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HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: I sat in a pub, alone, and made a plan to change my life.

When you're a mid-life mother, running away from home is frowned upon. But sometimes, it's absolutely necessary.

Toddlers and babies are a lot. Not sure if anyone's mentioned that before? 

Caring for those toddlers and babies, working a busy job, worrying about money, no family support and no sleep - these were the defining themes of my early 40s, being, as I was, a geriatric mother. Those themes, of course, ran concurrent to the belly-filling, bubbly, pure squishy joy of it all.

But on a particular, fateful day in 2013, that first list was threatening to collapse down on me.

Mashed potato should never be the source of an argument, God's gift as it is, but my children are strange, and they're really not keen on it. It was something the person cooking dinner that night - my partner Brent - either didn't know or had forgotten. And so, after another very long day for all of us, mealtime became a predictable, familiar war zone. The toddler was complaining, in her loudest voice. The baby was literally spitting mouthfuls of mash-mush in my direction. I was trying not to explode in a toxic mess of 'told you so'. 

Holly Wainwright, her partner Brent, and their two kids. Image: Supplied. 

If you had walked past our home that day and looked up, alerted by the wailing, you wouldn't have been able to see the actual cause of everyone's frustration. Equally, if you don't have children, you likely don't really get how mashed potato can be the catalyst to change a life.

We were all completely over it. Exhausted. We were over the rush and push and stress of work life/being little/being parents. We all needed a break. But I was the only one who took one.

My partner is more even-tempered than me. So when it was beyond my knackered self to work out an acceptable response to another eyeful of mash, I got up and left.

I am not proud of what I did.

I ran out through the front door and away down the street; the noise following me through the open window. 

I can still feel the cool air hitting the tears on my cheeks, I can still feel myself catching my breath in cold gasps. I can still hear, if I try, my daughter's little voice asking Where Is Mummy Going? I must have pushed back the chair with an alarming scrape because the baby was crying.

Where Mummy was going was where Daddies were supposed to go - historically, where they went - when home failed to deliver comfort and joy. I went to the pub.

As I said, I'm not proud of what I did.

Why am I recounting this ugly but very ordinary tale of a young family overwhelm, long after the fact? 

Because that night changed my life.

I wasn't really crying about the mashed potato facial. I was crying because I felt trapped, and unfulfilled. And that wasn't all about the kids.

I was working really hard. Out of the house at 7.30am. Home at 6.30pm, often later. At least four days a week. I'm not asking for a tiny violin, I know that's the reality for most working people, that your job takes you away from your home and your family. That of course it does. 

The kids' care was a jigsaw of one of us on a non-office day, a family daycare centre, a preschool, friends who would return a favour. On a day when everything worked and no-one had a temperature and the buses ran on time and there wasn't a last-minute crisis at work, we all just about squeaked through to falling in the door, happy to be together, thinking about what to throw on the table for a meal, and living for the weekend, which was hardly relaxing but at least presented a simpler, single focus. 

The thing was, ever since I'd become a mum, my attitude to my career had changed.

It might be expected that I would say it became less important, but the reality was the opposite. If it was going to be this hard, if it was going to take me away from my little family, if it was going to cost this much, in both cash money and emotional stress, I wanted it to count. I had an exciting, fulfilling career in magazines for more than a decade. I had nice perks and great mates and a good salary. But I didn't love it anymore. In fact, I resented it.

Back in the pub, I ordered a glass of wine and sat in the window.

Such a selfish b*tch, sipping a glass of chardonnay while Brent was wiping up a scattered supper and turning on the bath. Quick.

I opened the notes app on my phone, and I wrote, This isn't the life I want. I can see the life I want. But it's behind glass, and I don't know how to reach it. 

The life I wanted was one that wasn't governed by office hours. It wasn't about trying to think of new ways to sell women the same old stuff - diets and gossip and insecurity that their lives weren't enough. 

I'd seen, on the Internet (how quaint, but this was 2013) something that looked like the job I wanted instead. I saw Mia Freedman, and her small team, writing stories about news and celebrities and fashion and politics, in a way that was entirely fresh. It was conversational, honest; it was fast.

Some women I'd worked with had made that leap, from the glossy tower of magazine world to the grittier floors of digital, where everyone carried their laptop around from meeting to meeting and worked on one long, shared desk. It looked exciting, what they were doing. It looked different. It looked important. 

In my Notes app, I wrote, What did I want to do? When I was a kid? 

The answer: Write

What kind of mother did I want to be? 

One who wasn't exhausted, grumpy and frustrated all the time.

What kind of partner do I want to be?


What example did I want to set my daughter? 

To find something she loves and make it her work. 

What I didn't yet know, but was about to find out, was that the leap I wanted to make would make everything worse before it made anything better. Let's be clear - I needed to earn money. My job was not a nice-to-have, not a hobby, it was the life and death stuff of mortgage repayments, daycare fees and food on the table. 

Digital media didn't pay well, that's what we all kept telling each other, over in magazine land. But I couldn't keep living and working like this. 

Before I finished that wine, and went home to apologise to Brent and to lift my daughter into bed and sing my son a song, I made myself a promise. 

I'm going to jump. 

I'm going to find a door that's open even a crack, and I'm going to push my way in to a new career. I have to. 

I don't believe in manifesting. I'm not a woo-woo kind of girl.

But two days after I wrote that list in the pub, guilty tears falling in my cheap Chardy, a friend forwarded me a job ad. Mamamia was looking for an editor for their parenting site. I was about to jam both elbows in that door and scramble through it.

And everything was going to change.

Except my kids' feelings about mashed potato. That remains the same.

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