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Thursday, 29 March 2007

Sheer bloody exhaustion

Almost too tired to type. Today's heading says it all, really. The last couple of days work has felt like riding a motorbike down the wrong side of the motorway on speed. Or something like that. Some unexpected stuff flew in from leftfield which all had to be turned around super fast, I had back-to-back meetings, a presentation to prepare for a conference tomorrow, and my PA Sonie leaves me in four day's time. My email inbox is out of control and my 'to do' list exceeds one side of A4. Argh! I wrote the presentation on the train home at 10pm tonight after a couple of glasses of wine to send the lovely Sonie off on her travels. It will be interesting looking at that again tomorrow morning. Goodness knows what I've written. As I type two-year-old Nath has just woken up again and thrown the bottle I took him half an hour ago out of his cot, and seven month old Ava has been woken by his cries of disgust, so my hopes of going to bed have just been dashed....Really MUST get some sleep some time...

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Blackberry sundae

To blackberry, or not to blackberry? That is the oft-asked question amongst working mums these days. Some avoid them like the plague, believing that once the proud owner of a 'BB' - as they are lovingly called - one is tied to the office just as in the days before 'equality' one was tied to the kitchen sink. I know my husband believes that the extent of my 'juggling' has reached new heights of ridiculousness now that he regularly trudges up to bed at around midnight only to find me sat up in bed, breastfeeding the baby, reading a manuscript and emailing on the BB, all at the same time. In fact, I hear it said from many quarters that being ignored by one's partner in favour of a Blackberry is one of today's top irritants amongst couples. But I believe that with a certain amount of associated discipline a Blackberry can be one of the most liberating, enabling devices for the working mum. I have long held that a culture of long office hours is just plain wrong. Here in the UK we work the longest hours in Europe, working on average seven or eight more hours per week than we are contracted to, without pay. A while ago I worked in an office where at least one particular individual (male and childless of course) crowed constantly about how late he had been in the office every night and 'marvelled' snidely about my ability to leave on time most days. From my perspective, hanging around in the office long after everyone else has left is not only wrong but it's also just plain stupid. We no longer need to sit in a particular building or indeed in any building at all in order to do our jobs. We are connected through the wonder of the Blackberry, and I for one salute them. Of course, as mentioned, it is important to maintain a certain amount of discipline where their useage is concerned. My 'BB rules' are only to respond to important or urgent messages or to messages from colleagues in different time zones outside of office hours, and to try to ignore it altogether on a day's holiday .... but that flickering red light announcing that a new message has arrived can sometimes be hard to ignore....

...Sometimes I worry about the vacuousness of thoughts that go through my head. As I wrote this post I found myself wondering, "Why don't Blackberries come with Cath Kidston covers?" My only excuse is that it's been one helluva day. Must go and have a long soak in the bath (without the BB). Goodnight!

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Report from a beta outpost

My Beta Mum Pal Daryl sent me this yesterday. I couldn't resist asking her if I could post it as a special guest blog.

We have reached a new high - or is it low? on the Alpha-Mum-O-Meter. The French Exchange. How is it that our small school in deepest South-West London gets paired with 'La Top-Notch Lycee' in the Chic 16th 'Arrondissement' close to Le Champs Elysees? ( Our school has circa 20 boys - so they are all put forward to go; our counterparts choose their best pupils from over 100!) So off go our sons (aged 12) on Leg One of The London-Paris Exchange.
There they are at Waterloo ( whisper it) in their school uniform: Clarks shoes that have never been polished, slightly thread bare trousers and their Scottish Wool jumpers ( that have without exception gone on the 30 degree wash rather 'cold wash by hand'), dictionaries in hand.
On the Return Leg, Paris-London, the SW Mums receive a group of oh-so-cool, 'sportifs' french boys dressed head-to-toe in Ralph Lauren! All with fluent English!
The reports came back that in Paris our sons were treated to a three course meal 'en famille' each evening. So beans on toast was no longer on the menu and SW Mums really needed to get their cooking acts together. Never has Jamie been so eagerly consulted. Never have the streets of Streatham, Clapham and Tooting smelt so strongly of home-baking! As a SW Mum who can't cook and also works I resorted to the bread-making machine, hoping that the smell of freshly-made bread each morning for breakfast would convince our young Parisien that I was really a dab hand in the kitchen ( just didn't have the time). I also visited the take- out- a mortgage butcher on the High Street with the hope that expensive sausages might in some small way impress!
On Day 3 our young Parisien asked if he could cook. Am not sure if this was survival instincts kicking in or a form of relaxation. Whatever it was, this young twelve year old made the most delicious quiche followed by gateaux aux pommmes for us all! Poor son no 1 had been previously so proud of his microwave nachos!
There was hope that the French boys versus English boys football match might produce something of a result. Perhaps this was where our boys might shine through. But instead a 3-3 draw it was to be.
In spite of the cultural disparities, I can honestly say that The French Exchange was a success and that there's even talk of the Mums on each side of the channel getting together.
For that I will need a week on a health farm and Pru Leith's cookery course to prepare!

Saturday, 24 March 2007


Newsflash: this blog is not a spoof! It's all about me, a real life Mum, trying to work out how to get through each day juggling a job and several children (three, at last count). As I have now been asked this question once I feel I must answer it. Yes - I am a real person! The blog is meant to be funny (sometimes), and I do admit to a habit of being somewhat facetious. I just find taking the piss out of myself quite medicinal. And yes, I now realise, that like most of us, I like to think I'm a unique human being but I probably fall into a certain category or 'type'. Hey-ho.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Guilt, guilt and more guilt

It's been a week of surviving rather than living. All the kids have been ill with coughs and colds. Not much sleep has been had by anyone. The house is even more of a pit than ever. I just hate leaving the babies at home when they are sick. Two or three mornings in the week I had to depart leaving a scene of comparitive misery, with Ava crying in her highchair, red-eyed, snot pouring out of her nose, and Nathan flopping on the sofa coughing his little heart out. 'Bad Mother', said the voices in my head, as I headed up the road to catch the bus to work. Work has a habit of drawing you in though, and before you know it, you are busy dwelling on other, really less important problems in the grand scheme of things. Bang, more guilt, as you are pulled up short a few hours later. Not having had a moment to think about the kids you then feel guilty for not thinking about them. Later, when you reach home to find everyone feeling rather sorry for themselves, you feel guilty again. Eden's been worrying me too lately with a tendency to 'accidents' where going to the toilet is concerned. First I felt guilty that I had taken so long to notice a pattern developing; then I felt guilty when I realised the 'accidents' started at the same time I returned to work. Later, I felt guilty for telling her off about it on several occasions. Blame the hormones or simply blame the fact that you will forever be tied to these small creatures by a love fiercer than anything previously imaginable, it can sometimes be damned hard to get through the day without beating yourself up that you aren't doing everything perfectly right by your children. It was my day off today and boy, did I need it. All it took was a concerned friend calling me to say she thought I seemed stressed, and the tears came thick and fast. It's funny how someone being nice to you is often the thing that 'allows' you to let go. Several lattes and a lot of laughs later with a gaggle of mum friends in the local cafe, things were looking up. Some weeks, the ones when it all feels a bit too tough, you just have to put it down to experience and hope that next week, things will look a little rosier.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

More on poo

They say having children can bring a welcome sense of perspective on the trials and tribulations of working life. But sometimes my children seem to bring a whole new meaning to this seemingly noble cause. Last night I rushed home to see them as usual after a busy but quite stimulating and rewarding day. I arrived in a somewhat sodden state having been caught in a snowstorm between the bus stop and home wearing only a flimsy dress and jacket (really, global warming effects make it soooo difficult to plan ones wardrobe!) to be greeted by an immediate poo crisis. First, as soon as 6 month old Ava was placed on my lap by my exhausted husband, she unceremoniously and noisily filled her nappy with one of those unstoppable poos that just.. goes... everywhere. Coming back downstairs from the clean-up operation that ensued, involving complete chanegs of clothes for all concerned, I was greeted by 5 year old Eden hopping out of the downstairs loo, knickers and tights around ankles, grinning sheepishly and muttering something about an 'accident'. Sighing exasperatedly, I set to fixing the mess whilst smiling through gritted teeth to maintain the impression that I was still delighted to be home from the office surrounded once more by my angelic children. There followed a short period of respite before we all trooped upstairs to begin the bath and bedtime regime. At which point Ava projectile vomited all over the changing table, herself and me. So yes, kids bring perspective alright. There's nothing like a poo-and-spew incident to bring you back down to earth. Not much phases me in the working world these days. And when people talk about the shit hitting the fan, I just smile a knowing smile to myself.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Clean house: empty life

That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it. At least, I really am trying to. But I'm just too damn house proud still. It has certainly comforted me during weeks like the one I've just had to think that the unruliness (sp?) of everything around me just goes to demonstrate what a full, colourful, dynamic life I lead. When actually, it of course only goes to demonstrate that I have three kids under the age of six and another full-time job on the side. But honestly, this week, the house seemed to reach really-SERIOUS-mess proportions. The sunny weather hasn't helped of course. Having the garden to escape to helps one to avoid direct contact with the pit. Today, however, I could no longer avoid the clothes stacking up in staggering heaps in every conceivable corner, the fact that I could no longer see the floor AT ALL in Eden's bedroom, the strange stickiness of the dining room table and the slightly crunchy sensation underfoot in the kitchen. Waking up at 6am this morning I felt unreasonably exhausted. I wilted down the stairs to make a large pot of strong coffee. Three hours later - with everyone else dressed, breakfasted and busy with an assigned task (Eden - painting; Nathan - playing with railway set; Ava - napping) I fell back into bed determined to ignore the mess around me. Sleep was more important, and I hadn't had much of it during the night. If I became much more of a zombie surely they'd notice at work and this time someone really might just decide to sack me! But the bloody mess conspired to keep me awake. Yep, I actually couldn't sleep until it was tidy. Have decided I am clearly too uptight and must relax more. One, two, three - breeeeeeathe.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Staying on top of it

The bottom line issue for the working mum is 'staying on top of it all'. On a good day, like today, I feel totally in control. The sun was shining this morning and after getting everyone out of bed, washed, dressed and breakfasted I had a productive journey into work (read newspaper, fired off a number of emails, wrote to do lists -work and home), and still managed to arrive at work early (wearing a vaguely coordinating outfit AND make-up!), prepare in an unhurried manner for my first meeting, run the meeting, metaphorically bang a few heads together that were badly in need of banging, type up notes of meeting, fire off some more emails, go for a lovely author lunch and get home early in order to join a conference call with the USA followed by a parent/teacher meeting at Eden's school. Having ascertained that Eden is doing as well as I'd hoped at school I was home before dark to read stories to the older kids, play with jigsaws, jiggle the baby on my knee for a bit, tidy up the zoo (sorry, I mean living room), cook everyone's supper and generally behave like a domestic goddess until bedtime. On days like today I feel light and airy and rather pleased with myself. But so often I feel quite the opposite. I get up, get everyone half-dressed and throw some breakfast in the vague direction of the children before running out of the door forgetting at least one item of clothing, my purse, or some other vital accoutrement. I then spend the day running to catch up through hopeless, endless meetings and get back on the train home wondering what I've really achieved before hitting the maelstrom of stroppy children waiting for my return. I don't really have any answers as to why some days go like today whilst others feel like more of a roller coaster ride in a zoo. But hey, variety is the spice of life!

Monday, 12 March 2007

The magic of the tooth fairy

Going back into the office today was a shock to the system after a day sunning myself in the garden while Ava gurgled in her baby rocker and the older kids cooked mud and twig soup in their plastic tea set. Sat for most of the day in a strategy session for another division, wondering whether what I was able to contribute really counted for anything. Disconnecting is always hard after a tough day when your brain has been challenged and you feel you haven't achieved as much as you should. Sometimes I feel it takes me 5 minutes to shut out thoughts that have followed me home from work, sometimes it can take an hour or so. I know one working mum who suggests changing in to different clothes before going to greet the children, just to mark the 'transition' from work to home. Tonight though, as on most nights, I was given no time to adjust gently from one sphere to the other. I was greeted in the hall as soon as I had crossed the threshold of the front door by what could easily have been mistaken for a small herd of elephants but was in fact Eden (5), closely followed by Nathan (2), gallumphing towards me screeching delightedly about a lost tooth. Yes, Eden lost her first tooth today. And yes, I felt that sentimental tug that accompanies so many 'firsts' in the lives of one's children. Best of all, the excitement engendered in my small ones by this news and the animated discussion that followed about the impending visit of the tooth fairy was just the magic I needed to separate me fully from my working self. But being only a beta mum I have realised that I have no idea how much money one pays these days for a first tooth. Anyone else familiar with the current tooth fairy rate card?! P.S. Also slightly concerned about the fact that Eden carefully spelt out "Toof fairy" on the envelope when we tucked her tooth away this evening - the price we pay for living in darkest south east London?

Sunday, 11 March 2007

There's no such thing as a guilt-free lunch

I shocked myself with my response when the girl asked me when the last time was that I had had one whole day to myself, for myself: "Nearly six years ago." This weekend I spent one whole day without children OR work; without chores OR a business agenda. I went for a 'spa day' at Addington Palace with some of my best supermum pals. The day involved lounging around in little more than a dressing gown, being served tea and coffee, flopping in and out of the sauna and 'floatation tank' (a new experience for all of us) and generally being pampered (facials, massages, manicures etc), ending with dinner out at a wonderful restaurant. The universal rules of working motherhood were never in stronger focus. We all found it exceedingly difficult to relax. In fact, we all found it difficult simply to SIT STILL. We all felt we ought to be doing something. We all felt the tug of the invisible umbilical chord with our kids; wondered what they were doing, how they were doing and worried that some terrible accident would befall them while we were away. We all felt GUILTY. It just seemed wrong to be doing something so self-indulgent, to be away, enjoying ourselves with no more excuse than a feeble, "We really deserve a rest." In the end though, we had the most fabulous time. The sheer luxury of spending a day with no responsibilities, no reason to move except to pick up another magazine or to go for a massage overcame our guilt (almost). By the end of the day we were strangely exhausted. The lady who had organised our day told us that this was normal for the working mums to whom she so frequently plays host. "It's because you just keep going and going,", she explained. "When you finally stop you just run out of energy." Driving home, I felt in one sense as if I wished the day would never end. I turned up the car stereo and drove a longer route home just to spend a little more time alone before rejoining the home scene. But when 6 month old Ava woke towards midnight for a feed and I felt her warm body curled up in my arms, I knew this was still the best place to be in the world.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Alpha Mums in a parallel universe

Met a very good friend for lunch at the British Library yesterday. She's one of those 'Mum friends' who has been an inspiration over the years; something to aim for. What inspires me about her is her resolutely pragmatic, humorous and thoroughly no-nonsense approach to the whole baby-juggling thing. She has three boys, the youngest of whom is seven; the kind of handful that would cause meltdown in some lesser females. She has a super-achiever husband who is often half way round the world on business. Yet somehow over the seven years that I have known her, first as a professional colleague and then as a friend, she has continuously shaken up departments, devised and led major new online marketing initiatives, and set up two new businesses, all whilst coming home to be Mum to these three little rough-and-tumblers. Daryl has eyes that shine with humour and a tinkling laugh. Over lunch she made me giggle into my soup at her descriptions of the 'Alpha Mums' in the middle class part of south London in which she lives. Many of these women, with husbands in the city earning the mega bucks, can choose not to work. But without the need to earn a living, with time on their hands and fathomless bank accounts to boot, they make it their mission in life to make motherhood an art, a discipline, a 'career' in and of itself. These are the mothers who have organised their precious baby's birthday party six months in advance (they've booked the venue, the circus troupe, the fireworks, the caterer) while we 'ordinary mums' call around a few friends a couple of weeks beforehand, get a bunch of kids over for a party at the house, throw a few cocktail sausages and some sandwiches on some party plates and gather in corners trying to remember the rules of any party games beyond musical bumps and pass the parcel. These are the women who call you in the office and expect you to be able to focus for more than three minutes on the exact details of next week's half term activity timetable, who is driving who to 'Arty Party' and which is the best drama workshop for under fives in south west London. They are the Alpha Mums and they live in a parallel universe. They make mothering into a competition and frown on those of us who dare to spend a bit of our time doing something else. But when us 'Beta Mums' get together it is soooo much more fun. The warmth, the 'comradeship' and the downright good humour are enough to see us through any work or mothering crisis. And we're always there to cover each other's arses.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

QT in the quiet hours

Sleep or the lack of it has become almost a non-subject for me third child in. I'm often amazed by the human being's capacity to cope on a physical as well as emotional level with all sorts of hardship. But working mums have to take home the prize for doing a great deal more than just function on the back of maybe 4 or 5 hours of broken sleep. I notice that when I dare to marvel at this capacity my darling husband will make comments such as, "Tony Blair and George Bush survive on less than that and the next day they have to get up and run a country." Bless him. But I notice that it's always me that gets up to attend to the two year old who has had a nightmare or to allow the five year old into bed with us or to cradle the baby in my arms and rock her back to sleep at 2am. Non-mother friends often gape in disbelief about this, but I think I've worked out what gives women the strength to do this and then just get up and go to work the following day. It's a simple thing called love. Because most of the time, even when I feel ragged with exhaustion, there is still something special about comforting my children in the dark, quiet hours before dawn. Lying quietly with Ava (6 months) between 5am and 6.30am this morning, her fingers wrapped tightly round one of mine, I just enjoyed the peace. Call it whatever you like, those hours can become precious quality time when the day is taken up with work of the paid kind.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Devastation Tuesday

My world was tipped rudely off its axis yesterday when the best PA I have ever had handed in her resignation. Sonie Shaw has brilliantly managed my working life since I joined Pan Macmillan in June 2006. For the first time ever in my career I have been given time and space to do my job while someone else organises my meetings, sets up my lunches, maintains an immaculately conceived filing system and ensures that I remember everything I need to take to each meeting. They say that behind every great man is a woman but I think behind every really successful working woman there must be a super-PA. Sonie is not only that but she is absolutely stunning to look at, she's really warm and funny and, well, she just brightens up my day on a regular basis. She doesn't even mind that my 5-year old, Eden, thinks she's a real-life Barbie and likes to practise her make-up skills on her. I really and truly don't know what I'll do without her, but she deserves the sunny life in Australia for which she is deserting us, and I'll just have to hope I can have her back if she ever returns to the UK. Sob!

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Toilet humour

It's late, it's been a long day, and while there are many erudite matters I'd like to discuss I've settled on the subject of boys and poo. Nathan (2) has developed an obsession with the toilet. He has taken to yelling loudly, "woilett' or "lew, lew!" in an oddly posh voice whenever any of us enters the bathroom. This I could handle, since clearly I am acclimatised to all the yelling and really, he's sooooooo cute. But any semblance of the supermum in me disappeared when I found him leaning quietly over the toilet yesterday swishing his hand around in the water with a satisfied grin on his face. i was quite ashamed of myself. I just ran towards him yelling, "Noooooooo!" All self-control vanished in a moment. No wonder it's so nice to be at work sometimes. And I'm sure I'm not allowed to say this in these politically correct times but to hell with it: boys, eh?!

Monday, 5 March 2007


Eden is putting a scrapbook together. It has stickers, which is enough to get any small girl excited. Each sticker suggests a topic or a heading for different sections of the scrapbook. We come to a heading, "When I grow up, I want to be a...." Eden thinks about it for a minute, a frown wrinkling her otherwise perfectly pale brow. "You know what, Mummy? I wanna be a book-maker!" she announces gleefully, a twinkle in her eye. It takes me a moment to realise what she is saying. "Aah, do you mean you want to make books?"I suggest. "Yeah, just like you, Mum," she replies. Phew, not the other thing, then. Really, she has no idea what a shrewd analogy she just drew, but apart from that I feel thrilled that she is inspired by what I do for a living. I know, I know, kids ALWAYS want to copy what their parents do when they're only 5 and still think you're the best thing since sliced bread. But wanting to be an inspiration to my daughters is one of the things that keeps me working. I want them to know that being a woman - and especially being a mother - need not stop them from having their own aspirations, passions and achievements outside of the home. And just as long as there's still time to stick scrapbooks together with our children, why not?

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Week 1: survival

It is with a sense of smug relief and sheer EXHAUSTION that we reach the end of Week One - Back at Work. Noone has died; noone even had a nervous breakdown. Well, Paul nearly had one, I think, but he covered it well. A few tears have been shed by all of us, each for their own very different reasons. Me, because I'm the person who got fat and carried these children around in my belly for nine months, pushed them out into the world and breastfed them, yet I'm the one walking up the drive every morning going... well, it doesn't matter really - just, going somewhere else which isn't with them. I don't actually know whether Paul cried, but he probably did. He turned 50 last december, he just had minor surgery less than two weeks ago, and his probably insane wife thinks he should be skipping with joy at the prospect of looking after three children under the age of six for at least the next five years...Then, Eden, she cried because right now I'm the No 1 person in her life (long may it last) and, I think, she does miss not having me around all the time. Though with Eden it could just as easily be that she sniffed the inate sense of drama in the whole affair and reckoned it was time to turn the taps on, big-time. Nath, he cried because he fell and bumped his head, his sister took his favourite car, Bob the Builder had been switched off ...or whatever. And Ava, she cried because she's a baby and that's what they do. So, most of the tears were easily dried. And they hardly noticed at work that I am almost delirious with lack of sleep - heinously strong coffee served me well, there. And I really quite enjoyed myself: the buzz of being back in the office; adult conversation; tackling thorny business issues; gossiping about silly colleagues; getting through the day in the same outfit without it being sicked on.... that kinda thing. The weekend is upon us, and we survived Week One. Phew.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

'A handbag?!'

It struck me this morning as I swapped handbags that the detritus collecting at the bottom of said item can come to represent the enormous colour and variety (or clutter - on a bad day) of one's life. As I sifted through the rubbish to pull out only the items I really and truly needed to survive the day (phone; oyster card, purse, make-up), I found the usual sweet wrappers, bus tickets, receipts, pens and tampax 'bon bons' but also smiled to find: several pink hair clips (not mine), some Mr Men books (not mine), a small, red toy locomotive (not mine) and a surprising number and variety of chocolates (OK, maybe some of them mine).