Moving on

Blogging has fallen to the back of my mind recently with everything else that’s going on. I mentioned in a few of the posts that I did get round to publishing recently that we’re moving cities soon, but unless you know me in real life and have seen me recently, you won’t know much more detail than that. So I thought I’d share what we’re up to, and at the same time getting some thoughts down ‘on paper’ (so to speak) will help me think through things myself! With everything going on and all that I have to do, it’s hard to take time to step back and think.

For a while we had been thinking that at some point we would move out of Cambridge. As much as we love living here and the place has A LOT going for it, especially for young families, there are 2 major downsides for us: 1) it’s not very near our family, especially Tom’s side; 2) it costs an absolute fortune to buy a house here! We were very grateful to our parents who helped us get on the property ladder when we bought our small flat here a few years ago when house prices weren’t quite as crazy as they are now, but we knew that with me choosing to not work (for money) until at least Andrew is at school, there is no way we could afford to live anywhere bigger within the city. Our flat is actually OK for now, but we couldn’t imagine living here in much more than about 2 years time.

From Cambridge...
From Cambridge…

So Tom had been ‘passively’ looking for a job at a university in the Midlands – not spending too much time on it, but signing up to a few job email alert systems, to see if anything came up. After quite a while, when he saw one come up at the University of Birmingham that looked perfect for his skills and interests (time-tabling – he has that kind of mind!), he thought he might as well go for it, even though we weren’t thinking of moving right now. To his surprise, he was offered the job, and had 2 months notice to work at his current employer, which ties in neatly with starting the new job on the first Monday of the new year.

Now we have lots to sort out before Christmas, including packing and selling our flat. Thankfully we can live with my parents for a bit until we find somewhere to buy in Birmingham, and the commute won’t be too bad for Tom in the short term. This means we can wait until we have the money from our flat sale before going for anything at the other end, which makes things easier in terms of house moving chains and deadlines etc. We were told that the market in Cambridge is very fast at the moment, and sure enough within a couple of days of going on the market and after our first viewing, we had a good offer, followed by a higher one the day after, and more viewings until we said ‘no more!’ We and the people offering are going to make a decision on Monday, but if all goes to plan (I know that’s a big ‘if’ in house buying/selling!) then we should sell it soon and start the process of all the legal stuff.

So far packing hasn’t been too bad – I’ve been doing bits and bobs when Tom has taken the boys out and when they’re napping, and it’s amazing how much I can get done when I have no little ones around, I’m very productive! I’d already done some sorting over the past few months as we didn’t need everything that we had in the flat, so I feel like we’re starting at a good point and only packing stuff that really needs to go with us.

When I first heard that Tom had got the job, I didn’t know how to feel, and for a few days I was mostly upset at the thought of leaving everything that we love about living here: friends, church, groups, parks, distance from town, cycling/walking everywhere etc. But after the initial shock, I realised that of courseย in the long run there will be lots of opportunities just like these in Birmingham. And the main points are that we will be nearer family so (great) grandparents get to see grandkids with less of a trek, and we can more comfortably afford a family house, neither of which we can get here.

... to Birmingham
… to Birmingham

On Friday I had my first experience of saying goodbye to friends that we have really valued since being in Cambridge – in fact without them I’m not sure we would still be breastfeeding, so that means a lot to me. It was the last LLL Cambridge meet that we can make before Christmas, and it was sad to leave: I still very clearly remember walking into our first ever LLL meet in exactly the same room when Andrew was just 4 weeks old – here I was walking out with a nearly 3 year old Andrew and a 1 year old Joel. This is the first of many sad farewells that we will be making over the next few weeks.

It’s also been hard to think about handing over the voluntary roles that I do here in Cambridge. I started Nappyness library and meet-ups less than a year ago, before we knew that we’d move so soon, and if I had have known this, I don’t think I would have set it up. But I’m glad that I’ve been able to help some families in that time, even if I can’t help here in the future. I’ve just had an offer from 2 lovely mums who are happy to take Nappyness on, so I’m very pleased that this will still be available for local families to benefit from. I’ve also been in touch with a few ladies who started a library in Birmingham around the same time that I started Nappyness, but haven’t had chance to do much with it yet, and would be grateful for help when I get there. So that’s an exciting thing to look forward to as well. I’m also leaving behind my Editor position for the local NCT magazine, which has been a wonderful experience for various reasons. As nobody has yet come forward to take over from me, I think I’ll be helping out at a distance for a little while yet, with lots of help from the other existing team members.

For me this blog post is a record of what this time was like for us, and something to look back on when we’re all settled with a new life in Birmingham. We both believe that this move is what God wants us to do, and that He will guide us through it all, even though it may be stressful and upsetting at times. He’s done it in the past in our own individual lives, and as a couple, and now as a family, and we can look back at how well His plan has worked so far, which gives us confidence for the future. Jesus doesn’t promise that following His way is easy, but He does promise to be with us, and that is an amazing truth to hold onto in unsettling times like this. I felt particularly comforted when we sang these words at the women’s midweek Bible study group this week:

Faithful one, so unchanging
Ageless one, you’re my rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on you
I call out to you, again and again
I call out to you, again and again

You are my rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm
Your love is, the anchor
My hope is in You alone

A day out in/with Brum – #CountryKids

Last week we went on a very exciting day trip to Birmingham. Daddy had an interview for a job at the university there, so the boys and I as well as Granny went with him, so that he could concentrate on the interview and not have to worry about travelling all the way from Cambridge on his own. Turns out he did rather well at the interview, because they gave him a job! So now we’re busy planning our move to Birmingham at Christmas. But that’s another story.

Andrew is a big fan of the little yellow car Brum, who had his own TV show back in the 1990s, set in Birmingham (or ‘The Big Town’) whose nickname is also Brum. See the clever play on words they did there! So when we told him we were going on a day out in the Big Town where Brum saves the day, he was very excited. We had to take Brum with us too of course (in toy form).

Brum Collage 1

We set off from Granny and Grandad’s house in the morning, and drove to the campus to check out exactly where Daddy needed to be later after lunch for the interview. Then we headed to a nearby pub for lunch, which Granny had booked a table at. We were a bit early still, and Joel was asleep in the car so Granny offered to stay with him whilst we had a stretch of the legs – we thought we might find a park because the pub was located in a residential area that looked just the kind of place that would have a park with swings and slides. We didn’t actually find one, but had a nice bit of a walk anyway – up a hill, which is something we don’t do very often living in a very flat city.

Brum Collage 2

After we’d eaten, we headed back to the campus just up the road, and dropped Daddy where he needed to be. Then we parked the car and got out to explore the place ourselves. We were on the look out for any of the sites that we see watching Brum. Soon we came to the clock tower in the middle of the campus. Some of the buildings around there are definitely on Brum! After a short ride in the buggy, Andrew was keen to walk/run and explore – I’m not sure he actually recognised much from Brum himself, but he seemed to understand what we were saying.

We walked through a little market place with fresh fruit and veg on sale, and then through a square with big blocks that were perfect for Andrew to walk along the top of, with Granny’s help. We were on the look out for the race track, because Andrew had seen an episode of Brum that morning which was set at the university race track. As we walked around, we saw a sign for it, and it was just around the corner. We found the entrance and saw a few people using it for running practice. There was plenty of space for Andrew and Brum to have a run too though! Unfortunately I’ve just realised that all the videos I took here (and in previous months) are lost because of some glitch in backing up from my phone to the computer, and I hadn’t got round to uploading them to youtube yet ๐Ÿ™ But I can assure you that they had a good run.

Brum Collage 4

Once the sprinting was done, we headed out and continued our circular walk around the campus. We saw all sorts of different shapes, sizes and colours of buildings. The weather had generally been good if a little chilly, but fine if we kept moving. It did, however, start to rain at one point, and as there was still sun the other side of the rain clouds, we knew a rainbow would appear. And sure enough, there it was, over the buildings behind us.

Brum Collage 5

Eventually we came to the football pitches, where there were three 5-aside games being played by footballers who looked like they were students (i.e. they looked much younger than me!) Andrew was absolutely fascinated by this, and wandered up and down the sideline (behind the wire fence) watching them play. We could hardly tear him away when the phone rang to say it was time for us to meet Daddy who’d finished his interview.

Brum Collage 3

Although we were in the middle of a large city, it was lovely to have a walk around an interesting place that Andrew recognises parts of, a mini town in itself, and explore somewhere that ย we will grow to know better as we live near it in the new year.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

 

Pregnancy diary: week 22 โ€“ work

The past two weeks have been incredibly busy. There haven’t been one or two things in particular eating up my time, rather lots of things (ranging from small to big) that have all come together at once. One thing I mentioned last week was the BritMums Live conference, which was fantastic, and I’ll writeย  post about it when I get chance. But I came home even more exhausted than when I left after a busy week, and this week hasn’t given me much chance to rest yet. On top of everything else, Andrew has oral thrush and is most definitely not a happy bunny because he can’t eat without it hurting his mouth, poor thing. The medicine seems to be working already though, as he’s started to eat more again.

Part of my busyness is work-related, both actually doing the work and thinking about the practicalities of leaving. Last week I got my MATB1 form from the midwife. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of figuring out the paperwork involved with maternity leave and pay, this little (honestly, it’s A5) form is a crucial piece of paper. It is a pregnant mum’s gateway to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), if she is entitled to it. According to the government website Directgov, a pregnant mum can claim SMP through her employer if (1) she has been working for the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week the baby is due (this basically means if she wasn’t pregnant when she started the job – though I was nearly caught out by this with Andrew because you’re already 3 weeks pregnant when baby is actually conceived in terms of how pregnancy is measured from the day of your last preiod!)…. and (2) if she earns enough to be paying National Insurance contributions.

If she’s not entitled to SMP, she can instead claim Maternity Allowance, which is essentially the same amount of money, but it comes direct from the government (like a benefit) rather than the employer sorting it out. In fact SMP also ultimately comes from the government, but the employer gets the wonderful job of sorting out the paperwork and paying it in the first instance, before the government later pays it back to them – sounds a bit complicated to me, but I’m not a politician who makes the rules.

I think bump looks pretty big in this dress, the design must accentuate it! I don't think it's grown that much in a week ๐Ÿ™‚

With this pregnancy I’m in a different situation to last time with regard to work. My contract is due to end on 31st December this year, so if I were to take maternity leave, my contract would end during it. I’d already decided after going back to work part-time after maternity leave with Andrew that I would not want to go back to work for a few years after having another baby, for various reasons. For one it would make no sense financially as my wage wouldn’t cover childcare costs for two. But the main reason is that I have realised that looking after my children in their pre-school years is what I want to do more than any other job. I feel like it’s my calling for this stage of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the research that I do for my current paid employment, but children don’t stay this young forever, whereas there will always be work to do, whether that be research or something else. This means that I am happy to simply leave my job rather than take maternity leave, which would only last a few months anyway, unless my contract would have been extended.

Interestingly, I thought this would mean I wouldn’t be eligible for SMP, but I am, as long as I don’t leave work until less than 15 weeks before baby is due. As the plan is to work up until early October (with baby due at the end of October), this means I can claim SMP from the government via my employer, even though I won’t be going back to work after baby is born. That’s how generous the maternity provision is in this country – I do feel like it could be a lot worse, and I know some other countries are not as generous with this. I mean SMP/Maternity Allowance isn’t a huge amount of money, but considering I’ll be getting some money for quite a few months after baby is born, even though I won’t have a job and don’t intend to for a while, I think this is pretty nice! As my midwife pointed out though, I’ve been paying National Insurance contributions for a while, and this is what I get in return, at a time when we’ll need it the most.

So in the next week or so at work I need to fill in some forms and get the ball rolling for SMP. But for now there’s plenty of work to be getting on with, making sure I leave everything in a way that others will understand when I’m gone. So far I feel happy that things are going well on this front, but I know I’ll be busy beavering away over the summer to finish things off.

And look at that, I’ve just managed to get this post out on Friday, to keep the routine of my regular pregnancy diary slot on a Friday. With all the things going on, and Andrew not napping as much due to his mouth being so sore, I’ve got a bit behind on my writing this week compared to usual. But that’s what’s nice about blogging, and how it’s not like work – I can do things as and when I want and have time to, with no pressure, because I do it for fun. Hopefully things will calm down a bit over the next week, and I’ll be able to write the next installment about pregnancy before the end of the week…..

Balancing act

My day starts when our alarm clock (aka Andrew) goes off at about 6am. I get up, play with Andrew for a while before giving him a milk feed around 6.30am, and then it’s family breakfast time at 7am. After that, it’s time to get washed and dressed. When we’re ready, it’s at that point that things have to be done differently depending on the day of the week. My brain is (usually) conscious of the next step:

  • it’s Monday/Friday = no rush, play with Andrew some more before putting him down for a morning nap, then do some things around the flat and get ready to go out for the rest of the morning;
  • it’s Wednesday/Thursday = pack up some lunch for Andrew and myself, put nappies in the change bag, wrap us both up warm in coats/gloves/hats etc., and walk round the corner to Tracy’s (our childminder) to arrive as she’s leaving for the school run at 8.25am, then cycle to the office;
  • it’s Tuesday = leave Andrew in Daddy’s capable hands and head straight off to the office for the morning;
  • it’s Saturday/Sunday = have some family time, then do some housework or go to church.

We’ve been in this routine for over a month now, since I started back at work half-time after 9 months of maternity leave, and it seems to be working. Two and a half days a week I work as a post-doctoral research associate (fancy name for the fact that I do research and have a PhD). I’m based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as the resident phonetician in a lab of psychologists and neuroscientists. The project that I’m working on is looking at how children with a language impairment perceive rhythm and pitch in language and music. I should go into that in detail in another post, but for now I’ll stick to the balancing act of being mum and going out to work.

Before I went on maternity leave, I loved my job and felt very privileged to have been offered it, given the competition for academic jobs when funding is relatively limited. I planned to go back part-time after 9 months, though I found it hard to return once those months were up, because I enjoyed spending so much time with Andrew when on leave. There was a feeling of being torn between two jobs I loved doing, and there still is most days. Being with Andrew all day really makes me happy, but I do see advantages to going out to work too. I thought I’d share some of the things I like and don’t like about splitting my week in half.

At the office I get to drink hot cups of tea, eat my lunch when I like, and there’s not a nappy in sight. As I work in town, it’s very handy to pop out at lunchtime and go shopping for a few bits without the buggy. I have such lovely work colleagues who are great friends and make the office environment a happy, sociable and productive one. It feels good to know that I’m taking part in research that ultimately aims to get to the bottom of something that affects many kids, and one day may make a positive difference in individual lives.

My computer is easy to spot if you know what Praat looks like on screen ๐Ÿ˜‰

People talk about being able to ‘use your brain’ again and get ‘mental stimulation’ at work after having a baby, and that is true to the extent that I get to put to use my ‘training’, i.e. the skills for research that I gained by doing a PhD and continuing in an academic job. But I would say my brain gets put to good use looking after Andrew too. I mean there’s no training for being a mum, so you figure things out as you go along, and that uses a fair amount of brain power I find. All the things that I’ve started to think about and get interested in since having him certainly keep me mentally stimulated. An example is doing my own ‘research’ on baby-related matters, by reading up and talking to other parents about issues like breastfeeding. I can do this either at groups when Andrew is with me and happy to play with the toys and other kids there, or at home when he’s asleep and I need to put my feet up. So I feel like I get enough brain usage on both Andrew days and office days.

Big boy on a trike - at a group where there is a great outdoor play area so Andrew can unleash all his energy

My Andrew days are fantastic because I get to see him develop and start doing things he couldn’t do the week before. He is such a good-natured baby, so I get lots of smiles and cuddles. There’s never a dull moment as he’s so active too, making me and himself laugh at the latest thing he’s managed to find/do/get stuck in or under. We go to fun groups where he can toddle around, play with different toys, sing, hear stories, make things and get messy, whilst I get a cup of tea made for me (which might go cold admittedly) and can chat with other mums (and dads) about the joys and woes of parenthood. I get lots of fresh air and exercise, which comes naturally in our routine because we walk everywhere.

Wrapped up warm for a ride out in the buggy to get to a group

So that’s a lot of good stuff so far. The hard part is having to split my time between the two jobs. I worry that I’ll miss out on one of Andrew’s ‘firsts’, that I’ll be impatient with him because I’m too tired after a day or two in the office, that he’ll miss me either lots or not at all when I’m gone (the former being detrimental to him and the latter to me and my identity as his mum). I also worry that my heart might not stay in my research like it was, that I’ll be too tired to function properly, that I’ll not do my research to the highest standard I set myself. These worries on both sides basically come down to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, and by splitting my resources it might not be possible to do either job at 100%. So far I’m pleased to say that none of these worries have actually been an issue, but they are always in my mind.

Look at me, I'm so good at standing. Mummy loves watching me grow up and do things like this for the first time.

When I think about it, I’m not splitting my week exactly in half. In fact I’m a full-time mum, and always will be, as I do my mum thing before and after going out to the office (including in the middle of the night if he wakes up – what am I supposed to say? ‘sorry Andrew, work tomorrow, no soothing back to sleep for you tonight’); walking out the door to go to work doesn’t stop me being mum. I just do interesting research for about 19 hours a week on top of that. I’m happy with the way things are for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the future, especially as my contract ends in December 2012 (the research one that is – I don’t think Andrew will terminate my contract as mum anytime soon ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Andrew loves 'helping' me hang the washing up to dry