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Thursday, 26 July 2007

The nits have landed

Oh, the shame! Two days ago as I stroked Eden's hair away from her face my fingers brushed across some surprisingly tenacious, tiny, hard grey pods attached to individual hairs around her hairline. Uh-oh, I thought. I'd been dreading this moment throughout the school year, as one by one several of her class mates were visited by the dreaded head lice. Eden had been scratching her head for a couple of days now, and I had wondered when we'd finally succumb. Last night, the eggs hatched, and, oh my goodness, I was sooooo not prepared for how this would make me feel...! First off, there's the sheer, unadulterated hatred for these very small creatures quite literally INFESTING your child's head (I couldn't help but cry, "Aha! Got another one of the little buggers!" every time I pulled one from her hair - thus teaching Eden a really cool new word to show off to her friends in the playground - ooops); then there's a degree of shock that such a condition can possibly still exist in the 21st century (shouldn't these things have disappeared with leeches / the plague, etc, some time around the middle ages or so??)... and finally, a rather pleasing sense of victory as you visit death and destruction on them through the wondrous miracle of DERBAC-M and a small plastic comb. Oh, the power! We are still waging war on the little critters, forcing me to rise yet another half hour earlier each morning in order to incorporate the lice-killing into my morning routine before work. Parenting, it's full of surprises, innit?

Monday, 23 July 2007


Last week, two of the most important females in my life made it through significant milestones. On Thursday, my eldest daughter Eden (5 1/2), finished her first year at school, receiving her first 'school report', and my Mum celebrated her retirement, aged 60. Both events reminded me how lucky I am. Both events made me feel proud to be connected to the family from which I come and the family which I am trying to create. Both events made me think about the kind of woman that my Mum tried to help me to become and the kind of girl that I hope I'm now helping my daughter to become. I try to avoid doing the stupidly proud parent thing too often, and so I won't bore you with all the details of Eden's school report. But I will tell you five phrases out of the two page document which left me with that unmistakable glowing feeling: 'independent in making choices'; 'very focused'; 'fun'; 'full of positive energy' and 'helpful towards others'. None of these describe Eden's academic skills, but for me, if Eden can retain these characteristics, they'll be so much more important than the results she'll get as she progresses through school. Listening to my Dad's speech at my Mum's retirement party later the same day, it really came home to me how much of a positive influence my mother has been on my life, and just how hard it will be ever to live up the kind of example she has set for us. Mum is a consistently upbeat, balanced and calm person, rarely ruffled by anything. She is 'formidably intelligent', as my Dad would put it. She can talk the hind leg off a donkey. About anything. She has a frighteningly impressive general knowledge about everything from sport through politics. She is full of life and positive energy. She is happy in her own skin. She is very strong. She is a 'coper'. She makes people feel comfortable. She is full of wisdom. She is a natural 'counsellor'. Mum gave up huge chunks of her life and a potential career in social work to raising my brothers and me when we were small, without so much as a resentful word, despite the fact that she could easily have had a very successful career. Much later on in life, when we were all a great deal older, she made herself an entirely new career in teaching, just like that. The main thing Mum taught me was that I could do anything. The world was my oyster, so why not? She always made me feel secure. She always made me feel loved. She always protected me fiercely in a crisis or a confrontation, but at the same time she taught me to stick up for myself. She taught me a particular brand of 'no-nonsense', 'pull-your-socks-up' Britishness which I'm sure still carries me through many a sticky patch. Importantly, she always offered advice and provided a safety net, but she never made choices for me. She vehemently advocated independence. I wanted to say something at Mum's retirement party but I felt too emotional to make a speech: I wanted to make sure everyone acknowledged that her greatest achievements were in her career as a Mother; in launching us all into the world in such an empowering way. And I know now that Eden's school report reads as it does in large part because my Mum's influence is already extending into the next generation.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Diary therapy

When Eden was born, her arrival was greeted with boundless joy... and soft toys. I'm not certain but I'd be willing to bet that she received more soft toys at birth than many children receive in a life time. Out of the countless soft toys that we laid at the foot of her cot, she chose one particular toy as her 'special' companion: Moo-Moo. Moo-Moo is a red and orange cow from Blossom Farm, which tinkles faintly when you shake it. Since Eden's earliest days, Moo-Moo has gone everywhere with her. At night time, it is only Moo-Moo who will do. Its tail is threadbare from constant fondling. The fabric washing instruction label is long gone. But last week, Eden's new teacher decided, after an incident in which Moo-Moo became temporarily mislaid in the classroom and Eden became temporarily hysterical, that it would be better if from now on, Moo-Moo stayed at home while Eden was in school. In order to help Eden deal with this potential trauma, her teacher has provided her with a home/school 'contact book', in which Eden is to record thoughts and stories about her day to be shared with Moo-Moo when she gets home. The two, A4 page-long eulogies that Eden has so far scribbled in this book will be treasured by Paul and me forever. They'd be 'lost in translation' if I transcribed them here. You have to read them in Eden's five-year-old, shaky, uncertain writing, and you kinda have to know her, too. But suffice to say they made us laugh and cry in almost equal measure. And it occured to me tonight as I was thinking about what I wanted to blog, that blogging is to me what that home/school contact book is for Eden. Both provide a kind of separation therapy using the written word. It's interesting just how much the act of writing in that simple green school exercise book is working for Eden. Like mother, like daughter, I suppose.

Thursday, 12 July 2007


Somebody at work very kindly pointed out that yesterday's post gave the appearance that I was 'blowing my own trumpet' about being a 'top executive'. Err, no. That is sooooo far from how I think of myself that I am quite red-faced at the thought of it. No, I was referring to the character in the Allison Pearson novel, who is the kind of be-suited, top flight city exec that I couldn't possibly hope (or wish, actually) to become. I am merely a struggling digital publisher, which, I can assure you, is pretty low down the food chain of desirable / glamorous jobs by anyone's standards in the trade publishing business, and a would-be (but always failing) supermum.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

"I don't know how she does it"

Today for, oh, about the zillionth time since I had kids and went back to work, a Bright Young Thing said to me "You remind me of that woman in Allison Pearson's 'I don't know how she does it!" I *think* and hope I should take this as a compliment. I hope I'm as humble and as humorous as her character is about the role she plays in life as wife, mother and busy top level executive. If you're a Working Mum like me and you haven't read it yet, get a copy. It's absolutely hilarious and captures to a 'T' some of the absurdities of the modern phenomenon that we have become; largely brought on by the insane pressures that we exert upon ourselves to be perfect in every aspect of our lives.
When the Bright Young Thing enquired, "So, how do you do it?" I thought for a moment, then replied, "It's about the ability to compartmentalise, to switch in and out of work mode and mother mode; it's about having quality childcare in which you can completely trust; it's about not beating yourself up and it's about having a sense of humour as well as perspective."
The perspective thing is really important. When I got home from work today in my usual crumpled state of exhaustion, I almost missed Ava (now 10 months) who was sitting up on the sofa chewing a spoon quite contentedly, I was ignored entirely by Eden (5 1/2) who was playing with her fairy dolls upstairs happily in her room, and was waved to merrily by Nathan (2) who was careering up and down the back garden in a plastic car. It just struck me at that moment how absolutely happy they all are and how assured they seem about the fact that I work. I wish the guilt would go away.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Nice to have known you

It comes to something when people to whom you thought you were really quite close start to comment that they are glad to hear that you've emerged from a rough patch or that you had a good weekend - when actually they only know this because they read it on your blog. I did wonder whether life had started to proceed at such a whirlwind pace that it was all beginning to get slightly out of control, when my very own Dad made just such a comment this weekend. So Dad, if you're reading, I love you. You're the best Dad ever.
The four day break that I just had was in fact a great sanity check in a more general sense. I slowed down pretty much to a snail's pace, hardly glanced once at the Crackberry, drank many cups of tea in various people's back gardens and watched my children prance around half naked in the sunshine watering the plants and each other out of plastic watering cans. Ah, the simple pleasures are the best! Just need to wind myself back up now to face the next onslaught at work. Now that I've been given the go ahead on two big projects I guess I'll actually have to get working to achieve them...

Friday, 6 July 2007

Keep on keeping up

The last two weeks have now merged in my mind into one mental, headlong rush towards Wednesday, when the latter of my two major deadlines at work culminated in a meeting at which one of the project teams I have been leading presented its proposals to our steering committee. The meeting went exceptionally well, and the sense of relief afterwards was palpable. I'd already booked an extra day off for the day after, so the journey home from work Wednesday night felt all the sweeter as I headed south into a four day break with my family. One important aspect of this mini-break is that I have made absolutely no concrete plans for filling it; I felt that I needed a bit of free-form time. And it's only now, on the second day in to my break, that I've realised how much the last two weeks I simply 'survived' rather than 'lived'. When you have so much on your plate you just keep going; you 'keep on keeping on'. But what also happens is that you make what seem like partially conscious decisions about which balls to keep in the air and which to drop. So it is that the following things are dropped: managing the household paperwork (one only pays attention to it when the tottering heap on the desk in the office falls over or the red bill arrives from BT); staying on top of household dust (I know we do own some dusters but really, this has got to be the most tiresome household chore next to ironing, which also never gets done in this household); maintaining an in-depth awareness of current affairs (I'm lucky if I have read the weekend papers by the end of the week and have just realised that I have no idea even of who's in and who's out at Wimbledon this year) and keeping abreast of the latest 'theme days' at Eden's school (this latter one became an issue this morning when Eden announced she should be wearing green because it was 'Green Day'; neither of us knew whether this was an entirely fabricated idea but fortunately it was not, as she would have looked pretty silly turning up looking quite so much like an elf if it were). Last night I ended up wondering whether I was the only Working Mum who actually feels relieved at the end of some weeks that we have managed to keep everyone in clean clothes, found food to put on the table each evening and maintained at least the appearance of sanity.

Monday, 2 July 2007

A life more ordinary

Over the weekend, our Internet connection failed. Which was a Good Thing. After my five day week and a fevered rush towards two major project deadlines at work, it was important to be switched off at the mains from work; to be forced to RELAX. I went to see Eden in her end of term ballet show and grinned my way through her nervous, giggling, wobbling performance, stifling snorts of laughter at the silliness of it and almost crying with the strange pain of it; I can never quite get over how much you physically want to carry them through every little milestone, however trivial. We attended a lovely party put on by neighbours, where the babies were passed from one person to another, the children weaved their way between the adults' legs playing impenetrable games, and the wine and the conversation flowed easily. We took a trip to the shops to buy Eden new sandals, had lunch out, visited friends and then settled down to an enormous roast dinner on Sunday. It was all very ordinary - and nice. It's important to have weekends like this at least once in a while. It revitalises you. And it reminds you of the things that matter.