My daughter finally starts school (half days) tomorrow after a two week wait. I was told a few times by different people to ‘enjoy this precious time’ and ‘make the most of doing things that you can’t do in term time’. This would have been fine if I was Elle Macpherson with a nanny for each child, and a PA to take all my calls and arrange my diary BUT I am not. I am also quite skint.

The reality of the last two weeks has been very different.

One of my ‘work streams’ involves speaking to high-net worth individuals about finance. I have to do these calls over the internet and I can’t be disturbed or risk an incident not dissimilar to the one where that guy on the BBC news had his wife and 2 kids rolling into the frame, and the wife had to rugby tackle them all back out again.

Working without childcare is not straightforward. As much as I like to think that people are open to working Mums and more progressive, nobody wants to hear a whiney voice pleading for ‘ONE MORE TRACEY BEAKER PLEASE MUM- THE WIFI IS BROKE’ whilst they’re offloading their thoughts about important digital shifts in the financial services industry.

Woman and young child sit next to each other on a sofa. Woman has a laptop and the child has a tablet.

To complicate matters, I’m heavily pregnant. Because of this, I’m continually sweating profusely and unable to move at high speed. The only guarantee I have to ensure I’m not disturbed is the iPad. Before I became a parent I had lofty ideals around screen time. It was something I thought was lame and that parents stuck their kids in front of a screen so they could get on with stuff. I also thought baby food pouches were the devil’s work. I was certain that my child and I would instead construct interesting figurines out of twigs collected from the forest floor each morning. During this, we would be listening to Joni Mitchell.

Instead, ten minutes before I start one of these finance calls, I hunt frantically for the iPad. Once located, I check feverishly if there is any wifi.

‘Can you upload the new Slime app please?’ my daughter asks. I am sweating a lot. I’m also thinking the coffee I had wasn’t a good idea and has caused unknown damage to my unborn baby. Is the laptop that is constantly glued to my lap producing highly toxic radioactive signals that are causing fetal screen addiction? I am wearing mohair but it is that weird time when a jumper is TOO HOT and a T-shirt TOO COLD.

The wifi isn’t working at all.

The call won’t work without the internet and the Slime app won’t be downloaded either. I pant on the bed and try to figure out what to do next. In my old life I would have asked the IT guy to throw me a bone. Instead, I watch the trees blowing outside. Then I go downstairs and fiddle with the lead that runs from the modem to the mains a few times.

Eventually it comes back on. I just about manage to download the Slime app in time, but the battery life on the iPad isn’t optimum. I feel a terrible sense of guilt that my lovely daughter is spending her last couple of days as a non-schooled person on a bunk bed playing with a mindless app which will turn her into a cretin.

And what for? So I can earn a few bucks and keep the wolf from the door. Actually put in that context it’s a good thing yes?

‘It’s good for your kids to see you working,’ I heard someone say once. But were they working without childcare? Now, I remember my own Mum rushing in from work with her hair standing on end, toothpaste from the morning rush stuck to her coat and an exhausted, frazzled expression on her face. Sometimes she seemed to fall asleep whilst standing in the kitchen staring at the toaster. As a Mum of three she never stopped.

And yes it was good for me to see her working. it was.

I chant this theory over and over in my mind as I do the call, the battery on the iPad holds out, there are no disturbances. It seems to go okay and I take notes and send them to my client. The cat jumps on the bed and throws up a long string of grey and brown fur. It’s 9.15am, I’m knackered and working without childcare.

The rest of the day is spent with the dreadful pull of the phone to check emails whilst also trying to be an ‘engaged parent’. But I make up for it through being very enthusiastic but in a slightly manic way. I sing ‘The Greatest Showman,’ tune at high volume. I try and dial my Mum-style up to make up for the earlier screen time (and the fact that there will need to be more later on). Now when I walk to the laptop, my daughter automatically reaches for her iPad.

I want her to remember me for being a lovely, entertaining, fun Mum. I want these last few days together to be special. Instead she sees a pregnant, swearing beast who sweats and pants in mohair, screeching that there’s no wifi signal again.

I sometimes envy my old self who set off for work in the morning and left her daughter at the childminder and didn’t have this strange hybrid Mum/business flop/multi-hypenate/whatever the fuck that is role who ends up working without childcare.

Then I remember it was a concrete box and I used to cry in the toilets each morning. That the people were cruel and toxic and made me feel unworthy most of the time. I am here with my cat sick, my beautiful child and my inconsistent wifi. I’m making the best of it. I’m sort of winning.

How to Be a Boss at Ageing

Anniki Sommerville

Published: 31 March 2021

Do you find yourself fighting the urge to go to bed at 8pm? If you answered yes, then this is the book for you.

Anniki Sommerville