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Friday, 29 June 2007

Every extra hour counts

Monday seems such a very long time ago. This week I worked five days as opposed to the usual four, and boy, it's an awfully long week. How do people do it? I now face a mere two day weekend, as well. It'll be over before I know it! For some reason, just to make the week seem even longer, I've been getting home quite late, too. So I've been whisking the children up to bed almost the moment I'm through the door. If there's one thing I'm disciplined about it is managing the hours I am prepared to spend inside an office, so this is really unusual for me. And it's funny how even in the space of just a week this way of living can make you feel like a virtual stranger in your own home. Not only that, it's squeezed the 'me time' down to pretty much nil. Even more to the point, it's made me think about all those men who've worked like that for years, and the testosterone-fuelled women who are now stepping in to their shoes. It's made me glad I don't live that way and helped me to realise the value even just in those few extra hours I grab with the family at either end of the day and in the extra day I carve out with them in every week by taking Fridays off. "Before you know it, they'll have grown up", people say. "Enjoy these early years; they're so special". I do enjoy every single minute I can grab with my children. But I'm also glad that I spend a reasonable part of my life working in an industry that I love, even though that takes me away from my children during this special time. When they have grown up it'll mean there is still something that is mine and which defines me apart from motherhood.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Disaster Recovery

Today I spent a very instructional half day at a training centre in Holborn learning all about how to manage communications in the event of a crisis. Planning for and managing 'disaster recovery' is no simple task, let me tell you, but whatever happens, I hope the video shot of me today attempting to respond to an interviewer's questions in the wake of a dummy-run 'disaster' will never see the light of day. That really would be a disaster from which I'd probably never recover. But while on the subject, it made me think how great it would be to get training for real-life 'disaster recovery'. Like, how to recover from the disaster of staying up till 3.30am partying (I had to drop that one in as we actually did it on Saturday night; you wondered why I'd been so quiet, didn't you?), or, how to recover the disaster zone that is one's body (and, let's face it, mind) after childbirth, or, how to recover one's equilibrium after a challenging day at the office in time to breeze through the front door cheerily and cook everybody dinner without snapping people's heads off unnecessarily (yep, guilty on that one, too). Perhaps I should make my millions writing a disaster recovery manual for parents...

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Gear shift

I feel like I'm always saying this, but it's been one helluva week. You know that feeling you get when you try to cycle up hill in the wrong gear? (I have to confess this is now entirely theoretical for me as I never cycle anywhere). The pedals seem to spin round and round really fast but the bike hardly moves. Well, right now it feels like I'm pedaling like fury but the effort to achievement ratio is just not happening for me. So am I in the wrong gear, on the wrong bike or am I just trying to cycle up the wrong hill? I have to say, right now, I'm starting to wonder if it's the wrong hill. I mean, should I really be expending as much emotional energy on work when the people who really need it are my kids? In fact, I've been so very much at my wit's end that I've started having those fantasies about moving to France, buying up an old wreck and becoming a pig farmer - that kinda thing. I know, I KNOW. The grass is always greener on the other side and all that. But really, don't you ever think some times.... WHY?!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Shift work

Over the weekend we attended a party held by my good friend (and colleague and mentor) Mike. Unusually, it was a birthday party for a dog called Bruno, who had just turned 12. But that's not the point of my blog today. I was struck by the number of times people made comments to me along the lines of, "Goodness me. Three children. You're brave!" Quite a few of the comments came from people with two children of their own. It seems that crossing the boundary from two to three children takes you from average parents to the slightly insane kind. I guess it's the equivalent of moving from one or maybe even two cats to three or four - suddenly you're the 'mad cat lady' as opposed to the innocent pet owner. (Not that I'm in any way trying to suggest that having children is like having pets. Really!) Or to completely bastardise that infamous Oscar Wild comment, "To have one extra child ... may be regarded as a misfortune; to have two looks like carelessness." When I think about the way in which Paul and I operate when we're out with the kids I always have this funny vision of us passing them between us like rugby players making backwards passes. And I'm sure by the end of it we look about as exhausted, crumpled and generally beaten up as rugby players, too. People seem to look at Paul and I on occasions such as the party on Saturday with a mixture of horror, amusement, wonder and, I like to imagine, a bit of awe (but that last is probably just my ever-hopeful imagination). Oh, what it is to be something of a circus freak show!
The other thing that struck me on Saturday was the number of times people said to me, "Aren't you lucky to have a husband who's prepared to run around after the kids like that?" Each time I looked round to see him picking up Nath from the floor, wiping Ava's nose or generally beating me hands down in the baby-juggling stakes. I probably moan at and about Paul far too much. He is the too-often unsung hero in my baby-juggling reports. In fact, any baby-juggling 'prowess' I might claim is really nothing without him running around in the background. Here's to house husbands. And may they grow in number and in strength.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Stuff and bother

It's been a normal Friday, involving coffee with Mum pals, shopping, lunch out with friends and time out in the garden. I really enjoyed the hour or so I got with Nath alone (an unusual thing). We sat in the garden and blew bubbles together (he says 'bubbles' in the cutest way imaginable; really difficult to reproduce phonetically so I won't attempt it) This ended rather prematurely when he spilled all the bubble mixture onto the patio and made a lovely muddy, gooey mess out of it which he then proceeded to rub onto his tummy. ?? Boys! I also got round to something that I've been putting off for far too long: I tidied Eden's room. I guess it shouldn't matter that half the time we seem to live in a pigsty, but pheweee, I actually feel lighter and happier now it's done. I don't have to avert my eyes every time I walk past her room. I actually filled a black bin bag with stuff that I consider to be rubbish. She may disagree, but I'm hoping she won't notice.... What is it with small girls and endless STUFF?! I found countless little bags full of oddments. She would call them 'treasures'. I didn't throw it all away (I'm not that heartless). Meanwhile, Paul was working on a much bigger project of a similar nature. Over the last couple of months he has been slowly working through one of the larger bedrooms in our house to try to clear a space for Nath to move into and thus enable Ava to move out of our bedroom and into a room of her own. Right now it's full of thousands of records and CDs - many from the time when Paul set up an online retail business; a great deal of them though part of his own (large) collection. These are being divided into saleable stock, stuff he wants to keep and stuff to be thrown. It's a long job, but hopefully we'll get everyone moved into their new spaces before Ava turns one! It strikes me that it's rather a cruel irony that I hate 'stuff' quite so much, what with the 'treasure'-collecting five year old and the vinyl-junkie-of-a-husband. I am learning patience and understanding, I promise, only veeeeery sloooooowly ;-)

Monday, 11 June 2007

Late nights, early mornings

It's amazing what you can achieve by Staying Up Late and Getting Up Early. I know: d'UH! But my mother always taught me not to burn the candle at both ends, see. And I took her advice to heart. So I had my health. I slowed the wrinkles down maybe just a tad. But I just wasn't achieving quite enough in a single day for my liking. Recently, Ava started sleeping through the night, give or take the odd night. (It's only taken her nine months.... ) Taking my categorisation as Superwoman seriously, I took this as a cue to up the ante (Did I mention the self-imposed over-achiever thing?)
So now, I have the full-time job (pretending to be a part-time job), the three kids, the hippy husband AND the blog AND The Project. Speaking of which.... no, I'm not allowed to say anything. Suffice to say that going out with the Fab Four to discuss said project last night was Really Good Fun. It all ended in the usual alcohol-induced haze, with Danuta and I crashing into her flat at some ungodly hour only to surprise her very lovely French boyfriend, who seemed like he wasn't expecting me. What gave me this impression was the nudity. Yep, there's nothing like a naked Frenchman at 1am to lift the spirits.
Anyway, what with all this additional action, here I am again at the computer far too close to midnight. Tonight, Paul went out. I put all three kids to bed, read stories, brought up numerous bedtime drinks, dealt with sleep avoidance / delay tactics from Eden and Nath, watched a documentary about China (VG - presented by Paul Merton), dealt with insomniac five year old (couldn't get to sleep without 'Moo-Moo'; lost somewhere today), read a load of work papers, ate takeaway, wrote a blog, worked on some ideas for the Secret Project, sterilised bottles, prepared milk feeds.... and finally collapsed in the bath. Tomorrow morning I will be up again at around 6am, ready to face another day.... ish.

Nature or nurture?

Sooo, basically, I've got no idea. Not a clue. But it's irrelevant. All my kids are clearly inheriting the very worst of my character defects as well as a smattering of my obsessions as well, either way. Last week, this came crashing home to me when I took a phone call at about 3.30pm on Thursday afternoon. It was Paul, asking me to speak to a sobbing Eden. Between the sobs and the hiccups I managed to ascertain that she was upset about her progress in reading at school and in her after-school French classes. The teachers were going too fast for her; she just wasn't clever enough; she couldn't possibly keep up. Meanwhile, her teachers report that she is doing brilliantly. Both her reading and her French are above average, for sure, yet she is consumed by an entirely self-imposed view that she is not doing well enough; she must go faster, get better, quicker. At the weekend she started reading me the headlines from The Guardian, fergoodnesssake. She's only five! Thank goodness we are not sending her to private school and that I don't subscribe to the pushy alpha-Mum approach; the girl has enough of the high-achiever/perfectionist in her to avoid the need for any additional external pressure. Sounds deeply familiar.
Nath, meanwhile, is increasingly displaying an unhealthy obsession with the hoover. In fact, not just with our hoover. When we visit other people's houses, he actively seeks out their hoovers - even if only to be found in the understairs cupboard (I think he has 'hoo-dar' - like gay-dar but for hoovers). When he sees the hoover, he runs towards it, pointing and grinning animatedly and yelling, "Look! Hoooover! Hoooover!" This one is a kind of perverse inversion of another of my obsessions, i.e. I am obsessed with the concept of cleanliness and tidiness, but never achieve it quite to the level to which I aspire (OK, to anywhere near the level to which I aspire). The problem is, I won't go near the hoover. I hate hoovers. And anyway, hoovering is a mug's game when you have children!
As if it weren't bad enough that the kids offer up a mirror reflection to my stupidest traits, I've really started noticing the way they copy my most habitual speech patterns and phrases. Nathan, who is a little Lord Fauntleroy lookalike, with his mop of unruly blond hair and enormous blue eyes, makes me die laughing every time he greets me with a breezy, "Hello, Dah-ling!" on my return from work (in exactly my tone of voice). And Eden just said, "No I can't, you cheeky chops!" in response when I asked her to clean her teeth. Did I mention she's only five? Little madam.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Frustration, alleviation and delegation

It's been a mixed week at work. It's been a bit of a case of two steps forward, three steps back in some areas, and I haven't always felt buoyed by positivity, let's put it that way. But I forge ahead in my own inimitable fashion, as always (like a bull in a china shop, some might say...) The blog has been suffering again, too. Sheer Bloody Exhaustion is really the only excuse I can offer. But anyhoo, the week was punctuated (and the frustrations alleviated) by two fun events. First, the Blogs and Social Media Forum which I attended on Tuesday. I was delighted to bump into my friend Jon Reed, who always brightens my day. I was also pleased to see the way in which blogs and other social media tools are beginning to have such an impact on the media industry as a whole, and there were quite a few book publishers there, which made me a happy girl. It was fascinating that when the conference hall of 300 delegates was asked for a show of hands by those who wrote a blog, more than half raised their hands. Second, I last night was a guest at a Society of Bookmen dinner. I know, it's a society title to make one shudder to the very bone, (I was told, "Don't go there!" when I asked whether they'd considered a re-brand), and they live up to their name so perfectly that they don't even have a web site... but all that aside, the food was delicious, the wine excellent, the company good fun, and the after-dinner speaker one of the most urbane, witty and insightful about current issues in the broadcast and other media, Michael Grade.
Apart from these two events, something else has really kept my spirits up this week. I've been enjoying observing the way that Eden (my five year old) is beginning to take the role of Big Sister increasingly in her stride. With two tot-like siblings I reckon she feels she's got it all sussed now. It's hilarious to hear the way she goes up an octave and assumes a voice spookily like mine as she confronts Nathan (two) about some instance of poor behaviour (usually pulling her hair, stealing her toys or generally squaring up to her): "NO, Nathan!" But the best bit is that suddenly I have a little girl who takes such pleasure in fulfilling simple tasks for me. She has started to help by feeding Ava her Weetabix in the morning (it's a slightly messier approach, but definitely more fun than when I do it). Even more adorable, she offered to read Nath his bedtime story a few nights ago. He won't hear anything else than John Burningham's The Blanket, so she duly read it to him , sitting on a little white, wooden chair that she dragged through from her room and placed by his cot so that he could look through the railings at the pictures. Since that evening she has read to him every evening, the habits already becoming entrenched, so that the white chair has become her 'story-telling' chair, and she even closes the curtains, kisses him goodnight, and instructs him to 'snuggle up now, and go to sleep' as she wishes him goodnight afterwards, just as I do with her. I have to confess that I shed a little tear the first evening as I heard her reading so sweetly to him and listened to his delighted voice finishing each sentence before she had even reached it. And so it is that the frustrations of the week have already paled into insignificance.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Park Life

This week started well, with a pretty much perfect English day out: a 'grand picnic' in Regent's Park orchestrated magnificently by author and great friend Barry (pictured here with Ava and me) and his wife Mary (Actually, I must say I think the marvellous Mary did most of the orchestrating while Barry looked on in helpless wonder at her organisational prowess).
I love London parks in summer, and Regent's Park was in particularly romantic mood on Sunday, with the whispy pollen from the huge sprawling trees above our heads floating down to rest on us all. Of course, the world and his (designer) wife (plus perfectly planned 1.2 children and matching Bugaboo) was out in force, using the park as promenade. I felt rather pleased to buck this trend, with our extremely un-designer chariot (slightly muddy, slightly sticky Mothercare double buggy bought on eBay for a song; beakers, bottles, picnic rug, football, toy picnic set and all spilling out everywhere) and our proper little motley brood in tow.
One of the things I love about taking kids to an event like this is the way that they almost instantly adapt to the surroundings, find a way to have fun. On Sunday it was the nearby, empty bandstand which seemed to draw the children from all the surrounding picnic-ing groups. Gangs were formed and dissolved and reformed, and multiple games initiated, before the adults had opened the first bottles of wine for the day.
Amongst the parents at the picnic though there was a subtle undercurrent of anxiety, as the variously sized children were watched over in shifts to prevent any falls into the boating lake on one side or any adventurous wanderings into the wooded areas behind. 'Stranger danger' and how to approach it with children was discussed in subdued tones, the news story about missing Madeleine foremost in everyone's minds.
But it was wonderful to observe the insistent, disruptive force of the children, who refused to allow an entirely picture perfect picnic. I love their energy, their ability to make friendships in an instant, to break through social mores with the subtlety of small, rampaging elephants, to ensure that noone gets engaged in too serious a conversation for too long. It can be frustrating, yes, to try to circulate amongst a party of adults only to be constantly interrupted by the need to attend to ones children. But it occurs to me that I spend the majority of my week dealing with other grown-ups, being professional, imposing structure and efficiency on things. Sometimes it's good to be disrupted from all that.
As we loaded our lot into the buggy for the return journey home, Nathan and Ava fell almost instantly asleep (see pic), whilst Eden was virtually keeling over with contented exhaustion. For them it had definitely been a perfect day out. And that's what matters most to me.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Keeping up

Most of the time, I believe I'm a pretty relaxed parent. I watch other parents, fussing over their kids, getting all angsty about this and that and think, "Hey, I'm not that bad". But I think with me there's this kind of cloud of concern always lurking somewhere in the back of my mind. With three kids and a more or less full-time paid job, I just worry that I'm not keeping up with all their needs, their developments, their changes; that I can't possibly keep pace with all of it and at the same time keep up the pace at work. With Eden, this anxiety has reached a new high since she started school. Am I on top of her relationships with her teachers, her developmental progress, her friendships? Would I definitely know if there was an issue I should be aware of? Am I in touch enough with what's going on in her life?
I had lunch with a colleague the other day, a real high-achiever who constantly beats himself up about his own performance and is always setting himself goals that must be achieved within certain timeframes. His parents have apparently told him that his problem is that he has no children. Once he has children, they rationalise, he will have less time to think about himself, he'll have to relax a bit more, he'll have a better sense of perspective. All this is true, but what I'm finding as a parent is that if you're the type to set yourself tough objectives in your working life, you're just as likely to continue to do so as a parent.
I'm really good at telling myself I shouldn't be so hard on myself. I'm even pretty good at following this advice most of the time. But still those concerns don't stop lurking at the back of my mind... I guess what you have to ask yourself is not, "Am I the perfect parent?" but, "Am I good enough?"