I've spent the last five years working as a poet, writing and gigging around the UK, reading poems to people who fancy a listen - and raising a child. A lovely, funny, brilliant little kid. She's five now. It's all been pretty hectic. Sometimes it's super: walking arm in tiny arm across Summer festival fields; crashing in hotels way more luxurious than our own small flat, somersaulting across new beds and clean sheets; sitting backstage listening to poets and bands rehearse, nibbling free apples, bananas and crisps. Sometimes, though, it's exhausting, depressing and terrible.
I found out I was pregnant on the way to my first gig at Glastonbury festival where I spent three days reciting poems double speed so I could run off and relieve the effects of morning sickness at stage exit left. Ten months later, I realised nipples can leak milk through two breast pads, one bra, a tshirt and cardigan on stage; I possibly, maybe (definitely) wee'd into a nappy whilst driving to a Manchester gig. It was either the nappy or waking up a sleeping baby and risking the next two hours consisting of mirror-checks every two seconds as she screamed her way to the great city. So I grabbed the nappy, shoved it down my pants and sat in well absorbed wee for a while. When I phoned my mum about this new low point of motherhood, she said 'of-course, I did that too!'. Progress, good.
Like anyone, it's hard juggling parenting and work. The world of work still, unfortunately, doesn't really like those little people butting in. It's very hard to not feel like you are constantly apologising for the existence of this small person: for feeling sick, for being tired, for having to bring the baby, or now, for needing to arrange meetings and gigs and tours and life around the school runs, especially tricky since the new barbed wire legislation out-ruling those in state schools from any more cheap holidays, family visits or non-illness related absences.
Despite it all however, my daughter seems happy, I'm still working in poetry, have given up my office job and am about to tour a book of poems and diary entries about this very journey; from pregnancy to pre-school.
Part of this tour means I am currently doing lots of interviews about being a working-touring-poetry mum and I'm getting quite a few people politely saying nice things like 'how do you do it!', 'it's amazing you manage to juggle it!' or asking me to write articles about myself and this
But I cant. I can't just write about me. Because if it was just me raising this child there is no way in hell I'd be writing this now. I wouldn't be a poet. I haven't raised her alone. As well as with her dad, who trekked the country across gigs, baby strapped to his chest and does fully half the childcare, we have also relied on the help of a mass of individuals, all unpaid, and many still strangers to us.
I still remember my first sip of steaming hot tea handed to me in a dulled light blue china cup by a face which wrinkled the entire world map as it smiled. She was 80. She could hardly stand. But she did. Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, pouring tea with shaking hands, her skin a stark opposite to the elasticated babies crawling and giggling around the village hall floor as we all sipped, encouraged to take a biscuit or - wink - two if you fancy, love.
Behind her shuffled a group of similarly shakily handed volunteers, ensuring that the queue of eager, sleep deprived, at times depressed, stressed, insecure and still physically exhausted parents had a two hour oasis of company, baby toys, helpers, hot tea and biscuits three times a week. For a grand donation of 50p.
The days I went to that baby group, sometimes nervously, sat between parents I didn't know well, I fantasised over that hot tea. That hot tea served by one of the many ghosts of our economy: unpaid, unvalued by all except those whose lives and well being they are saving each and every day. Just because they're nice. And they fancy doing that rather than watching tv.
Add to them our mothers once a week trips (and days taken off their own paid work to make them), the aunties and uncles and friends who we now call on frantically at 11pm to beg morning school run help or simply the passers by who have offered to deliver snacks from the train buffet cart when I'm sat with a sleeping pram bundle (unable to get to my booked seat); those who have given up seats; who have grabbed the bottom of the pram and helped me up the numerous inaccessible stairwells across the country.
Like the bees and the butterflies of this world, those tea-makers, those grandparents and friends and strangers are the ones raising my child, whose unpaid work or simple acts of help and kindness have undoubtedly contributed millions upon millions of pounds to our economy, allowed us to get paid, diverted the need for more counselling and mental health care by providing 50p sanctuaries in local halls or just prevented pram-pushing parents from not having breakdowns on public transport across the world.
I guess this is a thanks. My career and life balance as a working mum-poet-parent rests heavily upon your unpaid shoulders.
Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish is published by Blackfriars Books in trade paperback original, £13.99
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