I’d love to have glided off into the sunset after quitting my fulltime role at L’Oreal Group as senior copywriter, uttering ‘you’re not worth it’, perhaps wearing a faux leopard fur coat.
But the role was great, as were the people and so that plan was scuppered. Instead, I edged out of the building against a backdrop of lukewarm fizz, amorous hugs and yoghurt-flecked Topshop dungarees (that I believe every second mama is wearing) to go-it-alone.
When I say alone, my boss transformed into a 2ft dictator with a penchant for bleating ‘ccino’ in Costa and throwing her toys (and often one shoe; just the one) out of the pram.
But I can’t say it’s been ochre sunsets and quality mama-daughter times a go-go. That would be the equivalent of saying Instagram delivers excerpts of what it’s like to go to the toilet. Like any parental decision, it was one loaded with eye twitching worry – the largest concern being hard, cold cash. Mainly how to get it without a multi-billion pound beauty empire behind me and how to keep it coming in steadily enough to replace the dissolving Topshop dungarees/ stay housed.
Perhaps the toughest working-with-my-kid moment so far was last week. Mae and I were filming the latest in a vlogging series for the Bugaboo Diesel Bee 3. On paper, I thought, this is great; happy days, perhaps we’ve located this rarer-than-Zayn-Malik-smiling balance.
The fact is, for us to secure work, Mae needs to be on camera – she’s effectively part of the familial package; part of ‘the deal’ – and like with any toddler, it’s a constant game of behaviour roulette. The wrong Ella’s Kitchen pouch (“I wanted YELLOW”) equals code red the-world-as-we-know-it-no-longer-exists meltdowns, while a high vis-clad cyclist with a curmudgeonly brow can irrationally raise a coat hanger smile.
While I can just inhale a coffee/ over-the-counter narcotics to get me through an inner tantrum, Mae’s plays out for all and sundry – if on a shoot, that includes marketing managers, camera guys, interns, gaffers – to clap eyes on; almost certainly to judge. There’s no negotiation and no right of reply, it is what it is.
But those moments have me questioning what I’m doing. What parent hauls their kid into Hackney’s graffiti district to flog a buggy? My parents, Mae’s grandparents have kept shtum on the matter, but I know their concerns for their only granddaughter bubble beneath the ‘we’re proud of you’ veneer.
Ultimately stepping off the 9-5 precipice is not a seamless manoeuvre – every parental story varies, every childcare scenario is different, but for me, asking a toddler to perform-to-camera has hints of the 3pm show at Monkey World to it; perhaps a whisper of The Jackson Five in my darker hours. A tad extreme, but when your child is wide-eyed, tired and in need of Bing and dum dum, over Camille Walala’s latest spectacle, it hits you like a sticklebrick in the chops.
Over on the money side, it’s been a case of Sellotaping stuff together – luckily Mumsnet and Stylist Magazine (never leave a job on a bad note; you never know when you’ll come schlepping back) took me into their nook for bits here and there after I left mascara realms. The remainder of the week is anything we can Hoover up from Instagram.
While I don’t want to dampen spirits (mainly my own), it’s simply a realisation that no choice is perfect – as parents worry is embedded in our DNA. My worries are, perhaps, larger now than when I was galloping to daycare with a bead on from L’Oreal HQ. What happens if her friends see the videos of Mae sitting next to her mother dressed as a moose for Moose Women? How long can I truss her up in a dinosaur outfit to flog the latest Citroen family wagon? Or, like everything related to the little person whose eskimo kisses and sleepy hand squeezes light up your frickin’ soul, am I, or do we, overthink it all? Are we just doing our best with the cards we’ve been dealt?
The one thing I do know is that there is, like all the big stuff in life – house, marriage, family and friendships – no perfect reality; no maternal Mecca. Running your own business means you’re working harder than you worked in the shackles of the 9-5 – dinner time becomes punctuated with ‘urgent emails’ and working from the playground can lead to grazed knees and swings-in-faces.
The silver lining is control. Control at being able to say to clients when and where I work. I met Annie Mounsey from @annielovesblusher recently (she quit her job at Ernst & Young around the same time I ditched the office realms) and she compounded this with: ‘a lot of my friends left their jobs and went back to the same company to freelance; on their terms.’
Control at being able to drop everything if Mae has come a cropper on her new scooter; an assurance that I will never land at daycare in a mangled maternal heap at 6.04 pm again.
Sure, I wish I could paint a more Von Trapp picture of us frolicking in flexible working paradise with money fluttering from the trees. But the hills aren’t particularly alive and if you get to enjoy the occasional sunset – even if it is graffittied onto a wall – then, perhaps that’s actually enough. Perhaps that’s my perfect something in a world that’s telling me to have it all.