‘Changed Priorities Ahead’ has always been my favourite road sign. I dimly remember from my driving theory test that it has something to do with traffic lights, but since the first time I noticed it – getting a lift from my dad to my then-boyfriend’s house – it has always seemed far more significantly symbolic than that.
It happens to all of us. Maybe you’re chugging along quite happily through life, when suddenly, WHAM. A dramatic, life-changing event. You fall in love, get pregnant, get made redundant, get sick, receive an unexpected job offer, have an accident, someone dies. Your priorities all change radically, unfortunately without the benefit of a road sign warning you that this was coming. At other times you may be struggling with a problem, unsure which direction to take, and then, imperceptibly, you realise your priorities have changed. What you thought of as the problem has vanished, perhaps leaving a whole other set of challenges in its place, or you might be lucky enough to acquire a sense of calm certainty instead.
To an extent I have experienced the second of those scenarios recently. Since Sophia was born, in fact since before she was born, one level of my mind has been preoccupied with the issue of how I could carry on writing once I had a baby to look after. I’ve considered various options – a childcare swap with a friend with a similarly aged baby, a nanny or childminder for a couple of days a week, a pay-as-you-go creche. None of them seemed quite right. For a start, writing novels, certainly when you are still trying to get started and make a name for yourself, is far from being a lucrative profession, so whichever option I chose had to be a frugal one. For another thing I have had a guilty prickle in my conscience at using childcare for Sophia while she is still a baby when I didn’t do so for her sister, and when I don’t need to financially. With Sophia’s first birthday – the deadline I had given myself for returning to work – fast approaching I hadn’t taken any serious steps towards making any of these options happen.
Last week I realised why. I am not by nature a procrastinator. If there’s something needs doing my instinct is usually to do it and get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Except sometimes. Sometimes I find myself not doing the thing I should be doing, the thing I have decided needs to be done, and when I stop and analyse why the answer is invariably the same – I don’t actually think it is the right thing to do after all. I had this a couple of years ago when we planned to re-do our kitchen. I’d done some on-line research, allocated a budget, talked my husband into it, but I kept on failing to actually call companies to get a quote. When I made myself consider why I realised it was because I actually didn’t want to have a generic fitted kitchen. I didn’t want to spend that much money when our existing kitchen was functional, albeit shabby and dated, and the environmentalist in me was horrified at the idea of throwing out our existing units just because we didn’t like the colour of the wood. Once I’d realised the problem it took me only a few weeks and a couple of hundred pounds to get the cupboards sanded and painted pale duck egg blue, the walls a sunshiny yellow, a broken cupboard door replaced with a 1950s style curtain in pretty Cath Kidston fabric and a few choice accessories to transform it from shabby and gloomy to what I at least consider to be a cheerfully retro-chic space.
My eureka moment regarding writing and childcare came last week in Monkey Music class with Sophia. She was giggling away as she tried to make friends with two slightly older toddlers, and I was reflecting on how confident and sociable she is. It suddenly struck me that I have been framing my internal debate in terms of how I was as a first time mum and what Anna’s character and needs were at a similar age to Sophia. Because we didn’t feel Anna was ready for pre-school until she was three, I have been making the same assumption about Sophia, whereas actually I think nothing could be further from the truth. She is going to be desperate to get out into the world as early as she can. So I’ve put her name down to start pre-school when she turns two, and in the meantime I am going to enjoy the next precious year with her. Writing isn’t a time-limited career. My keyboard and my imagination will (hopefully) still be here this time next year, but my littlest girl will only be this little once. My priorities have changed without me really realising it.
I will carry on blogging when I can, in little windows like this when my MIL is happy to take both girls for an hour or two, or when that rarest of situations occurs – dinner is prepared, the house is clean and Sophia is still napping! I can continue to develop the characters and plot for my next novel in odd quiet moments, but I will not stress about resuming my writing career until Sophia is happily ensconced in pre-school a few mornings a week and I have the time and space to write properly, having had another year of space and time with my baby in the meantime.
I am also going to explore ways of changing, or extending, my blog slightly. Regular readers will know of my ongoing consternation with the Government’s austerity agenda, and while I would hate to lose sight of the original purpose of my blog – a record of the joys and anxieties and absurdities of everyday life – I am going to be doing some serious thinking about how I can also use it to make my small contribution to fighting a political agenda I absolutely abhor. Watch this space – changed priorities ahead!