Am I the only one who hates ‘Snow Days’?

The country has yet again come to a standstill; an annual event entirely foreseeable yet, with as much certainty, no one is ever prepared for.

At the first whiff of a snowflake a state of national emergency is declared. The situation is deemed unsafe for schools or shops to open, trains to operate, any public service to function. It’s like Armageddon hence the aptly monikered Snowmageddon.

As children we are lectured to learn from our mistakes rather than actually learning our mistakes and repeating them ad infinitum. Is this not just dodo-esque head-in-the-sand style stupidity; hoping that ignoring the situation might alter its outcome without any active effort to change it?

There are countries shrouded in snow for multiple months of the year, displaying seamless and uninterrupted everyday life. A centimetre is enough to bring us to our knees. Hypothetically speaking, any enemy looking to attack and conquer, just keep an eye on the snow report to time a guaranteed success. Just saying.

Have I mentioned that I hate the snow? I don’t just mean a fleeting dislike; I mean passionately despise. When it started to snow yesterday I was overcome by irrational fury, storming round the house, picking unreasonable and petty fights with my husband (I’m ashamed to admit that I  probably do this more often than I should).  Then he said, “I know why you hate the snow”. And I burst into tears.

The reason why I hate the snow so much is this: when I was heavily pregnant second time round, with toddler in tow, we relinquished the (now quite dismal) dregs of our singleton lives as untethered singletons and sold our souls to suburbia. The point of no return. Farewell to the young and free spirits of an identity we will no longer own. Like someone in witness protection embarking on a new and terrifyingly alien life.

That move coincided with a truly bleak and stark winter (how poetically apt). We moved into a rental where the heating was broken. We didn’t have a car (how many Londoners do?) and my driving wasn’t (isn’t) sufficiently confident to handle icy roads in a foreign place anyway. We owned a ‘city buggy’ aka the Bugaboo Bee, designed with lightweight agility in mind for urban dwellers, whisking it on and off the underground, whizzing around Selfridges and the like. It’s teeny tiny wheels immediately sunk and stuck in the snow and there’s only so far a pregnant lady can carry a buggy with baby onboard, regardless of how many times a week she frequents the gym.

There hasn’t been another time in my life where I have felt such darkness, isolation and hopelessness. And that is the feeling snow conjures up for me.

Anyway, it all ironed itself out in the end – we bought a buggy with the equivalent wheels and suspension of a  4×4; the heating was fixed (after much histrionics with the lettings agency); we bought a car (which I reluctantly with gritted teeth was forced to use); I signed up for a local gym with a crèche and, most crucially, as with as much certainty as its arrival was predicted, the snow eventually melted and went on its jolly old way. Good riddance.

Today is Day 2 of this year’s Snowmageddon. The children are still home. The shops are closed like a ghost town. The gym is closed, the pool is closed, we have already endured lost swim lessons, cross country fixtures, football course, yoga class (mine) – and that doesn’t even begin to cover the lost hours of school work. Not to mention the fact that I am now doing the job of home schooling via ‘Snow Packs’ as well as dinner lady, when we have actually already paid someone else to do both. Annoyed? Not much.

It seems I am once again trapped in confinement. Only this time I keep trying to remind myself, muttering like a crazy lady on loop: “At least I’m not pregnant and the heating works”. Repeat ad infinitum.

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What age is deemed too old for a woman to return to work after a career break?

Apparently it is forty. So I have been reliably and rather bluntly informed this week by a head hunter.

Actually, the way he phrased it (“can I ask you a delicate question”) made him (note, ‘him’) come across as conspiratorially in my camp. He backed this up with declarations of his honesty and desire to minimise my disappointment in rejection.

My response followed a vague timeline of emotions.

The initial response was a typically British manner of apologetic embarrassment. I am terribly sorry to be wasting your precious time when you could be speaking to a more worthy (younger) candidate; do please forgive my imposition.

This was probably concurrent with the second (or joint first) sense of shock. It had never crossed my mind that I might be deemed technically over the hill when I am hell-bent on still viewing myself as in my thirties.

Which leads to my third reaction of defensiveness. Not wanting to labour the technicality but I am technically speaking still clinging on to the vestiges of my thirties, albeit by a few fingernails.

Calming the rising flush (not menopausal before you ask), I responded in a deliberately controlled tone, that surely a woman in her forties is no less employable than one in the 25-35 age bracket (his specified optimum hire-ability age range); posing the question, is it really better to hire someone likely to embark on a career break or someone returning from a career break? Neither of whom deserve to be discriminated against for heeding the call of nature to reproduce.

Mr Headhunter, not enjoying the direction of conversation, proceeded to chivy along the call to a close. I offered him my contact details (again) in the hope of being considered for any future roles that arise, which he was polite enough not to decline. Whether or not he even jotted them down I don’t know. Hastily wishing me luck in my future ventures (a true indicator that I shall not hear from him any time soon with any job offerings) he hung up.

With the passing of adequate hours to stew over the accusation and implication that a five or so year career hiatus, combined with being on the precipice of my Big Four-Oh, renders me ultimately redundant and unemployable, now gives rise to a sense of injustice. A twelve year career reduced to scrap fodder.

Would a man having taken a similar break be deemed equally unfit? I can’t answer that.

Despite the ongoing talk of encouraging women back into the workplace, the evidence is glaring that there is a long way to go. Mindsets need to evolve and embrace not just the notion of mothers reintegrating into careers they spent hard years building, but also the reality.

It is no new news that women are breaking glass ceilings left, right and centre, as the business pages tirelessly and tantalisingly remind us. And certainly there is nothing new about women engendering the next generation. But if depicted in my six year old’s Venn Diagram, I wonder how big the overlap set would be? And if we added a third hypothetical circle, ‘women who take a career break to raise a family’ to the diagram as a subset of ‘women who have children’, how would that affect the overlap? (Note Diagram is for purely hypothetical illustrative purposes and is not based on scale nor statistics).

Answers on a postcard.

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The Career Carousel

This article was first published on 13 March 2011 on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/03/13/the-career-carousel/.

I am considering a change in career. Given I am currently in extended limbo since the abrupt end of my most recent career over three years ago,  this would seem long overdue.

The 10 month old is now old enough to consider the possibility of farming out some of his pastoral care without inviting negative comments regarding my maternal negligence. I am free to find my life’s calling again; though the beckoning bray of The City’s charms are somewhat less musical now than they once sounded to my singleton status twenty odd year old ears.

Therein lies the difference. The three year fallow period aside, I remain the same individual who managed to wrestle her way through half a dozen interviews and claim my place as a bona fide broker. Minor mental deterioration owing to sleep deprivation and nursery rhyme overdose is a moot point. But I am no longer single – my ball and chain baggage is a family. And I am no longer in my twenties – raucous socialising at the expense of expense accounts no longer floats my boat.

So where does that leave an ex-banking mother of two? The principle requirement is for flexibility around nursery/school drop-offs, pickups,  holidays, sick days, dentist/ doctor visits… I am beginning to understand why Lord Sugar claims he would ‘think twice before employing a woman’. So far, the only options on this particular career carousel are teaching (I shudder at the thought of dealing simultaneously with so many children) or setting up some form of self employment where my employer (me) won’t be tempted to fire me for moonlighting as a mother.

The  last time I reached this junction in the road of considering my career options, I gave up and postponed the difficult decision by plumping for the easy option of having another baby. Unless I harbour a hidden desire to form our own family five a side team, I suggest I shift up a gear and get my backside on this carousel pronto.