this blog).
Well, I have a job which takes up 1000 hours a year – this is not a typo, I always LOATHED working – and have no children. I am constantly asked whether I’m bored/lonely/taking courses, to which the answer is no to all. I do do everything myself, from housework when absolutely necessary through paint-stripping, gardening, sewing, walking the dog (if you love dogs, get a dog – they are fab. Just promise me you’ll actually train it, not cage it and have it on an extendy leash) and we have no tv, so there’s no furtive couch-potatoing during the day. Lots of cooking. Reading. Wandering about the garden, peering at stuff. Arranging flowers. A bit of goggling at the internet; you, Belgian Waffle and Go Fug Yourself; stripping the paint off the window, wondering for the thousandth time what to do with my kitchen … this is my bargain with my husband; I don’t work but I make myself useful.
Gee, I sound so fun. But my point is there is plenty to do when you get used to doing stuff – you find there’s always more. Like cooking – make falafels, wonder whether pitta breads are that hard, and what about hot sauce? (Claudia Roden, btw). Anyway, if you have a Defender you’ll be busy taking that to the garage monthly to replace all working parts with non-Land Rover parts. Do NOT give up and flog it half way through; you’ll only have to do the same with the next one! I love mine and she’s nearly done …. after a decade.
But yes, abandon any job that makes you unhappy. Life too fucking short if you don’t absolutely have to. Xxx
Sophie I love this xx
Well it is a relief to hear you will still write the blog. I enjoy your writing and love the random subjects of these posts. After my daughter was born I read the whole back history of recipe rifle and it is now recommended reading for all my friends with small children.
However, I confess I am pleased to hear that you will no longer be writing the other sort of pieces as I felt they sold you short as a person even though ironically you were probably paid quite handsomely for the work and there is nothing wrong with that. But those articles always left me feeling slightly grubby and overwhelmed with the desire to shout “oh no she’s not really like that you know, not at all, she’s witty and funny and clever and interesting” , as if somehow from years of reading your post I know the real you which of course is not true.
Personally I find it very hard to be unoccupied or without purpose though in fact what I actually find hard is the guilt of doing nothing productive. I am actually quite good at doing nothing if I could just let go and enjoy it.
I wish you would write for The Pool – I would love to read your stuff on there.
You’re a great writer, you’ll find something that suits you better. Good luck xx
Only one thing for it: open a wine bar, Kentish Town . entrance only for other mothers who are exhausted/exasperated/ pretending to go to spin class/ but basically after a shoulder to cry on and a bottle to dive into
I saw you at Talacre not long ago and you looked so happy staring into space. Couldn’t disturb that!
I’ve always thought you did what i did and sort of had kids before you should have because you couldn’t think of any of legitimate way to pass the time? Trouble is, post babies, the legitimate time passing thing comes back… Good luck.
Oh yes I remember that one time when I was at Talacre and staring into space, not manhandling kids over soft play installations or queueing for a boiling hot really nasty coffee xxx
Please write another book. I would buy it. I bought your last two.
I’m in a similar position except I am keeping my (now potty trained) 3yo st home 2xdays a week because I can’t let it go.
I had children before I had anything resembling a career because I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Then the whole time I was at home I tortured myself that I would never get a job because I was too old/saddled with children/only had waitress on my CV. Now I have a lovely job. Pretty much my dream job but can’t enjoy it because I feel guilty and indulgent that I didn’t stay at home.
I guess we are our own worst enemies. I love all the suggestions for you, read, write, run, volunteer (not for the PTA), keep researching the best children’s outerwear.
Please keep up the blog. It’s the highlight of my angst ridden day.
Alison Bean says
The post above about getting used to having a dog reminds me of an episode of an old sitcom called 2.4 kids. In response to persistent pleas for a dog, the mum decided they all had to pretend to have one for a week – much like the suggestion above. Of course it ended up with her being the only one taking it for a walk. Her face when it dawned on her what had happened was a joy. No advice about what to do but you do write extraordinarily well. So please keep blogging. Good luck with whatever you decide to do next.
I LOVED 2.4 children
I loved that programme, and always identified with pissed off, slightly square Bill even as a child. (I also pretended to have a dog for 5 YEARS before I finally got one. That’s commitment.)
I love your writing, Esther, and I do hope you continue with this blog, but I get it. This blog and the comments are very timely for me. I’ve been a preschool teacher and childcare provider my entire life. A couple months ago I realized, in the middle of trying to put 6 infants down for a nap, that I cannot do it anymore. So on Monday I’m starting over, at 38 years old, as a graphic designer–something I’ve only ever done as a sort of hobby–in a small town printing and sign shop. Eek! I’m frightened, but…
You never really know what you can do until you are forced, by an early-mid-life career crisis, to try. Good luck on whatever you decide on!
Siobhan Godwood says
I worked in parenting journalism – actual baby mags – for years, and when my kids were a bit older I thought ‘well, I can’t keep writing about potty training and milestones for ever – I think I’ll go and do a law degree.’ Which was awesome, and interesting, and I made some fab new friends etc etc. But when I went to do work experience in a law firm I HATED every second of it. People in smart suits being extremely serious and quiet, and I had this strong feeling that I’d make a tiny mistake and someone would lose their house/child/right to live in the UK, and I’d never be able to live with myself. So I now find myself back as a sub-editor in a small publishing company, doing freelance magazine writing on the side, and feeling quite pleased with myself and my nice work balance. My husband says I’ve been conditioned to only be able to work in offices where you can wear trainers and listen to 6 Music and I think he’s probably right. So although I totally see where you’re coming from with being pigeon holed, please don’t feel you have to completely give up. All it takes is one commissioning editor to allow you to convince her that you can do something different and you’ll be flying again.
PLEASE expand the blog! And do an On The Spike Instagram, you would be WAY better than several other pro-blogger names I can’t mention who are massive on there, okay, Erica Davies, et al… ;))
I love your writing so much Esther and this piece is so beautiful. Especially the Dory metaphor I am not joking – it made me cry. I felt the exact same feelings only 2 months ago. I used to write too. Under a different nom du gerr as the say….I too was fed up with it and I don’t think I was ANY good as I thought I was. But you are far way better! If you don’t want to do it anymore then don’t – write about anything else or just carry on with this blog which we all love so much.
What I did was ask myself this: what did the young me dream of? It was films…I always wanted to work in films. So I finally worked up the courage to leave my past career behind and now I am studying to become a film producer. Yup. This is my childhood dream.
Good luck to you and I and lots of love to you xxx
Thanks Isabella xxx
Enjoy your time at home, stay sane for your kids and husband. Don’t feel guilty because life is treating you well. Stay funny and keep blogging please. I look forward to my daily dose of YOU!
My youngest started school on Tuesday, meaning that for the first time in 6.5 years I have had the rest of the week to myself. And it has been GLORIOUS! I mean, I have got shit DONE. In half the time it normally takes. And then this morning I met a lovely friend for breakfast and gassed away for two hours. I have pottered and bumbled and loved every second. And I love being a mum – I’m just glorying in the space and silence. At some point I will pick up more work (I’m a freelance book editor) but I strongly feel that I’ve earned a few weeks (months) off, and am fortunate enough not to need to dash out to work straightaway. Enjoy the breathing space. Try not to spend too much money. And then onwards and upwards.
I decided to give up my rather feeble writing career and retrain as a doctor a few years ago. Taught myself physics and chem while toddlers napped, sat gamsat a couple of times, but didn’t get a high enough score and gradually went off the idea the more I looked into it. I did love learning basic science though – it’s so exciting after always studying arts and working in the media. And having the goal kept me sane in the early years, i even told my midwives i was doing it and they just nodded kindly. Still writing though…. Look forward to hearing what you come up with. You could do an MA in Creative Writing and write a novel? You have the public profile which is so important now. Good luck. Xx
I secretly wish I was a doctor
Esther I could shake you. Write a book please. A novel please. Your audience is waiting.
I’m no good at writing fiction. Seriously, I’ve tried x
Oh and don’t get a dog. I got a dog. The kids love it but I’m sick of picking up shit. Worst decision I ever made and my dog knows and gives me that ‘I know I’m the unwanted child’ look all the time. 😖
yes this would happen to me
Caith Olnick says
I’ve been meaning to send you more info on starting a blog when you move and here is a random post from the one (the only one!) I read. She writes through WordPress.com and, having looked briefly at their site, you could set yourself up for free initially and see how it suits you before committing to anything more.
As I’ve already mentioned, I think a blog might be a good way to keep everyone informed all at the same time, rather than writing 10 separate emails just to keep in touch. You could keep a little coterie of followers (us!) who can then communicate with you and together as a group & I think this particular site looks clean and neat, especially with photos and hyperlinks added.You can keep it all ‘live’ for posterity.
I hope you’ll consider it? The other option may be instagram: are you already on it? Downside being that there isn’t much room for comment, it’s all so visual. Might add a touch of *mystère* though!
Catch up later and finishing at 4pm today; toi?
P.S. I *love* this woman’s blog!
Thanks Cath… but did you mean to leave this as a comment?