It is a fact universally acknowledged that any woman over thirty, mother of two children, MUST be on a quest to look young….
WRONG! As I arrive at my new workplace, wearing my ‘casual’ clothes because I’ve just ‘dropped in to introduce myself’ (not at all after an hour-long session in the front of a mirror making sure I looked ‘casual’ but ‘respectable’ enough, followed by half an hour listening to Radio4 in the supermarket car-park down the road because I was early) the receptionist looks me up and down and, in the sort of voice I use when conversing with my Toddler, says:
“SO! And are you a fully-qualified grown-up vet all ready to go, then?”
I grin, wearily. Mother of two children? Tick. Flabby Muscle? Tick. Bags under eyes? Tick Tick. Wrinkles…..? I dunno…. probably….. well, yes….. Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick ti-
So what the HELL do I have to do before people stop asking me if I’m old enough to be a vet?
A mentor of mine first spotted the problem. She was a wise lady and said: ‘Two things. First, use both your names when you introduce yourself. Who’s ‘Liz?’ ‘My name’s Liz’ makes you sound like the work experience. It’s a shame you aren’t a doctor or you could throw that in, too.
‘And second, wear your stephoscope round your neck. People look for symbols. This one says, ‘I’m the Vet!’ ‘
The was a few years ago. I’ve even had my pigtails chopped off since then. Never-the-less, it seems that I still need to remember her advice. On the night of my first proper shift, I don’t stride through the door until my stephoscope is perfectly draped over my shoulders as would befit a consultant on Casualty.
I have also paired my scrub top with some ‘grown up’ trousers provided by my perfect sister-in-law.
Did I tell you about my Sister-in-Law? Well, she’s perfect. At least, she is good at all the things that scare me witless, including knowing where she’s going to be in a year’s time, knowing where she’s going to be next week, saying the right thing at Mummy’s Groups and not least at choosing clothes.
‘You don’t need to be scared of clothes,’ she explains patiently. ‘After all, I presume you wear some most of the time?’
I wonder how to phrase telling her that I’d probably feel much more confident going without clothes than I feel in a Department Store changing room, when she notices something.
‘Hey, do you have any clothes that fit you at the moment or are you just wearing your husband’s all the time?’
There is a pause and the shuffling of feet. I am only releaved that she can’t see my underwear.
‘Would you like me to give you some clothes, Liz?’
I am considerably wider than my Sister-In-law. However, she takes me upstairs and within minutes I have two expensively cut pairs of work trousers that she might have worn when she was pregnant. I have also learned some fascinating things: that there is such a thing as a ‘bra-extender’; that the reason those V-necked things I don’t wear are always too low cut for me is that you’re supposed to do ‘layering’ and wear a vest-top underneath them. That not only do women feel better if their underwear matches (I knew this already: my Auntie told me) but that if you only buy black or white underwear, you will always be able to find stuff that matches in your drawer. Who’d have thought of that?
Anyway, here I am at work, feeling like it’s the start of a new school term. Nice pen in pocket; battery in fob watch; matching socks (matching underwear); cool, calm, confident look.
And then something amazing happens: the pen doesn’t get lost the first time I write something down. No, I pick it up and it stays with me: in fact I last the entire shift without needing to thieve a drugs-rep biro from reception.
My fob-watch does get unwittingly thrown into the washing machine with my scrub-top at the end of said first shift, but team Liz and Hubby manage to get it replaced after only a single night of me squinting at dogs’ owners’ watches and carrying the wall-clock round the kennels when I want to check the in-patients pulses.
I find myself remembering the names of the inpatients; I find myself remembering what I planned to do with each one. Keeping track of things is suddenly, magically ten times easier than it ever was before.
I also find that I have blood sugars as level as a playing field, because I’ve given up breast-feeding. Tiddler didn’t mind. In fact, it is questionable that Tiddler even noticed that the bottle wasn’t my nipple (if I hadn’t been so releaved I’d have been furious with him. Surely a good Middle-Class baby ought to fret a bit about that?)
And despite it being busy, I still have time and headspace to twiddle with my insulin. In fact, without having two children in tow who need every last shoe putting on for them, looking after myself and my own kit is the easiest thing in the world. Getting checks done on time; saying the right things in the right order on the phone – why was this ever a problem? Your head’s amazing clear when there isn’t a baby screaming in the background and a toddler hugging your knees.
I always thought that my inability to multitask was linked to an unfortunate stroke of unfemininity, but maybe it’s actually nothing to do with being a women: just something that improves with being a carer for the under fives. It’s as though a switch has gone: perclick! in my head. You know, who cares if the receptionists describe me as a ‘young vet?’ What counts is, that I look like a Professional one at last!