Today, baby and I faced our biggest professional challenge yet: appearing as panellists at the Teach First annual offsite conference for Teach First employees and partners. This meant two 60 minute Q&A sessions in Nottingham (I live in London) exploring the ideas behind The #maternityteacher Project and achievements to date. This required a lot of energy, and our smartest pair of shoes, but I found that repeating motivational mantras to myself gave me the encouragement to get up and go.
“I am the change I want to see in the world,” I said to myself when I got into the shower at 6am. Baby farted in his sleep and sighed in a satisfied way.
“Be 10% braver,” I said to myself whilst getting baby up and changed. Baby pooped all over the changing mat three times. Clearly very excited, maybe a bit nervous about his guest appearance.
“Coffee is always a good idea,” I said to myself as I left the house with a Baby Bjorn bouncer frame over my shoulder like Huckleberry Finn’s mum, to join the 7am commuters. Baby stuck his tongue out to suck up the tube breeze and dribbled.
“I am a super woman,” I said when my train was cancelled and I approached station staff to request to be re-routed. Baby chewed his whole fist and sicked a little down his chin.
“Thank fuck I don’t have to do this every morning anymore,” I said as I put the bouncer frame in the luggage rack and released baby from the sling. Baby pooped loudly and smiled. Achievements come in many varied forms.
When we finally got to Nottingham, the panel itself was very exciting, if a bit overwhelming. In true #maternityteacher style, we arrived a million hours early, reconnaissanced the room, set up the bouncer, had a feed and a cup of tea and finished the last chapter of ‘Jungly Tales’ by gumming it aggressively before the first audience members arrived and baby became an instant sensation.
Now, here’s a tip if you’re considering doing a similar event with your baby: your baby is the most beautiful little person in the whole world; he is making an appearance at an event where babies do not usually appear; everybody loves an adorable, smiling baby, and everybody wants to touch said baby. I’m normally very happy and proud to hand my baby over to other people for cuddles – often I take pictures of him with various professional celebrities – but I was surprised at how worried I was that he would be overwhelmed by all of this attention, and yet at the same time I would have been offended if he had been ignored! This was probably a projection on my behalf, but something to think about if other people touching your baby is not your favourite thing.
Once I’d calmed down my inner control-mother, I delivered my introduction, realising that I was the only one who had brought notes. Part of me felt like a school girl rather than a serious, professional person; the other half of me got flustered and distracted when the baby screamed about his wind so was very grateful to have a set of bullet points to follow whilst most of my brain was actually worrying about him. Use whatever personalised strategies allow you to multi-task in this way, even if they do make you feel like you’re laying out your shiny new pencil case on your desk on the first day of school.
After all three panellists had spoken on different aspects of women in leadership, there was an explosion of responses that I am going to have to take a whole day in my pyjamas to process.
Amongst the ideas that stood out was the importance of choice. Whenever anyone starts talking about parenting, discussions become very personal, very charged and very defensive. Am I doing enough? Am I doing it right? Have I met expectations? Am I a good mother? Am I a strong woman? One thing I maybe didn’t emphasise enough today was that the inception of The MTPT Project was motivated by fear: I am bad at doing nothing; boredom scares me; I have to build structured relaxation time into my day so that I don’t feel guilty; I was deathly afraid of getting post natal depression because of such a dramatic shift in my pace of life. I couldn’t find any examples of parental leave that didn’t include Baby Jazz or baking, and these things don’t float my boat half as much as improving my understanding of 19th century literature or facilitating a session on EAL for trainee teachers.
It was really interesting to see and hear how the idea of The MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher Project was received by a whole range of parents – from those who had told their Mums that they were going to complete PhDs whilst on maternity leave, but had ended up happily lying on a beach for nine months, to those who thought that the responsibility for bridging the gap of parental leave lay in changes to organisational structures, not programmes of ‘catch up’ like this one.
As one member of the MTPT community reminded me, “People have different ways of coping with the life changing event of having a baby” and a wise gynecologist friend commented that attending NCT meetings and Baby Yoga is as much about providing lost structure to parents’ days as completing online learning or attending networking events. However, these range of views around the topic of parental leave raised the question of revolution vs. evolution.
Do we need a social revolution that completely changes the way that we perceive parental leave, women and men’s roles, and childcare? That makes certain gender-focused events obligatory for men or maternity leave coaching a legal requirement for all organisations? Or will the only effective change be a result of a trickle down effect whereby this MaternityTeacher supports and inspires three other MaternityTeachers and PaternityTeachers who go on to inspire nine more… until eventually there is no need for a revolution because organically, there will be a more accepting culture of choice for parents to work, parent, train, develop as they so choose?
My personal, and very self-centered response to the evolution vs. revolution question is one of time: I have three months left of my maternity leave and if I wait for a revolution, I’ll end up sitting in a classroom three days a week at 52, sipping my bitter coffee, reflecting on the career opportunities I sacrificed in order to raise three boys who were now contributing to the hateful patriarchy. As it is, I am bored now. I am acting now. I hope to inspire and support now. I’ll leave all this talk of revolution to my French husband.
Another interesting suggestion was that schools are awarded with a sort of ‘Gender Equality’ award, a bit like an Arts Smart or an Eco Schools Award that recognises the efforts made to ensure gender equality amongst staff and to teach these values to students in schools. I’d have to get my head around this one and the dangers of positive discrimination and tokenism vs. meritocracy, but I thought it was a creative idea to suggest, which could have some potential.
A final resounding comment came from the only man in the first session: it had been intimidating and uncomfortable to attend the event as the only man in the room but it had been important, relevant to him and very interesting. At lunch time, he and others who had been at the first session actively sought out other men and said, ‘You should go to this Q&A panel after lunch. This crazy woman has brought her baby.’ After lunch, there were at least ten – maybe more – men in the room. They were all interested, they were all engaged. One of them sadly reflected that he had missed the opportunity for a cuddle, now that the baby was asleep in the sling.
It was so exciting to hear from these supporters of the PaternityTeacher community and have my suspicions confirmed: we are all on the same page here. Time away from the office/ classroom to spend with your child: good. Flexible CPD to develop your skills in areas of interest or reflect on career pathways: good. Shared childcare responsibilities that means everyone gets to enjoy magical smiles and dribble: good. Greater equality in educational leadership: good. None of this is exclusive to one or other gender. So encouraged am I by this that I’m changing the name of this Thing to The MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher Project. It’s longer, but The ParentalTeacher Project sounds weird. I’m also going to keep asking for someone to put me in contact with a male teacher who has completed CPD whilst on parental leave to be my @paternityteacher partner in crime. Are you out there? Do you have Twitter?
Amongst all of this excitement and intense chat, baby was mostly an absolute legend and at all other times he was a baby and did all the normal things that babies do. He got grizzly and needed to be bounced in the sling to fall asleep. He made noises (delightful) as if he were in the Houses of Parliament during the other panellists’ anecdotes. When he got wind and screamed, he had to be taken outside. I think it was too cold and we are not used to cold as it has basically been sweltering since he was born and he has spent most of his life in just a nappy, and he got clingy and didn’t want to stay in the bouncer and chew on ‘Jungly Tales’ by himself. I’ve since realised that he is in the middle of an angry rain cloud on my Wonder Weeks app, but the only person who seemed remotely bothered by all of this was me.
I had one brief moment of wondering whether it was all a bit too much and I was a terrible, selfish mother but then the baby massage elicited an enormous fart and suddenly baby was fascinated by his audience again (and then he fell asleep).
We ended the day a little overwhelmed by all the potential and opportunity and relevance of the project and basically got home and collapsed and made vowel sounds to each other and smiled and dribbled some more. Nottingham is quite a long way for a small baby. Tomorrow we will do a lot of lying on the carpet and we might try to look for Spot the Dog again. We keep losing him.