Who hasn’t secretly been excited about maternity leave – not because of the lovely baby you’re having – but because it means you finally get to play at being a Proper Housewife.
Pre-pregnancy, girl about town, your domestic powers extend to wrenching the wet clothes out of the washing machine, transferring them to the tumble dryer and ramming the door shut with your backside. You iron your clothes, yes, but only if they’ve been on the floor for more than one night.
Of course you cook, but meals mostly designed to impress your friends (while you still have friends.) And you’re no stranger to a take away on the way home from work drinks (the ones you enjoy with live members of the opposite sex, or indeed the same sex – whoever – they’re just not the person who gets you pregnant and now expects you to wash their pants.)
But maternity leave officially heralds your transition to motherhood and that means one thing: batch-cooking and putting things in freezer bags, right? You’re going to hang your wet clothes on an actual line and saunter around the garden with a basket on your hip, tutting about the look of the clouds. You’ll fill your cupboards with mysterious store-cupboard essentials and bake the s**t out of that new range cooker you got at Homebase. You’re not sure why, but these things feel like rites of passage on your journey to complete womanhood.
And then the baby comes, and it starts. Laundry in colossal piles. Mountains of clothes – yours, the baby’s, your partner’s – a giant chemistry experiment of sick and blood, milk and poo. Whose? We really can’t be sure. How are you supposed to deal with this stuff? You can’t put poo in the washing machine – can you?
Sometimes babygros are so grim, you just quietly throw them away and order new ones, trying all the while not to think about the ethical and environmental impact of your clandestine purchases, and feeling pretty much like a total failure as a woman.
Your mum’s no help either – she won’t stop telling you about your great-grandmother, who had 46 children, including eight sets of triplets, and only a mangle to cook with. And you feel like a failure again, for having all these appliances and still not knowing what the symbols mean on the laundry care labels. Triangles? Squares? Who washes their GEOMETRY?
Your plans to reign over your freezer don’t come to much, either. You cook a few batches of whatever, but find yourself with a freezer full of indiscernible brown dishes in plastic bags, which you eventually throw away because you aren’t sure how long you’re supposed to keep things in the freezer without getting salmonella.
And as the maternity leave months pass, the washing never sees daylight, and the closest you come to home cooked meals from the freezer is fish-fingers – a dish you come to regard as a wholly acceptable midweek supper for all the family. Food of the Gods, no less.
And you realise that perhaps you don’t need to do this stuff to feel like a real woman after all, you have a proper career out there somewhere. Although you’re not sure you can do that anymore either. And you rage at how you don’t feel very good at anything, anymore. In fact you get yourself in quite a massive tizz about it for a moment, until the sound of the washing machine finishing its cycle brings you round, and off go again.