Last week, despite my best attempts at sabotage (return of vertigo, making farty noises in the audition, growing a massive spot in the middle of my eyebrows, having a Derby accent; spoken and signed) I found myself back in the habit and in front of a camera.
They needed me for two days, which is nothing at all. A very short time in the world of television acting and absolutely minuscule compared to a theatre tour. Two days is nothing… Unless you have a three month old baby who is growing so fast he’s a different person from one day to the next. And you have to kiss him at least three times an hour, because it’s The Law.
I had to do it. I wanted to do it, even though it meant travelling to Manchester (practically the ends of the Earth, I know…) and staying in a hotel, and not being with the baby. It would be horrible leaving him; not because I didn’t think Daddy could cope (I knew they would have some excellent Man Time together, probably involving nachos, Xbox and hunting for a Gruffalo in the airing cupboard) but just because it felt like I was leaving a huge part of me behind. Which, I suppose I was, biologically speaking.
This is nothing new. Mothers go out to work all the time, through choice or necessity, and most go for a lot longer than two days. Everyone’s experience of parenthood is different, and not necessarily better or worse for it, but you can only really comment with great authority on your own. So, this was my experience of leaving my baby; it was great. No, really. It felt hideous to leave him, even in the care of his more than capable father, because there’s something fundamental in a mother’s new outlook that says, “You should be with your child at all times!” and it’s quite hard to ignore.
So, I was waiting for the hateful train that would whisk me away from my beloved, when I suddenly realised I felt quite… nice. I wasn’t worried about my boy, and I wasn’t missing him painfully, just wistfully. “Oh, he’ll be having his milk now.” “Ooh, naptime.” “He normally does a massive poo around now… Daddy will enjoy that, mwhahahahaa!”I was excited about getting to the set, meeting all the people, doing the trailer thing (which was one up on last time’s debacle, as I had my own toilet) and generally getting in everybody’s way, something I achieved spectacularly well by falling over one of the lights during filming (which is one up on last time’s debacle, where I got hit in the face with the boom).
During down time and breaks in filming, I checked my phone for the next instalment of What Daddy And Baby Are Up To. Thank heavens for free photo messaging; although the cast and crew may disagree… Huge A-list star, bottom of the pile runner, esteemed director or random passer-by; it doesn’t matter a jot – “You will see my baby boy, won’t you? Look, he’s got his nappy on his head! Isn’t he beautiful? I don’t know… I’m assuming it’s clean… I’d better text and ask for another picture to make sure. You’ll want to see that one too, won’t you?”
And that was how it went. I thought happily of home, and my little family, and I didn’t miss them awfully because I knew they were having fun (there were, apparently, no less than fifteen Gruffalos in there). I was loving the work, and the banter, and, oh my, the food. It really was great. Apart from the costume which had pokey buttons exactly on my Caesarean scar and therefore prevented me stuffing myself with the (oh my) food.
Soon enough, my work was done and I was swept back to the train station. In the car, I contemplated my ‘return to the job’. It’s not a proper return; you couldn’t even call it work really.
But it was nice to know I can still do it, and that I’m still me, even if it’s a me that’s a little less intense and a little more podgy, a lot less stressed and a lot more appreciative. I love my boys to the moon and back, but I’m not glued to them. I’m sure there are better metaphors, but it’s like being a bee; you’re one bee with your own bee personality. You can fly off alone for miles in search of adventure and pollen, but you can only do it because you know you’re part of the big hive. You know that everything you find, you’ll bring back to the others, who will always be there, waiting for you to come back and share your adventures, as they will share theirs.
So, yes. I found being away great. But coming home, oh… That’s the best bit. The train could not go fast enough, and when we stopped for no reason at Chesterfield, I nearly broke down the driver’s door and took over. Then the car battery died… Then the house was empty because they’d all gone to walk the dog… Then… Then… Then, I got my (oh my) boy back in my squidging, hugging arms.
And that bit was really great.
Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer, horsewoman and new mum. She describes herself as being “equally fluent in English, BSL and Gibberish, and completely rubbish at French.” Emily can be found all over the place on various escapades, but divides her time between Derby and London. She can often be found behind a large packet of crisps or any halfway decent book, and insists she can still play characters in their early twenties despite having a grey eyebrow hair.
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