“The worst thing you can say to a new mum is ‘What do you do all day?’” says Meg Mason. “Each day with a newborn is a wasteland of hours – it’s the first time most of us feel we are off society’s radar and it’s a real art-form to learn how to manage that time.”
The answer to that dreaded, on-repeat question, as Mason writes in unapologetically droll terms in her new book, Say It Again In A Nice Voice, is simple: “I ‘do’ that”, she says as she points to her newborn. “I wipe it, I read to it, I feed it, I rock it, I change it, and now I even bathe it.”
The mother-of-two, 34, learnt how to deal with vast swathes of endless new mother duties but empty diary pages the hard way: on her own, aged 25, thousands of miles from family and in the far-from-salubrious confines of her west London home.
Part memoir, part parenting guide and wholly self-deprecating, unmitigated anecdotal pandemonium, the book, out today, is a string of mishaps, faux pas and un-PC clangers that only a new mum with a “despotic little toddler president” could get herself into.
“There are so many shocking things that happen to you in terms of body and life and career, but to me, the most surprising thing was this absolute surfeit of time to fill. The days are ‘boneless’ and have no innate structure,” Mason, now living in Balmain, NSW, told Life & Style.
“That’s why I wrote the book. Whether you’re a working mum or you plan to never go back, you’re going to have to learn how to fill your hours.”
But there’s a heavyweight superlative involved, too – and that is that being a mother, in Mason’s opinion, is the hardest graft around.
“I still think”, she writes, “a stay-at-home mother looks forward to the weekend more than any other person on earth.” And, yes, that includes hospital cleaners on night shifts and “people who sit in toll booths five days a week.”
New mothers, enter five tips to survive the seemingly interminable build-up to a Friday evening glass of wine…
1) Days are a product of your invention. And inventions are completely legitimate. Fill your diary, make work for yourself – even if just a simple outing. “Often our outings would be pegged on some kind of errand… ‘Buy stamps’ or ‘Get some of those felt circles that go under chair legs’ I’d write on a blank diary page.” There’s a fine line, learnt Mason, between a day punctuated by a refreshing outing and a day crammed with over-ambitious plans, but a rule emerged: “I would never go to bed on a Sunday night without at least three firm fixtures, real or invented, in my diary for the following week.”
2) Don’t hate on your husband. “You’ve got to laugh…or you’ll end up hating the one person who is legally obligated to help you.” Andrew, aka Shab, finds himself on the receiving end of sleep deprivation, mood swings and over-enthusiastic yearnings for adult conversation – it’s perhaps no small surprise then, that the couple soon had to master the art of “diffusing the landmines that a new baby plants in the domestic realm.”
3) Have a shower. Simple as it sounds, says Mason, having a shower is the holy grail when a newborn suddenly takes precedent. “It’s a good idea to have a shower before your husband leaves. Leaves in the morning, I mean. Not leaves leaves.” It’s as much about your sanity as it is of those around you. That would be your husband’s, then: “The last thing a new mother needs is a nervy, hyper-vigilant life partner who keeps threatening to take her to the GP for a depression questionnaire, just because of lazy dressing.”
4) Rally. “Rallying is an indispensable, fundamental survival skill for the currently-at-home,” writes Mason. She explains more: “That feeling of waking up, feeling gross, having an empty fridge and dirty hair… You don’t have the luxury of indulging in that feeling. Open the window, look forward to coffee, fold the blanket so that you’re not staring at the barrel of a gun that is your day.”
5) Embrace other mothers. “That braying, intimidating pack of stroller-pushing mums is a port in a storm,” Mason told us. “Learn to manage women and deal with comparative parenting. You must break into that circle as it can be very valuable. So what if they were all 40 and I was 25? You are only as old as your baby.” Navigation of “mothers of super-advanced babies”, the “failing mother” and the “shameless maternal meat market” that is playgroup are, she says, essential lessons in survival.
Say It Again In A Nice Voice by Meg Mason, published by Harper Collins, is out now.