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.

20150122_144536_resized

Twiddling Thumbs

It’s been exactly one week since I remembered what silence sounds like. A week to the day the 2 year old officially started pre-school and the 4 year old was upgraded from pre-school to the fully fledged version. Albeit the silence is just for a precious 3 hours 3 times a week, I now appreciate that it is more than golden – it is priceless! The tapping of the keyboard actually resonates round the room – I never knew that. Thoughts can run without interruption and toilet trips can finally be taken alone.
But at the same time, their voices echo continually in my subconscious and in the stillness of their rooms resound the patter of their little feet. I think of the 4 year old, brave and bubbly (and often defiant). The 2 year old, full of love and laughter (and more often than not, selfish and possessive). And how incomprehensibly and comprehensively I miss them…
Then too soon, my brief respite is over and they are home, shrieking, arguing, wrestling, playing. Silence has taken cover away from the line of fire in a war zone. But I don’t mind too much because I know it will be back soon and there will come a day when it comes back and never leaves, when the children are grown up and gone. And I don’t want that day to ever come.
But for now it begs the question: aside from the groundhog day style drudgery of washing up, laundry, tidying, cooking and gym sessions to ward off mid-life spare tyre-dom, how best to fill that time?

I had a dream… I was tattooed to the hilt

This article was first published on 6 April 2011 on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/04/06/my-new-tattoos/

More specifically, I was sporting the ‘sleeve’ tattoo equivalent on both my legs (technically could they be referred to as ‘trouser leg’ tattoos?).

There is no doubt that this dream is entirely induced by the continual and compulsive viewing of ‘Prison Break’ that I have recently undertaken. For those unfamiliar, it is a drama series featuring the dreamy Wentworth Miller (Mensa-level intelligence coupled with Adonis looks – what’s not to like?) and charts his attempts at, as the title suggests, breaking out of prison. His secret weapon is the prison building blueprint he has tattooed across his entire upper body, like a long sleeved T-shirt.

I have no idea what guise the tattoos covering my legs came in as the shock of indelibly branding myself in such an un-middle class way woke me up instantly in a cold sweat.

I have nothing against tattoos per se; nor against the people sporting them. In the manner of sartorial freedom of choice it is no skin off my nose whether my neighbour has a daily dress code of leopard print or twinset and pearls. My aversion to tattoos is on a more personal level – I have never and would never consider one for myself. The permanence is too unsettling. How can one guarantee that the Chinese/ Sanskrit/ Arabic characters interspersed with some tribal art, that was deemed so universally cool in our university backpacking days, might not date in the manner of ’80s shoulder pads?

Some women are addicted to body art the way most of their peers can’t resist the latest ‘it’ bag. For most though, one tattoo usually suffices to sate the rebellious streak. It will serve as a reminder of that point in their life like a scar, whether a moment of drunken impulse or a sentimental dedication to some long lost love, whose name is now probably anathema.

At the height of the tattooing popularity sweeping through my contemporaries, most victims fell into one of two camps: the emblem (rose, dolphin, lizard, dragon, flower etc etc) on the lower back, versus the Chinese characters, most memorably ‘girl power’ (the Spice Girls have a lot to answer for) on the upper arm. Even Samantha Cameron it appears wasn’t immune and bears her dolphin as a relic of her youth, albeit tactfully discrete below her ankle.

As for me, a henna version was more than adequate to quench my tats thirst. Even then I couldn’t quite decide whether it looked boho chic or simply chav-tastic and was more than happy for it to fade to oblivion. Perhaps I am more prone to ambivalence than most and indeed there could be a whole host of grannies out there still enamoured by their body art, no matter how distorted by gravity’s pull on sagging skin. I wholeheartedly salute them.

As for everyone else, unless you have a supremely strong reason for it (for instance, as a means for breaking out of prison), the temporary tattoo might prove a filling taster.

Totally taboo – my CVS and me

This post was written over a year ago but i haven’t been brave enough to air it for fear of judgement or recrimination. For all those other mothers to be who are having or have had a CVS and all the associated mental baggage, you’re not alone…

————————————————————————————————–

There are some phone calls one hopes never to be on the receiving end of. The one from the hospital labour ward, calling a mere two days after blood tests were taken, with the opening gambit, ‘Is this a good time to talk’ would be one of these. The results were meant to come after a minimum of two weeks and the parting words at the time were, ‘No news is good news’.

So I ask, ‘Then surely this must be very bad news?’

Time stands still, stranded on the pavement equidistant from home and the music makers playgroup we were en route to. And instead of a morning of making music, I find myself dragging an uncertain Babybel back to the hospital where she first graced the earth. Mr A is there to hold my hand and support my crumbling world – but there are some things even he cannot save.

I would not be able to cope with a down’s syndrome child. There – I have voiced the unspeakable. I am selfish and mentally weak. The precipice of sanity has been teetered too close to already. Babybel senses the seriousness of the situation – her solemn and beautiful face looking at me intently. How lucky I am to have such a perfect child. How could I burden her with a lifetime of a dependent sibling? Because after Mr A and I are gone, it is inevitably she who will be the sole provider.

The consultant is so kindly that I sense this is the beginning of the torrent of sympathy reserved for those bereft. And that feeling of grief is creeping up surreptitiously around us like garden weeds. Tomorrow we will have a CVS. Followed by the longest two weeks of our lives waiting for the results.

If we lose this baby, I know with a heavy certainty that I will not have another. Because I will not want another. Nor shall I deserve another.

(Thirty) Seven Year Itch

My parents have been married for 37 years. It has recently become apparent to my father that his itch has now reached such insurmountable levels that it can no longer go unscratched. Who better to provide said scratching than someone only a handful of years my senior with no child bearing scars, stretch-marks or indeed any familial duties that make so many of us only a shadow of our former fun selves.
My mother is distraught; my father dismissive of the depth of his betrayal; my siblings and I are wedged firmly in the unenviable position of choosing a side.
Apparently we are to view our situation as fortunate – we could have faced the prospect of single parent syndrome while we were still dependents. Instead, we all now have our very own set of dependents. The family unit is knitted together to tightly yet so precariously – like a precious winter woollie: one snag could potentially unravel its entire existence.
But every hurdle is a life-lesson. As I one-knit, one-purl through my own relationship, I am ever more vigilant about its tenacity.

Tiger tiger burning bright… here to give your child a fright

This article was first published on 20 January 2011 on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/01/20/tiger-tiger-shining-bright/

Oh how this media circus surrounding Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, or more specifically, her child rearing philosophy, must be helping her Amazon stats!
Being inadvertently the offspring of a ‘Tiger Mother’ (of sorts – she was coincidentally born in the Year of the Tiger but that’s by the by), has instigated innocent inquiries by the truckload at the nursery gates regarding my stance on the issue. With narrow-eyed  suspicion, the underlying question is, ‘Am I a closet control freak with borderline child abuse tendencies? And if so, may I please retract last week’s invite for a playdate’.
My reply would make a politician proud; discretely adopting a different angle to cater to the appropriate audience. Say, in response to mum who still co-sleeps with her as yet un-toilet trained three year old, I laugh off Ms Chua’s philosophy as just an exaggeration of any conceivable reality. But in the spotlight of mum who has slept with a copy of her Gina Ford bible under her pillow since her pregnancy tested positive and is not altogether against the theory of corporal punishment, I am willing to concede Ms Chua has me wondering how best to utilise her technique with my own children.
In the aftermath of the consumerism that epitomises Christmas, my two year old was dutifully making a mountain of Thank You cards. A few cards in and probably already bored at the tedium of drawing a big smiley face under the stick-on googly eyes, she rebelliously scrawled and defaced the next card. Not quite as severe as Ms Chua’s throwing it back in her face and declaring it ‘rubbish’ approach, I did deem it substandard and suitable only for some distant relation, too distant to judge her (me) on my, ahem, her, artistic abilities.
As we resumed the card-making production line, I wondered whether any unintentional criticism is an assault on my daughter’s self-esteem and rather, should I err on the side of caution and deem her every effort worthy of a Turner Prize. Because that is invariably the way of the modern western world: confidence is boosted to the point of delusion. How else does Simon Cowell ensure a steady stream of willing fools convinced of their X factor status?
The dirty truth is that I do want the best for my babies. Who can argue with that? Growing up, my Tigress of a mother ranted relentlessly about the importance of doing myself justice in life. I strived to be the best (refused to partake if I wasn’t haha) and achieved straight As (pre the A* era) throughout my school years .  While I may not have engaged in the fun of my friends smoking, snogging and downing Diamond White behind the bike sheds, I don’t feel remotely deprived.
I don’t condone ruling with a rod of iron and whipping children into high achieving automatons but, being a mother myself now (Tigress status to be confirmed), I do believe in encouraging our future generations to be the best within their ability. There is a risk that in this age of plenty we lose sight of instilling an appreciation for opportunities taken for granted, encouraging a squandering mentality.
Ms Chua may well engender the Marmite love it or hate it response in the manner of a Gina Ford technique for our older offspring but as Gina fans know, there is method in her madness!

New Year’s Revelation

After the best part of a bottle of wine, the discussion turned to reminiscing on momentous occasions of 2010.
Mr A is silent for a while, in what I presuppose to be awed reverence and remembrance at the thought of Golden Boy’s birth.  Pause complete, he pipes up with, ‘All I can remember is the smell when they cut you open; like offal at the butchers… only more pungent as it was warm’. Pop! The rose tinted memory bubble surrounding GB’s birth is now tainted for eternity by a smell that no amount of Oust will out.
There comes a point in a woman’s life AD (after delivery) when she feels she has plunged the depths of dignity-defying degradation. Legs akimbo, screaming like a banshee, while naked from the waist down and carrying more excess body weight than a heavy duty sumo wrestler, it’s hard to cling onto the smallest shard of dignity.  But now I see that Dante was onto something: Hell hath more levels than a woman simply slit open.