In lots of ways Sober March was going quite well. I was walking 3-4 kilometers a day, I was making sure I ate loads of fruit and vegetables (ever one for a challenge, I’d set myself a target of 10 portions a day, just to see if it was possible) and, whilst I was still struggling (especially in the Dark Hours), I could still be rendered breathless by the odd wave of grief-like pain that would leave me sobbing and feeling like I was back to square one, I was on a much more even keel emotionally.
A couple of days after I’d told E’s sister what had happened I had my fourth job interview. This was for a four month contract in an admin job that a good friend of mine had told me about. She’d passed by CV onto the right people (no endlessly patronising application form to fill in) and to my surprise they’d asked me to come in for an interview (she’d clearly not told them what I was *really* like).
I was getting wise to the interview thing now. So I wore boots (no pinchy shoes), and I made sure in advance that there was no sneaky “in-tray” test that might involve making a complete arse of myself. I was still nervous, but I was pleasantly surprised in the interview, not only were the two people that interviewed me really nice, but they also offered me the job during the interview – start date just six days away. Now, I know some might say (well, in fact, Oldest Son did say, several times) that this was because they were desperate, but it was an incredible feeling to be successful at something – especially after three months of feeling like a complete failure. I refrained from a Sally Field ‘you like me, you really like me’ moment in the interview room, but I was walking on air on the way home.
Once I was home the practicalities hit me. I had no childcare. Whilst this wasn’t a massive issue – Oldest Daughter was home, and even if she wasn’t, the younger three were 10, 13 and 14, so it really wasn’t a problem for them to spend an hour or so at home without me after school, it was another reminder of the fact that I was doing everything without the back up or support of my partner. Overjoyed as I was to be offered my first full time job in 19 years, it was a bittersweet moment. This was something I’d always thought I’d share with E. When I’d pictured this happening it had always involved us going out for a meal or sharing a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Instead, I made a coffee (Sober March) and told the kids about the job – three of whom just looked bemused at the idea of me sitting behind a desk ‘administrating’ all day. They did come out with some sage advice though – Youngest Son warned me ‘not to fart or do one one of THOSE burps’, Oldest Son suggested I tone down the swearing and Youngest Daughter pointed out I’d probably need to buy some suitable clothes for an office – one interview dress was not going to cut it. Fortunately Oldest Daughter was a bit more positive and told all her friends how proud she was of me, as I mentally added ‘try to look competent’, ‘don’t burp’, ‘don’t fart’, ‘don’t swear’ and ‘wear clothes’ to my list of things to remember for the following week.
The kids were less pleased with the next result of my getting a job – a list of housework jobs for them to do every day. I know I should have been more relaxed. I know it should have been the least of my worries, but I was very anxious to make sure that things kept going as smoothly as usual once I was working. It was a bizarre thing – I wanted to prove (to myself? to E? I’m not sure) that I could work full time and still do everything that I’d done before. Obviously one of the benefits of my working and studying at home for all those years had been the fact that the house was always clean, the washing and ironing was always done, and the kids had a home cooked meal every night. I know it’s boring. It bored me. It probably bored the shit out of E too (hence the affairs), but, after everything that had happened, it was literally the only thing left that I felt I was any good at. In my head I would be even more of a failure (I’d already failed at my relationship), if anything at home changed just because I’d started work.
I spent most of the weekend batch cooking and menu planning – I was determined that the kids would still get a home cooked meal every night. I explained this to Youngest Son when, with a concerned look at the pan of pasta sauce I was stirring, he asked why I was cooking so much ‘stuff with vegetables’. He agreed that they’d already suffered enough and suggested, hopefully, that they’d all be perfectly happy with frozen pizza or chicken nuggets on school nights. Much to his disappointment, I insisted that home cooked food would continue for the time being.
I also spent that weekend cleaning the house within an inch of its life, doing the laundry, ironing, and generally making sure everything was ‘perfect’ for when I started work (to be honest I’d have scrubbed and ironed the kids too if I could have got away with it). Looking back I can see that, in a world where everything felt like it was out of my hands, the house was the one thing I could control.
My last ever day at home as a stay-at-home-mum was another bitterweet moment. I was conscious that this was the last time I’d have the luxury of not having to get myself ready and, to his delight, made Youngest Son bacon sandwiches for breakfast. I breathed in the silence that softened the house after they’d left for school. I looked at the domestic world – the world that had been mine for the last 19 years – with new eyes. I felt how isolating, yet independent, it had been and wondered what being the most junior person in an office full of people all day would be like. I was used to silence, to my own company, and to being the person who decided, and had responsibility for, everything. When the kids came in from school, I yelled at them to put their school bags away and hang up their coats, realising that this time tomorrow they’d be coming home to a house without me in it for the first time in their lives. Little everyday moments crystallised into memory.
I knew that the kids would be be fine, but that day felt like a kind of landmark. It was the closing of a chapter of my life, one in which my life had changed forever and I’d become a mum of four. I had no choice but to start the next chapter, I just hoped it would be as good as the last one.