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

Beauty and the Beast

The five year old stumbled upon the unimportant fact that the meaning of her name is ‘beauty’.
Jumping back half a decade, the name was chosen purely on its phonological appeal rather than the vain hope of spawning the future Miss World.
Her mouth turns up perceptibly at the corners as she coyly declares, ‘I’m not THAT beautiful’ – implying a decidedly immodest certainty of her own aesthetic qualities. To be fair, the five year old, in my not entirely objective opinion is quite a cute kid (but show me a mother who doesn’t think that of her own child) – for starters she has dimples that would give Cheryl Cole’s serious contention.
Nonetheless, how does one go about teaching a five year old that beauty is just a ball and chain cultural concept devised by anti-feminists to control womankind? Incidentally I don’t really believe that but you get my point.
I pause before venturing casually, “Being beautiful isn’t important you know – what’s more important is being a kind person who respects other people and works hard.” Yes, I could tell I wasn’t selling it even to myself.
Without missing a beat, five year old retorts, “Yes it is important. Belle is beautiful and she gets to marry the prince and live in a castle. She wears beautiful dresses and is really happy.” I’m coming round to her thinking.
But I mustn’t let her descend into a vacant, vacuous epitome of vanity, so I persevere, “Yes, BUT Belle worked hard and read lots of books AND she was incredibly kind. In fact, if she hadn’t shown kindness to the Beast, who clearly wasn’t beautiful, then she wouldn’t have got the prince/ castle/ dress package deal at the end.” Ha. I silently punch the air in triumph. Then because I’m on a roll I launch into a lecture on the pitfalls of superficiality.
Five year old’s eyes have glazed over by the time I wrap it up and I wonder whether she’s digesting the moral code.
“I still want to be beautiful like the princesses and not ugly like the ugly sisters,” she quips with a conclusive tone. And of course she’s right – in her world it’s black and white – the beautiful princesses are blessed with beauty in and out while the baddies are equally offensive in character as to the eye. In our disenchanted grown up reality, there are multiple (fifty ha ha) shades of grey. Disney has a lot to answer for.

“Please sir, may I have some… work?”

Oliver Twist I’m not – not yet anyway do I need to grovel for a second serving of gruel. However, grovelling it appears is what I must do.

After nudging five years out of the workplace I am officially a luddite and beyond employable. Emails to ex-employers remain unanswered; enquiries to potential employers disappear into the mire. The world of work suddenly seems severely hostile – as if repaying me for spurning his offers to hold onto me those many moons ago when the needy cries of newborn babies drowned out anything in its vicinity.

Because now he’s moved on, probably more than once, to pastures new. Fresh talent, youth and the hunger that drives career ambition that only comes without the burden of young children – all things I no longer possess. What about my decade plus of experience I counter? Pah, he spits back, all negated by the half decade of brain and soul-destroying nappy changing. And off he sends me to the scrap heap, sentenced to a lifetime of worthlessness.

How to be a Pole Dancer

Article first published on 17/09/12 on http://hereisthecity.com/2012/09/16/how-to-be-a-pole-dancer/

Times are moving swiftly. What was once deemed a socially taboo form of entertainment, indulged by the rich/ famous/ bankers, usually under the cover of darkness, is now mainstream family fun.

The family friendly local leisure centre in the leafy suburban town in which I reside has introduced pole dancing lessons to its weekly timetable. So, in the glare of day light, with sun streaming into the studio through the windows (only partially obscured by the number of curious faces sneaking a peek), the local housewives can get a fix to rival any sexual fantasy in Fifty Shades.

Mr A deems it a sad pastime for either the vain or deluded, harbouring delusions of an inner pole dancer. Just cast a thought to the majority of those exercising their vocal chords on X Factor and you’ll see his point. Having said that, the instructor is a friend of mine and focuses solely on the strengthening aspect of it as a form of exercise – hauling one’s entire body weight round a pole while contorting into various positions, legs akimbo. Forget about the simultaneously trying to look sexy part, I imagine an elephant hanging onto a lamp post might have better luck.

All that I have to go on though is a brief review gleaned from a fellow gym goer who actually partakes in the pole antics. Apparently after the initial self-consciousness wears off (I dare you to deny you weren’t at all embarrassed in your first zumba class!), it’s a superb workout and immensely fun. And then, I also discovered that she is my niece’s class teacher at a local primary school. Oh how the mums must wonder why all the dads are desperate to do their share of that school run!

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?

The Fearless Four Year Old

Today my 4 year old will undergo her first experience of public speaking. Well, more accurately she will be presenting a ‘show and tell’ to her fellow classmates, following the prescribed guidelines, kicking off with ‘Good afternoon Reception. Today I have brought in xyz….’ And concluding with ‘Any questions or comments? Thank you for listening’.

The 4 year old has the fearlessness and confidence reserved purely for those in the cbeebies viewing age category and the corresponding uncompromised innocence that goes hand in hand. I, on the other hand, have been tarnished by the years of humiliation, rejection and interviews gone awry to be so gung ho about winging it in front of an eagerly awaiting crowd.

When I try to get her to rehearse a third trial run, she barely interrupts her portrait of me (scarily accurate bar the Mr Happy sized smile, distinctly more like a grimace in reality), to assure me that won’t be necessary and that she is fine. Internally, I am screaming ‘But you haven’t even got any prompt cards! Except they’d be as useful as a chocolate teapot given you can’t even yet read!’.

Yes, I am clearly doing more than enough fretting for the both of us.

The Intrepid Explorer

Golden Boy has started cruising. If this conjures up images of him cruising with his homies in an approximation of a scene from ‘Pimp My Ride’, I assure you it is nothing remotely like that. Rather, he is making his first tentative steps at navigating his way across any room using the furniture to forge a route and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

I am thrilled at his newfound foray into the realm of independence; not least because of the sigh of relief my back is breathing at not having to heave his almost twelve month’s of body weight around in his every waking hour. This is offset slightly by the extra hours spent hunched over retrieving toys and other paraphernalia from nooks and crannies in the house I was previously unaware existed.

Secretly and shamefully, however, I am somewhat wistful for my baby boy. As he takes each more confident step away from me, I feel increasingly redundant. Soon (well, probably not that soon given he is yet to turn one) I will be a discarded crutch with about as much remaining use as firewood.

There are days where, though I never resent my children, I resent the drudgery that now consumes my life as a result of choosing to have children. That is, until my ingratitude slaps me in the face and thoughts of the friend with two failed rounds of IVF under her belt drown me with guilt.

It strikes me that being a mother is a bit Dr Jekyll/ Mr Hyde – we can’t stand the relentless requests and being on call 24/7, tethered by the ball and chain of our children. Yet equally unbearable is the thought of becoming surplus to their requirements. It’s like the proverbial rock and hard place and I am officially stuck.