With the rose-tinted memory of maternity leave still fresh in my mind, and a boss whose idea of flexible working is asking his secretary to bend over to pick up a file, I am ever conscious of making a good impression in my new job. Rightly or wrongly I don’t want to be labelled as someone with ‘childcare issues’. You’d think that nowadays that would be no bad badge to bear, but in fact you might just as well be labelled as syphilitic, for the distance you’ll see between you and some of your colleagues.
Some mornings I leave for work a little later than usual. I like to help the nanny get the children up, and participate in the conveyor belt of nappy changing, which is no mean feat now that they are all running around. Given that no child under three wants to stay still for any longer than he has to, the nanny and I have adopted the Tag Team production line method. You station yourselves on opposite sides of the room, each with a child. You strip your respective baby, then spin them round and it’s ‘ready, steady, go!’ across the room as fast as they can, into the arms of a waiting nappy and clean clothes. Whoever finishes first gets to catch and change the remaining sproglet. The naked running is admittedly a high risk strategy, given the bladder control of a 15 month old, but I like to live dangerously.
Last Thursday the pygmies were competing to discover who could provide the most rancid nappy. All three were nose-meltingly awful, requiring double-bagging before I even dared risk taking them out to the wheelie-bin on my way down the drive. It never ceases to amaze me just how toxic baby poo can be, considering they rarely have to contend with dodgy curries or eight pints of Foster’s finest. Delicious though my children are, it is still lovely to leave them behind with the wonderful nanny, and travel in peace and quiet on my own to work. Classic FM instead of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and, well you know the rest. Quiet contemplation of the Cotswold countryside, instead of “Yes darling it’s another sheep. No she probably doesn’t have a willy. Well, because she’s a girl sheep. No, she doesn’t have boobs, exactly…”.
I arrived into work just ever so slightly late and tried to sneak up the stairs to my office before it became very obvious that it had gone 9am, I still had my coat on and was carrying my lunchbox. Alas, before I’d barely touched the bottom tread my boss poked his head round the door and summoned me into his inner sanctum. “I thought it would be good to see how you’re settling back after your career break”. Yup. Excellent. Just what I feel like doing.
Still, at least a cup of tea was proffered, and no mention made of my tardiness. In fact, a glowing report all round – I scarcely recognised myself. I shrugged off my coat, kicked my lunchbox under my chair and dumped my bag at my feet as I settled into this sugar-coated feedback. Maybe I really do know what I’m doing, after all? Maybe I’m just naturally talented? Suddenly I caught a whiff of something throat-catching, before the lure of my bourbon (that’s the biscuit, not the hard liquor – this is the public sector and it IS only 9am) diverted my attention and I turned back to my cup and saucer. But then I smelt it again; an unmistakable waft of infant waste mixed with the sickly sweet scent of a Tesco Value nappy bag. I glanced down at my feet and saw, nestling in my open handbag, a tight knot of plastic containing three potential weapons of mass credibility destruction.
My boss sniffed the air, cautiously. “Can you smell something?” he asked. “Er, no, I don’t think so”, I lied, simultaneously gagging against the stench of night-time urine gradually warming up against the radiator behind me. He pressed a buzzer on his desk; “Eileen, can you get hold of the cleaners again – they’ve left a God-awful smell in here and it’s getting worse”. He turned to me with an un-natural smile, “So, you’ve got children”, my boss began. (Clearly he has just returned from a course in Employee Relations; step one, ‘get to know your staff’). “How old are they?”
Oh God, I can’t admit I have nappy-aged children. He might be one or two pork-pies short of a corporate buffet, but he’s not completely stupid, he just has to look down and see that I’ve brought dirty nappies into work with me, and I’ll be on the fast train to redeployment before you can spell diarrheaoa. Diarhea. Diarrhear. Oh crap.
“They’re er 16, er 15 and er 14”. Oh fuck. Now I’m opening myself up to a wealth of questions about GCSE options and explaining why I’ve booked all my holiday in term time. I need to get out. Now.
“Boss, I er have a pretty crucial meeting I need to go to, actually. Yeah it’s the er, you know, the new T8 process we’re implementing – well to be frank it needs a bit of a steer”. Blimey, I do sound pretty impressive. No wonder he thinks I’m settling in well.
“Ah, well in that case, you shoot off. We’ll continue this little chat later. Sounds like you’ve got everything under control. Anyway I need to sort out this confounded stench…”
I slunk out of the office with my offending package, heading straight for the canteen bins, where the smell of over-cooked cabbage would surely mask my off-spring’s foul produce. Note to self – do not take poo into work.