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Thursday, 27 September 2007

Can someone please give me a sweetie?

Yesterday this announcement was made, and Richard Charkin, probably the single most inspirational force in my career, departed his role as CEO of Macmillan, where I work. To say this saddens me would be the understatement of the year. I can't remember a single meeting with him when he hasn't challenged me, motivated me and frustrated the hell out of me, usually all at the same time. Richard has this capacity to inject energy into every project he touches, to enthuse and empower people to work harder, faster and better, to push through innovation and change, to shout loudly (and generally pretty eloquently) about unfairness, sloppiness and, well, crapness of any sort. He's the most sought-after speaker at just about any event because he always has something interesting, thought-provoking and contrary to say. Despite the appearance of being wedded to his job, he clearly loves his family and has always been hugely supportive of working mums like me and the balancing act we have to manage (just as long as we continued to do our jobs well!), as evidenced by references on his blog such as this. Since he became a Grandfather, I noticed he even liked to compare pics of the kids. On the down side, he has terrible ADD, so much so that he'd probably get bored before he reached the end of this sentence and find it too much bother to read it all the way through (I say this in only the most affectionate way). Whatever his faults, to me, and to lots of others who work at Macmillan, Richard has come to evoke the spirit of the place. It just won't be the same without him.
Today, a vanishing act of equally devastating proportions affected my almost-six-year-old daughter Eden. Her beloved 'Moo Moo' went missing for several hours. By the time I returned home the search had reached epic proportions (Paul had started emptying the bins out) and the hysterics had reached fever pitch (that was just Paul; you should have heard Eden). I rashly promised Eden that I would 'definitely' find Moo-Moo; that she wasn't to worry; that I'd give her a sweetie if she stopped wailing (I already had a terrible headache). Suffice to say, I did find Moo-Moo, and to Eden it is already as if it never happened. I wish someone could offer me a sweetie and make everything better.

Monday, 24 September 2007

OK, so maybe having three children is a BIT mad

I know I've vented on this blog before about people (especially Londoners) treating you like a freak for having three kids. OK, so it means you have more children than you have hands, say, or eyes. OK, so the kids outnumber the parents. OK, so it's just not as neat and tidy and compartmentalised as having two. But I like it, OK? I like the mess, the chaos, the general zooishness of home with three kids in it. I like the ever-changing dynamics between the kids. I like it when they all laugh together; when they invent games together; when they sing and dance round the living room together. Lately, however, I've been beginning to realise why perhaps so many people pursuing careers as well as trying to maintain family lives stop at one or two. Having three kids seems to have tipped me over the edge on the control front. Over the last week I've been desperately trying to get back on top of an overburdened email inbox and attempting to start at 5,000 word article on the future of publishing for a US-based journal at the same time as managing Ava's first birthday celebrations, circumnavigating the world of children's entertainers (in preparation for Eden's sixth celebrations), planning Nathan's start at nursery and trying to stay on top of Eden's new school requirements (in Year 1 they get Homework and have things called School/Home Contact Books and have to learn Spellings. Yikes). Things crystallised further tonight as I picked up some random hair clips of Eden's from the bathroom floor and mused, for the millionth time, on where all the missing hair clips go. It's the same with missing socks and the tiny parts from toys. These all seem like small things, I know, but the cumulative effect of not being in control of all these seemingly insignificant things adds weight to the other more serious challenges. Maybe it was having No 3 that sent me over the edge. Or maybe it was child No 3 that just stopped me from being a hideous control freak. Instead I am only a mild control freak. Or something. A Mum pal was regaling me the other day about how she carefully pairs all the socks for her and her kids, but refuses to do this for her partner. He throws them on opposite sides of the room when he takes them off, so he doesn't deserve the full sock-pairing service, she reasons. If only I ever got round to pairing any socks! Sigh.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Don't call Social Services.... Yet

Deepening even my usual levels of guilt and misapprehension about my abilities as a mother, the last week has featured an alarming number of accidents. First, when Ava broke out in an all-over body rash the day before her first birthday party, I decided that she ought to be taken to the doctors for a once-over before exposing all her baby pals (and my pregnant friends and relations) to some dread disease. Of course, I instinctively felt it was probably nothing to worry about - probably teething rash - but still..... The rash was indeed nothing to worry about and the day would have ended happily, were it not for the fact that Ava liked the doctor so much that she thought she'd launch herself at him with her full force. She missed the doctor but made startlingly forceful contact with the corner of his desk, giving herself a very impressive, bloody, black eye. The party pics are somewhat marred by the obvious attempt not to show her right eye in any of them. During the party, Eden was attacked by the leg of our garden swing, which jumped up and landed on her little toe. "It isn't real, so it didn't know what it was doing", she said in its defence. Later that evening, I laid Ava on our bed with a warm bottle of milk while I rummaged for some clean pyjamas for her. In the space of a nanosecond she had sat bolt upright and dived head first off the bed onto the floor. The bang as she hit the floor in our second floor bedroom was so loud that Paul heard it on the ground floor. The blood-curdling screams that followed were so loud that half the street heard. Paul wasn't entirely convinced by my rationalising reassurances, "If she's screaming it's a good sign; I'd be more concerned if she'd gone quiet..."
"Don't worry," comforted my Dad, later. "It reminds me of how I dropped you on the floor a few times when you were a baby. Once, I dropped you head first on a concrete station platform! Ha! Ha!" Hmmmm, I'm not sure we should be entirely comforted by that.....

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Supermummy for a Day (well, at least five minutes)

So, we had the party for Ava on Saturday. I am only just recovering. The weekend started well, with a shopping spree with girly pals for new shoes (I'm attending a black tie event on Weds - work thing - and s'funny, but somehow I just didn't have quite the right shoes to go with the red Karen Millen dress I'm borrowing. Well, I saved on the dress, so I could justify new shoes, right? If girly pals are to be believed, they are more than justifed; I deserved them!! Well, what are girly pals for if not for generally making one feel better?) Anyhoo, once shoe spree completed, I squeezed in a haircut before grabbing a fish and chip supper with the kids, cuddling them all into bed, and it was off to Sainsburies for me to shop for the party food. After a somewhat self-indulgent day, dragging the children in my wake, I was of course consumed by The Guilt, and so breezed past the tempting array of beautifully presented Cakes For All Occasions and on to pick up eggs, caster sugar, cooking chocolate and piping icing. Yes! Dammit. I might bugger off to work four days a week, I might sneak in a haircut on my day off when supposed to be making papier mache models with the kids (or something), and Ava might be my third, attention-starved child, but she was damn well going to have a home-baked cake and - be impressed, be very impressed - some home-made puff pastry tarts to go with it. Shopping packed away, I stumbled into bed and set the alarm early in readiness for the baking extravaganza to follow the next morning. The party was at 3pm on Saturday. I started tidying and cooking and preparing and baking at 9am and it was all done by about 2.45pm. Mainly, I enjoyed doing it. Ava sat in her highchair in the kitchen and watched me perform my whirlwind routine with mild amusement, banging plastic spoons together. Nathan ran in and out of the garden grabbing spoonfuls of chocolate icing. Eden went off to another party with Paul (better social life than me). But I did ask myself a few times, "Why did I feel the need to spend my day doing this? To put myself under this extra pressure to Produce Something, to Perform?" I guess the answer's obvious. It became clear when I brought the cake out into the sunshine of the garden, the single candle lit, everyone singing Happy Birthday to my little Ava. Just for a moment I felt like a Proper Mum. And it felt really good.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Importance of Being One and a Princely Reward

At 10.05 yesterday morning a small tear found its way down my cheek as I sat in the garden and contemplated the moment that precisely one year previously my baby daughter Ava entered this world. Sniffing, I stood up to throw Nathan down the slide for the umpteenth time, told myself not to be such a sentimental old fool, and the time ticked on. Ava was entering her second year already, and she didn't even know it. Ava was napping upstairs, gloriously unaware of the poignancy of the moment. Ava was busy growing a new tooth, and that was far more important; or at least, it was far more attention-grabbing, evidenced by a red, snot-streaked face and a great deal of grizzling for the rest of the day. When my eldest daughter Eden reached one, we threw a huge party for friends and family. The celebration was more for us than it was for her; we were New Parents and we had survived Year One! What is more we had done it without any really major disaster and people thought we were doing an OK job of it! People told me that this was a quite normal and acceptable eccentricity of New Parents, but that by child 2 or 3 we'd have given up on the 1st birthday parties. We'd be too exhausted - or too cool about the whole surviving-the-first-year-thing - to bother. That has not turned out to be the case, however. We are equally if not perhaps more delighted to have survived Year One of Baby No 3. Perhaps because it seems even more of a mini miracle this time around. Once you throw gallumphing toddler brothers and older sisters with a dressing-up fetish into the mix, and when you survey the mind-boggling array of completely un-baby-friendly health-and-safety-hazards of toys strewn daily on the floor and immediately in baby's path, it's an absolute wonder that any third child reaches its first birthday. So, yes, we are throwing another party this year. I may even go so far as to bake a cake (or at least, I will buy the very best chocolatey one from Marks & Spencers).
What was a bit different this time around, was that on the evening of Ava's 1st birthday I celebrated in a Very Special Way. I don't think I need say more to any female of my generation than this: Prince. At the O2. In gold pants. Dancing. And singing his soul out. Just for me. And shaking his stuff. Brilliant.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Why Sometimes Group Hugs Can Be Dangerous

Take half a dozen School Gate Mums, at the end of the school holidays, quantities of red and white wine and Hoegarden beer and a late night cocktail bar, mix with equal quantities of over-enthusiasm at being out of the house AT NIGHT Without The Children, some lary hip-hop music and a nationwide smoking ban and what do you get? Well, in Friday night's case you get a group hug gone wrong. In our defence the streets around our local cocktail bar are particularly precipitous. On the other hand, you can't help feeling pretty foolish when a group hug out on the street ends with everyone involved sprawled across the floor sporting cuts, bruises and broken glasses! That's what happened on Friday night. I have the injuries to prove it. And do you know what, I think we were all less than secretly proud of our little fall. It kinda proved that even though 99.9999% of the time we are all pretty responsible, upstanding members of society with Jobs and Children, we can still be as silly as can be. Just sometimes.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

On the home straight

Two more days till Back To School. I've taken the day off, giving myself a long weekend before the momentous day, in order to search Eden's wardrobe from her school uniform, check what, if anything, still fits her (her legs and arms both seem to have grown by about an inch over the summer), buy her new shoes (she's gone up one and a half sizes over the same period), put name labels in everything, search out the book bag and the PE kit, blitz her room so that we can actually find our way to the wardrobe each morning... and get a final few hours of QT in with her before she enters Year 1 and goes all Grown Up on me. The day off has coincided with something of a hangover, post celebrations last night with the lovely Anna and Keely, two oldest and bestest mates. Anna has just had her first short story published in a collection called 'Is This What You Want?', published by Bloomsbury and the Asham Trust, and very proud of her we were too: our friend, a Published Author! As I lay suffering somewhat this morning with a red wine headache and the impact of far too little sleep, Eden crawled into bed with me and whispered, "Y'see, you shouldn't have gone out last night because now you're all tired, you silly monkey!" Whereupon she cuddled up to me and contemplatively stroked my head till I dozed off. It's one thing when your five year old seems to have maturity beyond her years; quite another when she seems to have maturity beyond your own!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Scraping the barrel

Second week back at work after the holiday at home, and it's the last week of Eden's school holidays. Summer (and I use that term in its broadest sense after the dismal weather we've had this year) is sliding inexorably into Autumn, and already things are picking up a gear again at work as people return from their vacations and start looking towards 'back to university' season for academic books and the Christmas craziness that engulfs the mass market book trade each year. Meanwhile, as the pace picks up at work, I sense an increased stir-craziness amongst my family after seven weeks knocking about together in the same small south east London semi. Paul (put-upon house husband) has the air of someone on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Three kids all at home, no money and endless rain for seven weeks can do that to a person. He regards me slightly helplessly as I arrive home to survey the blue poster pain all over the cream sofa, the raisins and biscuit crumbs trampled into the floor and the general air of chaos that pervades. Last night he commented simply, 'I need a holiday'. The children are also restless. Trailing up the street after me in the mornings in their pyjamas, toast in hand, they cry, 'Don't go to work!' in plaintive tones. And it seems when I return in the evening that the mere fact of my arrival tips them over into hysteria. Ava (nearly one) almost always bursts into tears the moment I walk through the door - as if my sudden presence shocks her into the realisation that I have been absent for most of the day. Nathan (2 1/2) usually spends the next 20 minutes leaping all over me, legs flailing in all directions, irrespective of whether they are coming into frequent contact with both his sisters' heads. Eden (5 1/2) attempts to squeeze in a cuddle between the more raucous administrations of her siblings. And then we move on to the family supper, during which Ava cries every time I leave the room to fetch something from the kitchen, Nathan spreads his food liberally anywhere that doesn't involve his mouth and Eden again attempts to tell me about her day - generally without once being allowed to get to the end of a sentence. It's the price I pay for going to the work - a sense that the bit of the day I get to spend with my kids is the dreggy part; the bottom of the barrel. Thank goodness for three-day weekends!