A close friend of mine is due to welcome her first baby to the world any day soon. During one of her recent WhatsApp grillings amongst those of us already flung into the joys of motherhood, she was panicking about something that only lunatics or agitated pregnant people ponder – feeling bereft at not being at work.
When you’re a PA, especially one lucky enough to have a decent relationship with your boss, you can be forgiven for feeling somewhat trepidatious at cutting ties for a substantial period and trusting a stranger to fill your shoes. When it was my time to waddle off into the sunset on maternity leave, I was thankful that my boss made sure I was involved in the recruitment process from the very start – a wise plan given I know his whims and quirks better than most after four years as his PA.
We interviewed a brilliant girl who I immediately took a shine to – one of those people who actually looked me in the eye and feigned interest in whatever nonsense I was gabbling during the interview. Sadly we missed the boat though and she was snapped up which left us no time but to offer the role to another lady, to whom I was less enthusiastic about.
I knew we were in trouble on day 1 when I passed her the culmination of weeks of hard grafting to create a reliable handover document and she insisted she didn’t need to make any notes and was equally keen to shove me off my PC within an hour of landing at my desk. I’m all for being proactive but the fact is, it’s tough walking into a new job without a clue as to the what’s and where’s of how things tick along and it’s canny to make the most of the departing PA’s knowledge to quiz them before you fly solo.
Being a PA takes skills beyond what they can teach you at a Microsoft Office workshop. You need psychic abilities, nouse and patience. My cover wasn’t fussed to ask if my boss has a penchant for early morning meetings or prefers to takes his own calls (no and yes) – I sensed a storm could be brewing but with a head crammed with 1001 impending-motherhood worries, I left her to it.
It’s funny how despite our frequent cries of woe when the weekend ends and the Monday commuting scrum beckons or the sun’s out but you’re glued to your PC shouting at a Word document, it’s still a surreal feeling when you finish work to go on maternity leave. It’s a limbo moment where you’re not on holiday, you’re not ill, you’re not skiving– you’re merely a whale.
Embracing those blank diary days is thrilling once you get into the swing of it though. My son was two weeks late so I luxuriated in the time I had to think of me and only me– cue multiple trips to empty cinemas in the daytime and lounging in the park inhaling ice creams.
Bizarrely, once Mini B was born, despite not having slept for what felt like years and having no idea what day it was, I couldn’t quite shake thoughts of work from my mind I guess from it being programmed into my psyche for so many years, “had new girl remembered to move that board meeting? Gah, did I book those conference flights?!”…..
But as the months went by I became less and less work-worrisome and more immersed in Infacol, the complexities of folding a swaddling blanket and the Fisher Price jungle play mat tune. I kept in touch with the office during my year off work, which helped feign an invisible connection to working life and certainly softened the blow after the dreaded return to full-time desk life again.
Nothing can quite prepare you for re-joining the working world after an entire year away. Being a PA is a jigsaw piece that doesn’t quite fit with a part-time or ‘working from home’ criteria. But I’ve somehow coped so far, despite the guilt of paying someone else to play mum five days a week. My boss knows when I receive that dreaded call from Mini B’s nursery summoning me to quarantine him at home, I need to drop everything and run. Once upon a time I’d have fussed and panicked about leaving him in the lurch but life changes, priorities shift and if there’s one transferable skill that makes you excel as both Mum and PA – it’s organisation – if I can juggle a toddler’s addiction to trainspotting, ever-changing food whims and refusal to get out of the bath whilst still getting us both out the door on time every morning, suddenly scheduling a hectic Exec’s diary is a piece of cake…