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Sunday, 21 December 2008

Identity Crisis Mark II

The Christmas holidays have begun, and, three days in, Lovely-Kind-Cake-Baking-Mummy Mode has been switched back on, and even though the signal is still a little weak, it is definitely glimmering, and starting to take over from Slightly-Irritable-Old-Fashioned-Husband Mode, which has been set to Minimum once more. Phew. The refreshed Mummy Mode is helped greatly I must confess by the total destruction of my iPhone at the beginning of last week. Running across a busy road in Kings Cross on the way to work (only two minutes to spare before being late for a finance meeting - oops) the lovely, shiny gadget, which I have been told before might as well be a surgical implant, so attached am I to it, quite literally threw itself from my pocket and into the path of an oncoming Heavy Goods Vehicle. I felt quite foolish, let me tell you, turning back to watch it crunching under the wheels of the lorry, and fear my jaw may have been hanging open in horror, if the amused look on the face of the Be-suited Male Office Person passing me was anything to go by. However, it's nice to have given the IT guys a fund of new material for Taking The Piss Out of Sara at the Christmas Party: "Are you sure we can trust you with another one, love? Ha! Ha! Ha!" and so on and so forth.
Anyhooo, the lack of iPhone has, as I was saying, no doubt contributed to my air of carefree Mumminess, since I can't get distracted by an email when shopping, talking, baking cakes, reading a board book for the umpteenth time, engaging in a light sabre duel, or anything like that.
Meanwhile, it has come to my notice that I am not the only one in the family with the capacity to morph from one personality to another on a whim. The other day, Eden (seven), pronounced quite forcefully when offered the only pudding choice left in the house after supper, "Alright, Mummy. That's fine. But please be conscious of the fact that it was not my choice, so I may not eat it all." (Her exact words).
"Please be conscious of the fact..."? Now, where do you think she picked up that phrase?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Identity Crisis

Have been tucked up in bed for two days with a raging sore throat and a headful of cotton wool. If only you could see me now (this is one of those statements which actually means the opposite); I am propped up in bed with a big old college-style scarf wrapped round my neck, a granny cardigan and jogging bottoms adorning my leaden body, a laptop on my knees, an iPhone by my side and a big stack of blackcurrant lemsips just within reach.
As I came round from a groggy sleep just now I started to muse on something. It might be that I am just a little feverish. Or it might just be true. It almost certainly implies that I need to get back to work and stop thinking the trivial kind of mind-wandering thoughts that can only occur to you in such circumstances. But anyway, what I thought was....
Am I becoming an ... Old-Fashioned Husband?
Let me explain what led to this thought. Recently, I've noticed myself indulging in husband-like activities, such as spending less than 15 minutes choosing a Birthday present for my partner - between meetings - and then getting all his sizes wrong. And the other day I actually texted to ask what was for supper on my way home. Then, there was this other thing. Quite a few times in the course of a week, Paul had to repeat himself several times whilst I was busy emailing on my iPhone. He's used to me ignoring him at the expense of the email, but it was the way I absent- mindedly looked up and said, 'Hmm?' that worred him most. Help! Next I'll be sidling through the front door after work, shuffling into some comfy slippers and sitting down with the newspaper, waiting for someone to bring me a cup of tea.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Err, a post. Only three weeks late.

OK. I am officially *not* on top of things. Here, finally, is the post I started writing three weeks ago. Oops.

Not sure whether I'm juggling at the moment or taking part in some other circus-style activity. Like being the chick who has the knives thrown at her, or fire-breathing, something like that. Let me try to summarize. Quickly. Cos I'm in a bit of a rush.

Monday: started new job (I got promoted - yay!). Spent day with new team, hoping to inspire them to new heights of achievement. In fact almost dead with exhaustion after night dealing with bed-wetting incidents, coughing fits and other random calls for motherly comfort and attention. Felt like head was detached from body. Seriously concerned about my ability to stay vertical for whole day let alone lead a new team into a bright digital future.

Tuesday: Woke up to find leaden lump in bed beside me: sick husband unable to get out of bed. It was Day Two of The New Job and I was going to have to stay at home. Hustled kids to school and called office to let them know I'd be on emergency childcare duty and would have to conference call in to any meetings. Made camp on sofa for Ava, put cBeebies on a loop, provided cookies and juice and a pile of books and sat down to write a presentation for Wednesday. Two hours later I had just picked Nath up from school and settled him into the camp next to my computer, when the junior school office rang to say Eden was sick; could I come and collect her? Made camp for all three on my bed, brought up stack of DVDs, tin of biscuits and jug of juice and sat down to finish presentation. Long story, short: finished presentation at 10.30pm after rather fraught day interspersed with regular calls to attend to vomiting members of my family.

Wednesday: Awoke 5.30am to get to airport for flight to Copenhagen to speak at conference about digital publishing. Almost delirious with exhaustion. Multiple coffees only solution. Arrived Copenhagen late morning, taxi to Opera for publishing conference, skipped lunch, made presentation. Drank more coffee, took part in panel discussion, quick tour of opera house and back to the airport to fly home. Arrived home 10.30pm. Watched Obama victory coverage on telly with large glass of wine. Cried every time someone said anything remotely emotive re this historic moment. Which was about every five seconds. Fell into bed.

Thursday: Woke up with palpable sense of relief that I was still alive and basically cognitive. The thought of a comparatively normal day in the office was the most welcome thing I could remember in a long time. Attended catch-up with boss. He asked me how the first week had been. "To be honest, a little bit crazy", I said. "But don't worry, I'm on top of it." ;-)

[That was three weeks ago. I'll bring you up to speed with everything else, umm, some time in the near future. I hope.]

Friday, 31 October 2008

Seventh Heaven

Eden turned seven yesterday. No, I won't give you the usual 'Sob, hiccup, sniff, she's not a baby anymore' routine again, cos I know you've had enough of that already. Actually, it's really quite wonderful to think that just seven years ago I was breaking the blood vessels in my face pushing her out into this world and wondering at her tiny turned up nose and her shock of dark, unruly hair, and now here she is all long-leggedy and gappy-toothed and half-sophisticated, half-baby-still and SEVEN YEARS OLD!

So it was, that on return from Geneva two weeks ago, I launched into the final planning for the birthday party. As last year, this was a joint initiative with Eden's best friend's Mum, Kath, which did slightly alleviate the fact that I had two days of meetings followed by a day out speaking at a conference in Leicester followed by a day in the office on my return, leaving me only two clear days to get everything done before the party. We were holding a Fancy Dress Witch Party. There was going to be an entertainer (a blue-haired witch called Ella who would take the kids on a magical mystery adventure to find her lost spell pot) and, as events were to take place at a local Constitutional Club with the most marvellous seventies decor, there'd be a retro bar for the adults, so at least we'd be able to knock back a couple of G&Ts if things got hairy. After all, we had invited thirty other seven year olds and quite a number of their younger siblings. Gulp. To add to the fun, while I was busy in Frankfurt my wonderful school gate mum pals had colluded to convince me on my return that the adults should dress up too. Yes, they are a right bundle of laughs, that lot.

On Friday morning, having picked Nathan up from nursery, I steeled myself for a last minute shopping trip with two under-fours in tow, wrote a long shopping list and set out to my local Woolworths to find a witch costume for Eden, multiple multi-packs of sweets and lollies, party bag pressies, balloons and banners, as well as a clutch of last minute gifts for Eden which on reflection reflected a possibly higher than intended High School Musical 3 theme. After an impressive 20-minutes-flat supermarket sweep style dash around Woollies, I emerged triumphant if slightly sweaty, having bagged everything I needed for a remarkably small amount of money and successfully returned all the toys and chocolates that Nathan had smuggled under the buggy on the way round, whilst keeping two year old Ava confined to the buggy with a carton of apple juice, a board book and a Chuppa Chups lolly (BAD Mummy).

I collapsed into Cafe Nero to meet two of my best Mum pals, Sophie and Gen, for a quick lunch before going to pick Eden up from school, and noticed that I was feeling slightly crazed after the Woollies dash. It's just that the extremes of my life sometimes come into stark relief as I find myself leaping between the sublime and the ridiculous - book fairs to witch parties; busy day long meetings to party bag shopping, negotiating distribution deals to persuading toddlers not to implode in Woollies. It's all a bit exhausting sometimes. I notice, on such occasions, that as I breathlessly download the events of my week to my Mum pals they eye me with a mixture of amusement and concern. They laugh as I joke about finding the time to pee, but there's this look in their eyes which says, you know, something like 'Sara-are-you-quite-sure-you're-OK / not-going-completely-insane?'

But of course the party was wonderful and that made all the last-minute effort worthwhile. Ella the blue-haired witch was captivatingly magical, Eden and Greta felt like the stars of the show, I baked a cake which didn't collapse, everyone had a great time, it was actually quite fun wearing a pointy hat, bright green eyeshadow and black boots for the day, and, as they knocked back their G&Ts, the grown-ups thought the venue choice was a stroke of genius.

Sunday, 19 October 2008


I'm just back from the Frankfurt Book Fair. Wednesday morning, early, I finished packing my suitcase and asked the cab driver to wait while I said goodbye to Paul and the kids. For the next few days I would be away. Everyone would cope perfectly well without me, I would get to focus entirely on my work for a few days, Paul would be a hero and the kids would get presents on my return. It would all be fine, but this didn't stop the hot, pricking tears from running down my cheeks as I hugged them all a little harder than usual and buried my nose in their hair and snivelled goodbye.
At the airport, an hour and a half later, I stood in the queue for security, and had an overwhelming urge to turn around and go home. 'Why do I continue to put myself through this?' I wondered. Next thing I knew I was busy decanting my Aveda hair wax from its aesthetically lovely 125ml designer pot into an ugly Boots-bought 100ml container in order to get it through airport security. Shovelling hair wax with a plastic spoon, I felt a mounting sense of disbelief. I shook myself a little, took a deep breath and pulled my mobile out of my handbag. There was a text message from Paul: 'Hi darlin', you get to the airport OK?' I smiled to myself and texted back. 'Yeah. I'm a'right. Well, I will be, just as soon as I finish repackaging my toiletries to ensure I can't build a bomb with them, and get through to duty-free.' I had to laugh, or I'd cry. Again.
Thankfully, the fun of the fair soon swang into action on arrival in Frankfurt, and made all the effort worthwhile. This year, a lot of the things that I've been working on along with other colleagues in the digital side of the business have really started to come together, and the buzz and the excitement were running at a high level. I crammed all my meetings into a day and a half and was on an adrenalin high (only partially dented by losing my shiny new iPhone) by the time I left to fly to Geneva for a visit to see one of my oldest friends and her family.
It's always refreshing to spend time with one's oldest friends. When I see Jo, we generally skip the pleasantries and get straight down to business: sharing our very opposite but similar life experiences, hopes, fears and concerns. Jo is a full-time Mum to three boys and worries that she is not a good enough Mother, that she slowly degenerates into a stressed-out haridan by the end of each day and that her brain is at risk from turning to mush as she denies herself a career in order to focus on her children. I think she's a marvel, a committed and creative Mother with a wicked wit who seems to be able to make a constructive learning-based game out of just about any activity you care to mention, and that she shouldn't worry so much. I meanwhile, feel that I'm not a good enough Mother, that I'm not there enough for my children and will one day regret pursuing my career at their expense. She thinks I'm a marvel, can't imagine how I juggle it all without going insane, says my children will respect my decision to ensure our financial security and hold onto my own brain and that I shouldn't worry so much. By the time I leave we both feel so much better. We really shouldn't worry so much.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Everything is OK

Nathan loves school. By Friday morning he is running ahead up the path towards the school, arms out to each side, jacket flapping, wheeling from one side of the pavement to the other, pretending to be an aeroplane. His blond hair catches the sunlight and he peeks back at me cheekily before running away from me again. He still looks so small and I can't believe I'm setting another one off on their journey towards adulthood. He has to be told to stand three steps back, away from the gate, so that the nursery teacher can open the gate and let the children in. He is literally hanging on to the bars of the gate, poking his nose through, grinning goofily at the teacher, shouting 'good morning!' to her. Eventually she persuades him to step back, but as soon as she opens the gate he dashes through, up the path and through the school doors, throwing his coat onto a peg as he goes. I follow him in, laughing with the teacher. He allows me a quick peck on the cheek before he gets too involved in the sandbox. I am so thankful. I feel so lucky. I am so happy. And sad. All at the same time.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

He's not a baby anymore! Hiccup. Sob. Sniff.

My Baby No 2, Nath, started school yesterday, in the nursery class. They ease them in gently these days, 'not like when I were a lass'. They take the kids in, four at a time, in a staggered entry system. The first day they go for just an hour, accompanied by a parent. The second day, another hour, this time without the parents, if possible. The following day, they try them for a whole morning session, etc, etc. Of course, the kids are fine. It's the parents you have to worry about. I reckon that, secretly, the whole 'easing them in' routine is really for the Mums. At least, that's what occurred to me as I sobbed into my neighbour's shoulder on the street this morning, "He's not a baby anymore!..." Poor woman. She only came out to fetch the milk off her doorstep.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

This week I will be mostly....

Even though it was formulaic, the 'This week I will be mostly wearing...' sketch on the Fast Show never used to fail to amuse me. Pure genius. Recently I've been imagining a Working Mum's version. A harassed mother, one eye mascara'd, the other not yet done, ladder in tights, faint greasy patch on left shoulder as she leaves for work, emerges from her front door, saying, 'This week I will be mostly worrying about.... [complete as appropriate]". Sometimes I am genuinely amazed that my brain / heart do not implode with all the data / emotions they are trying to hold at once. For example, this week I will be mostly worrying about....

... Nathan starting school on Monday. Will he like it? Will he behave? Will he simply pull down his trousers and wee all over the playground rather than ask to go to the loo, just like he did in that cafe the other day? Argh! Will he remember to wipe his bum???

.... How I can give Eden the support she needs now that she is entering Year 2 and brings home letters reminding us parents that we 'MUST read with our children EVERY day' yet by the time I get home I am exhausted and she doesn't want to do anything apart from watch Dr Who?

.... How on earth I'm ever going to coordinate the out of school actitivies for three children when getting round to calling the swimming school to book lessons for just two of them has taken me six weeks.

.... Where to hold Eden's birthday party, what to provide by way of entertainment and how many children to allow her to invite

.... How I'm going to break the news to Paul that I have to go away on business again soon leaving him with the children for another four days....

.... Why the piles of 'stuff' around the house are breeding

.... How I'm going to get Nath to go dry through the night

.... Why I can't find the final connecting piece of railway track in Nathan's Thomas set

.... And so on.

I'm getting tired just thinking about it all.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Happy Birthday, Ava!

It is Ava's second birthday today. She loves her new corduroy mouse bag. She loves her new 'birthday books'. She loves it when people spontaneously break into renditions of 'Happy Birthday to you' whenever they see her. She loves it that I can't stop picking her up and nuzzling her head and kissing her all over and telling her she was the best surprise I've ever had. She has no idea what a birthday is but she knows it's good. And she slept right through the two and a half hours I was out recording the radio show. Phew.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


Yesterday morning a producer from Radio 4 called me to ask me about the impact the new Sony Reader was having on people's perceptions about ebooks and e-reading. She was preparing for a show to be aired on Monday and wanted to know what kinds of questions they should be addressing. We had a forty minute conversation during which she asked me lots of questions, and I quite warmed to my pet topic. Eventually she asked whether I was free on Friday to speak on the show alongside an author I know. My heart sank. Friday is my day off, the day I look forward to each week, when I get to spend the entire day with my children. I told her I was really sorry, but I couldn't do it. She sounded really disappointed, said I was exactly the person they needed; she really liked the things I'd said; they'd send a cab to fetch me and I'd only be away a couple of hours; they'd pay me a small fee plus expenses. It did seem very irritating to have spent all that time briefing her on the background to the topic and then not to be able to go on and speak about it, especially if it meant a competing publisher would get the air time if I said 'no'. I hummed and hah-ed for a minute, then said I'd call her back. I called Paul and explained the situation to him. He sounded unduly unimpressed that I should even be considering it, but huffily agreed that he'd look after the children for a few hours while I went into town to do it. When I questioned why he sounded so grumpy, he said in what sounded a slightly martyrish fashion, "No, no, if that's what you want to do, it's fine...."
I fought the urge to get cross with him, and rang off, then fought the urge to feel stupidly guilty, then wondered whether I should say 'no' after all, it was only a stupid radio show, then called the producer back.
"I can do it", I said, "I've sorted everything out."
"Fantastic!" she said.
Later I walked through the front door at home to find Paul in the kitchen making supper as usual. His smile seemed a bit thin.
"Are you still huffy about me doing this Radio 4 thing on Friday?" I asked. "I guess I'm stopping you getting your 'me-time', and you won't be able to work now on Friday yourself... "
"No, it's not that," he said. "It was only that it's Ava's birthday on Friday and I don't think you even remembered."
I can't even begin to tell you how bad I felt.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Back to School

I've taken a couple of days off at the end of the school holidays to celebrate everyone's survival... No, not really, obv; mainly to conduct the annual school uniform audit ("Surely Eden can't really be fitting into these age 3 polo shirts anymore?" ..."And this dress is more St Trinian's in length than I deem entirely acceptable...." ..."But that's my FAVOURITE, Mum! OOOOOH PULLEEEEEEASE DON'T THROW IT AWAAAAY!!"), put everything through the wash, enter the local Clarks Back To School Scrum (a 20 minute wait to be served even with TWENTY ONE shop assistants on the floor; it's terrifying, I tell you), write names in everything (thank God for indelible fabric markers; think I'd develop a tick like the sergeant in Inspector Clueso if I had to sew them all in like my Mum used to!) and generally regain control of everything in time for the start of the new term. I kinda love the Back to School Season; there's a great sense of fresh hope, a new start, etc. And the first day back it's so cute, seeing all the kids rock up scrubbed clean, hair brushed, shoes shined, uniforms looking all smart. It doesn't last long but it's a good feeling. When I go back to work next week I think I'm going to try to treat it like a new term at school; see if I can inject everything I do with a new passion and enthusiasm. I can't promise to have polished my shoes though.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Water Babies

I've been near-obsessive about booking the kids into multiple Summer Activities to keep them busy while I return to the office for a few weeks and try not to spend too much time worrying about Paul's sanity. With all three kids at home full-time for four weeks without any help, this is a genuine concern. The theory is that keeping everyone busy distracts attention away from my absence (guilty, moi?), tires the kids out and gives Paul the comforting sensation of a routine in the absence of the usual one. This week, everyone has been up and out of the house before 8am each morning in order for Eden and Nath to attend a week long swimming course. By the end of the week, Nathan is a veritable water baby, but his limited attention span means that he is still too busy blowing bubbles to remember to kick his legs, or too busy grinning and waving at the spectators to remember to keep his head in the water. However, as usual, he gets away with this by being, well, stupidly cute. Eden, now nearly seven, has a near-hysterical outburst on the first day when she swallows too much water, but by Friday I am delighted to see her ducking down under the water and swimming along as if she were a fish in a previous life. At the same time, Cbeebies is strictly off limits for the week whilst wall-to-wall Olympics coverage takes precedence. Over supper on Friday evening Eden wonders aloud, "How am I going to decide now between being an international explorer, Rose in Dr Who or an Olympic swimmer when I grow up?"
"Hmmm. It's a tough one, that", I agree.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Brie belly

You may have noticed I've been a little quiet. It was remiss of me not to leave notice on the blog that we were taking a cheeky extended break from the hustle of every day life to dawdle about in the Dordogne for a bit. It's only taken a week and a half back in the country for my synapses to start firing again. Honest. At least, a colleague assured me yesterday, "Well, you sound like you know what you're talking about." Which was kind of her. So that'll have to do.
Apart from the rain and the ghost town of an office (the literati have all deserted for their holidays in Tuscany so what's the point of coming in?) it's not *so* bad being back. It has been particularly tough though, adjusting back to non-holiday fare. There's nothing like pain au chocolat, baguette, butter, jam and brie and two milky coffees for breakfast each day to get you feeling wonderfully lazy and set you up nicely for the baguette with lashings of brie and camembert (with frites on the side) and a glass of wine for lunch. Indeed, there are still half a dozen pain au chocolats and several hundred pounds of brie adorning my waist line, because, of course, 'exercise' on holiday with three children under six largely consists of flopping about in the river a bit and vicariously enjoying the fun they are having running around in lots of lots of extra space whilst you read extremely small snippets of a novel over and over again due to the fact that you are repeatedly being interrupted to buy icecreams. Sigh.
Brie Belly notwithstanding, what I am also wondering is whether there is such a thing as Brie Brain? The sensation is of oozy cheese filling the space between one's ears as opposed to grey matter, and it is commonly brought about by extended, lazy holidays in France. Symptoms include gazing into space dreaming of splashing in the river in the sunshine, a glazed look in the eye when anyone asks you about next year's budget and the inability to complete a sentence. Hope it goes away soon. My boss is back from his holidays shortly.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Run, baby, run!

My legs were aching all last weekend. The reason? I managed to get myself talked into running in the Mum's race at Eden's school sports day. It had been a week of highs and lows at work and I was having a tough time shaking a particularly difficult issue out of my mind. I wanted to be with Eden 100%, at her first school sports day, enjoying the moment. But the work problem wouldn't go away. Running as fast as I could along a 100m dash sounded like a good idea. It worked. For a few seconds I was ten years old again, free of all the crap, adult stuff that clogs up my mind most of the time, running through the sunshine and laughing and nearly wetting myself (the pelvic floor really isn't what it was - sorry, was that too much information?). And my mind was gloriously empty, just for those few seconds. I'd forgotten how much I used to *love* running. Something else interested me about the race. As we stood at the start line, I did wonder just for a second whether I could win it. And I quite liked the idea that I might! Some glimmer of the highly competitive ten year old me, the one who couldn't bear even second place, was resurfacing. I didn't win. But, unlike when I was ten, that really was OK. It's funny how your perspective changes as you grow older. Like, now, running 100m without falling over, getting cramp or actually wetting myself really felt like an achievement! However, this mature and somewhat wry sense of perspective was entirely lost to me watching Eden compete in her first 'serious' sports day race. I watched her jiggling about on the start line and willed her obvious nerves to dispel. As she shot off, her pigtails streaming, I found myself yelling, "Go, Eden! Ruuuuuuun! You can do it!" I wanted her to win, not because I wanted her to be the best, but because I knew how disappointed she would be if she didn't. She won her heat, and I was immeasurably proud. But when she came third in her final, and her tears began to flow, I wished I could take away her disappointment. I went to comfort her and she ran into my arms. And as I pulled away from our cuddle, she said to me in a slightly choked voice, "It doesn't matter that I didn't win, Mummy. Running that race has made me stronger for the next time. It's the taking part that counts, isn't it?" I knew she only half believed it, but I admired her assertion, her swift attempt to regain perspective in the face of disappointment, all the same.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Fabulous, darling!

At the end of last week, I went away on a 24 hour retreat for 'Women in Leadership'. At 6pm on Thursday night I found myself sitting on a hotel lawn, drinking white wine with eleven other women who all held senior positions across a range of industries. Basic introductions aside, we were all asked to explain a little bit about the reasons we had come on the course. Each of us had different challenges or issues that we wished to tackle in our working lives, quite a few of us were juggling kids, families with a busy working life, but there was one common thread: without exception, every single woman there said that she was really looking forward to just 24 hours to focus on herself, to take a break from the maelstrom of daily life, to think, to have some space to breathe and to reflect. It's a crazy old world we live in when 24 hours just for yourself is a rare luxury. Yet the energy and empathy that developed between this small group of women was phenomenal. We started off strangers but after 24 hours of extraordinary, open exchange and mutual encouragement, we all came away a little bit lighter and enormously energised, ready to tackle life, work, the universe! I say this a *lot* but I really do think women are simply the best (sorry, boys). So here's to the Twelve Fabulous Ladies!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Super-sized shades

Paul gave me a lift to the station so I could catch my train to work this morning. It was on his way to the supermarket for the daily run. Ava and Nath were strapped in in the back. They were singing, "Hello, hello, how are you?" a theme from some cbeebies programme which they are both addicted to. Don't ask me the name of it. Paul would know. The sun was shining. Eden had got to school on time and the chaos of the morning routine had been relatively insignificant by the usual standards. Paul was chirpy, in one of his 'in-control' moods. All seemed right with the world. It was going to be a good day. As we pulled up at the station I picked up my coat and bag from my lap and reached for the door handle. I looked behind me to start saying goodbye to the kids. But then Ava's face crumpled. She threw her head back and she started to cry. No, scream. Her face turned bright red and her fists clenched and huge tears started to plop onto her cheeks. "No, Mummy, no go!" she cried. I got out of the car and opened the passenger door. I leaned across Nathan towards her and tried to kiss her cheek but she pulled away from me. I kissed her anyway. And then my face crumpled, too. I went from equanimity to emotional wreck in the space of a nanosecond. Paul said lightly, "She'll be fine. Hurry, you'll miss your train. Don't worry!" I pulled on the super-sized shades and walked briskly away from the car towards the station, tears rolling down my cheeks. I carried on crying half the way to work. I hate it when that happens.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Cheerio sanity!

I pick my way over the brightly-coloured miniature fairy dolls lined up against the edge of an empty cereal packet in the middle of the kitchen floor, scowl at the stickiness of the kitchen tiles and head towards the caefetiere for my second cup of coffee. It is 7.30am. Loud screeches emanate from the living room and I put my head round the corner of the door to shout, "Nathan, get off Ava please! She is *not* a donkey!" Ava peeks up at me and gives me a winning smile, rolls out from underneath her brother and toddles off towards the plastic play piano in the corner of the living room. As she starts banging out a tuneless noise, I notice that one of her socks is dangling from the end of her toes, about to fall off. I only put her socks on five minutes ago. She is chewing something, although I haven't yet given her any breakfast. I wonder in passing what she has managed to scavenge from the floor. Hopefully it's not too many days old, whatever it is.... At the same time I see out of the corner of my eye that Eden is hopping around the room, half way into her knickers and trying to eat a cereal bar at the same time. The crumbs are falling everywhere. She has already eaten breakfast but has obviously decided she is still hungry. Her appetite constantly astonishes me. Nathan has started dive bombing on to the sofa from one of the arms. He is naked from the waist down. He is shouting, "I want Scooby Doo!" Very loudly. Cushions are scattered all over the floor. I turn to look behind me to where his potty is, tracing where his clothes might have dropped so that I can reunite him with them. It is then that I realise he has rather mistargeted his previous wee. Unfortunately it looks like he has then trodden gleefully through the puddle on the floor to leave a trail of wet footprints in his wake. I start to talk to Eden about her homework, still uncompleted from the night before, as I wipe the floor vigorously with some kitchen towel. It is nearly time for me to leave and I haven't put my make-up on. At that moment I notice that the trail of wee leads to an enormous pile of Cheerios next to the coffee table. "Argh!!" I shout. "What's happened here?!" My eyes focus on the coffee table and a plastic bowl which has clearly been massively over-filled with Cheerios. A forlorn cereal packet is next to the bowl. I pick it up and shake it to see that it is almost empty. I grab the dustpan and brush and sweep up, shouting behind me at Nathan that he's not to help himself to cereal in the mornings. Nathan is still yelling, "I want Scooby Doo!" very loudly, but now Eden is also shouting, "Mummy! I need you to help me to do twenty six take away twelve! Hold up your fingers!" I stand up and shove Scooby Doo into the DVD player. I start counting down from twenty six, holding up my fingers to show Eden and simultaneously backing into the downstairs cloakroom to put my make up on. Ava totters in after me and starts to investigate the very attractive pink loo brush. "Don't touch that!" I screech, and hastily draw some kohl liner onto my eyelids. I scoop her up and plop her into her highchair, run into the kitchen and pull toast out of the toaster, scrape on some butter and marmite, hurriedly cut it into soldiers and deliver it back to her. "Yummy toast! Eat up!" I dash back into the cloakroom and slick on some eyeshadow. It's time to go. "Mummy!" wails Eden. "I can't do this one!" I am pulling on my jacket, coaching Eden through another sum, shouting to Paul (who is quietly and sagely avoiding the scrum by clearing up in the kitchen) that I am leaving. Ava throws a piece of toast over her shoulder and stands up in her highchair and starts leaning precariously towards me wailing, "Mummy! Mummy!" as soon as she sees me in my coat. Nathan starts singing, "Roary the Racing Car" in a raucous, tuneless fashion whilst racing through the living room in my direction. Two and a half stone's worth of small boy careers into my thighs, chubby arms are wrapped around my white suit trousers. "What have you got on your hands?!" I shout, noticing that they look worryingly sticky, wriggling free and trying to hug him without incurring any further damage (Why am I wearing white trousers? Well might you ask). Eden is almost in tears. She hasn't finished her homework yet. "I have to go; you'll have to do the rest with Daddy", I implore, pecking her on the forehead and lifting her chin so that I can give her a reassuring smile. "Right. I really am off!" I yell breezily. Delivering a kiss to Ava's head I turn and race into the hall, picking up oyster card, keys and phone en route and grabbing my bag. I unlock the front door and turn to see Nathan and Eden chasing me down the hall. "Bye!!" they squawk in unison. "Bye!" I reply and wink at them both. I shut the front door behind me "Have a great day!" I say through the letterbox at their grinning faces. I walk up the front path and on to the street, heading for the station. It's been another ordinary morning in the Lloyd household. I used to describe things at home as 'organised chaos', but this isn't organised in any shape or form. This isn't even chaos. It's sheer bloody madness. Nothing at work can be as challenging as leaving the house in the morning on time, in one piece, relatively clean and with one's sanity intact.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Ava finally gets off her bottom

Ava is walking. Finally. Just as the so-called specialists and doctors had put the very fear of God into us, just as I had almost driven myself mad with the thought that I was a delinquent and neglectful mother for not noticing something was wrong with her legs, she chose last Friday to get up, in the middle of the room, with nothing to hold on to, and to walk, slowly, with a staggering, tottering kind of motion, all the way across the living room. Just like that. Of course, I was busy nattering to a friend on the sofa at the time and was only alerted to the situation by another friend saying, 'Sara... Look! SARA!!! ....SAAAAARA!!' I was aware that I looked possibly quite foolish as I stood up, with my hands to my mouth, my eyes wide with disbelief and a big, gloppy tear rolling down my cheek. But I didn't really care. It was sensational. This minor miracle that must occur millions of times on a daily basis around the world but still succeeds in feeling so special and unique every time. My baby was finally up on her feet! She may be No 3 but she certainly knows how to pause for dramatic effect. Yeah - about a 6 month pause. That's my Ava; whatever happens, she'll always fight to get noticed. And boy, do I feel relieved. Phew. Now, what do I need to worry about next? ;-)

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Going Completely Potty

Guilt levels having attained a new high I decided to take a week off to tackle at least one of my guilty secrets: the now desperate requirement to teach my wayward son the joys of self-sufficiency, a dry bottom and his very own Thomas The Tank Engine Pants.

Yes, it was time to tackle the dreaded potty training and it took new levels of self-awareness to recognise how long I had been procrastinating over this relatively simple task. How is it that I can face a boardroom of executives to present a new publishing strategy with relative equanimity, but find the potential resistance of a three year old boy to the concept of pulling down his own pants and aiming his willy in the right direction absolutely terrifying?

I'll venture the following four reasons for starters:

1. Absence of control.
2. Fear of failure.
3. Prospect of horrifying, pooey mess.
4. Familiarity with even grown men's inability to aim their willies in the right direction (naming no names).

Of course the reality is nowhere near as bad as the prospect, proving that it is almost always best to confront one's fears. And in the spirit of sharing I offer you my top ten rules of engagement for managing potty training:

1. Stock up on sweets and lollies. Rewards for potty success go a long way. By the end of this week Nathan will definitely be potty-trained even if this does require the complete sacrifice of his milk teeth.

2. Ensure that everything in range has washable covers and wipe-clean surfaces. Poo stains on the sofa covers is not a good look. And what did people do before carpets went out of fashion? Thank goodness for my wooden floors.

3. Learn to breathe deeply, count to ten silently and smile (falsely) whilst refraining from screaming, "The potty is RIGHT NEXT TO YOU so WHY ARE YOU PEEING ON THE FLOOR?!!!!" and instead saying sweetly, "Oh dear darling, have we had a little accident? Never mind! Better luck next time!"

4. Dress your child in easy-to-pull-down elasticated waisted trousers and carry copious pairs of said items as well as probably an entire bag-full of spare pants around with you at all times.

5. Try not to bend over in public places spilling the contents of your handbag on to the floor, especially if you have forgotten to remove the sodden pair from the previous 'accident' from your bag.

6. Exercise extreme levels of patience, saintliness and inner strength. Imagine Super Nanny and Mother Theresa combined.

7. Try not to compare potty training to a work project. Levels of likely success will not be comparable. Satisfaction on successful completion of the Potty Project will be astronomically higher and the rewards far greater.

8. Remember that Potty Training counts as 'Extreme Circumstances', as in, 'In extreme circumstances only it is permissible to start drinking at 4pm."

9. Related to 8, it is wise to have extra supplies of gin bought in in advance. In particularly extreme cases valium should be prescribed.

10. Did I mention the breathing?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Tablecloth displacement

The tablecloth is a hit. People come round and exclaim: "OOH! What a lovely tablecloth." Then they brush their fingers across its surface and express surprise that it is plastic. "And how practical!" they coo. My neighbour has bought one too in a fit of tablecloth-envy. Hers has funky green apples on it. I am a trendsetter!
There's only one small problem. I bought it to disguise the paint, biro and scratch marks decorating the table. But after two weeks in situ the tablecloth is starting to bear all the signs signs of small people itself: paint, biro and scratch marks. The tablecloth bears this marginally better than the table did because the trendy floral design merges with the scribbles so that you hardly notice them. It really *is* all a metaphor for my life: however hard you try to make your life wipe-clean, it's just too difficult to remove the stains. Best just disguise them a bit with some pretty patterns.
Actually, talking about the tablecloth endlessly is really all just displacement activity. Have been suffering acute case of BadMotherItis brought on by 20 month old refusing to walk, three year old refusing to potty train and six year old refusing to let a civil word issue from her lips. Of course, each of these things is entirely my fault! I was too distracted to notice that Ava was nearly two yet still getting from A to B on her bottom, dragging one leg underneath her and thus weakening it (a course of physio and possibly a leg brace now beckons, the thought of which makes my eyes go watery every time). I was too lazy / distracted / exhausted to spend my weekends putting my three year old on the potty every 15 minutes and now have precisely three and a half months to resolve the issue before he is refused entry to school. I was too soft on my six year old and I am suffering the consequences. Must Try Harder. Must Try Harder.
And, breeeeeeeeathe!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Wipe Out

Something has been bothering me for over a week now, and I have only just found the courage to formulate some sort of response to it. Thing is, last week, I went online and ordered a wipe-free tablecloth for our wreck of a dining room table. Yes, I really did. It's been bothering me ever since. What does this mean? Either (a) I have declined sadly into full-scale middle age; (b) I have lost all sense of taste, and have stepped onto the slippery slope of preferring practicality over beauty; (c) I am desperate to regain control over my so-out-of-control, scruffy house and this is a quite pathetic attempt to begin to overcome my sense of freefall, or (d) it is a metaphor for my life, which I wish could be wipe-clean. Or quite possibly a combination of all of the above. Please, no need to comment on that one. I felt only partially better when I saw that wipe-clean tablecloths come in a really quite stunning array of designs these days including those clearly targeting people like me who would like to have a wipe-clean tablecloth but would like to think they can still be 'cool' at the same time. And I felt better again when a colleague asked whether I had also bought a 'table protector' to go underneath my wipe-clean tablecloth. Thankfully, I hadn't, which apparently means I am not a fully-fledged middle aged person but am only slightly edging that way. Perhaps, you are thinking, I shouldn't let the wipe-free-tablecloth-buying thing concern me so much. After all, I clearly have bigger things to worry about. But no. I've tried, and it's still bothering me! (Is there such a thing as 'off-setting' to achieve cool-factor points? Err, for example, does it count that I still wear Urban Decay make-up?) Oh dear, perhaps I should just send it back....

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Things I never thought I'd hear myself saying. But I do.

The expectation management thing didn't work. Largely because even though I set myself some reasonable Expectation Management Goals (see previous post) I still secretly harboured the belief / unreasonable hope that I would exceed them. See, this is the problem with the whole concept of Self Management. You can't actually kid yourself. In fact, increasingly I wonder whether I am kidding anyone. Even my all-under-the-age-of-six children. It's the way they look at me when I come out with things like, "Try to remember who's in charge here!" As if they have no idea who's in charge and wish someone would bloody well make it clear or at least take some reasonably decisive action. Which leads me to the list I've been compiling of other such phrases of which I once lived - blissfully ignorant - on the receiving end, but now have to listen to myself saying with increasing disbelief and horror:

"Don't speak to me / your father like that, young lady."
"Come here, this instant!"
"Do I make myself clear?"
"That's enough of your cheek, young lady / young man"
The use of 'young lady' and 'young man' in general when implying disapproval
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
"We'll see. Maybe. If you behave yourself."

It is a concern. Paul is turning into a less funny blend of Victor Meldrew and Basil Fawlty and I am turning into I don't know what. Just some kind of haridan, I think.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Expectations are low

One thing I'm supposed to have learned over the years is how to manage expectations, those of everyone from my kids through to my boss. Problem is I don't seem to have worked out how to manage my own. So, in a valiant attempt to remind myself that I am very far from a superwoman here is a brief Expectation Management Message. It is the London Book Fair this week. I am presenting at two sessions on digital publishing, attending at least two parties, managing communications around several announcements and meeting with other publishers, technology providers, search engine companies and retailers. I may post a blog. Or I may not. I may indulge in further comfort eating. I will very likely spend more time staring at the mirror regretting the comfort eating and wondering how a person can suffer teenage-like skin DISASTERS (a huge spot on my cheek just as I am about to stand up in front of hundreds of people; typical) and be developing wrinkles all at the same time.
Eden is already counting the days till Friday when I will be at home again. So much so that she was quite beside herself when offered the choice of staying up to watch "I'd do anything" (yes, she is addicted) or coming upstairs to have a bath with Nathan, Ava and Mummy.
"OH! I want to do BOTH things so much! I REALLY want to see if my favourite Nancy will win but then I REALLY want to be with yoooooooo and, OH! It's too difficult to decide! Why can't I do both, Mummy?!"
I too am counting the days until Friday but can't guarantee what kind if shape I'll be in by then. The way things are going all I'll be good for is watching "I'd do anything." I MUST RESIST!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Back on the blog

Hello. Apologies for radio silence. I've been on holiday in Wales again. I know, I know, I really must break the habit. There are too many sheep and not enough mobile phone towers. Thus no wireless and definitely no blog. One or two work colleagues were more or less aghast at the thought I could willingly spend a whole week in a small caravan in the Welsh countryside with three small children and an exhausted house husband, but there it is. And Paul (said house husband) was pretty aghast himself when he saw the weather forcast for the week, which predicted rain, grey skies, sleet, that kinda thing. He actually suggested we just cancel the whole thing and hunker down at home.
"This isn't going to be a holiday!!" he screeched. "It's going to be a living HELL!"
Then one work pal told me he was so traumatised by a week in a caravan in Wales in the rain as a kid that he is sure it drove his Dad to drink and he has sworn never to take his family there so help him, over his dead body, etc etc. But we went. And it only rained once, over night. And it was absolutely brilliant. Especially getting up early (as usual) but (not as usual) having nothing to rush about for, so lolling about in the caravan watching the sun come up, drinking coffee and eating croissant with chocolate spread with the kids. (I KNOW, but it really tastes quite nice. Obviously I only eat it to keep them company). So there.

P.S. I finally changed the picture decorating this blog. It's a snap from the holiday.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Pile up

It is 10.30pm and I am peeling play-dough from the surface of several books which I have found scattered on the stairs. It is the result of my absent-mindedly agreeing with Eden as I put the smaller two children to bed that it would be lovely if she could make me some 'cakes' in her 'cafe'. In a matter of minutes I find myself holding a book with a thin spreading of play-dough across its surface, pretending to eat it with one hand as I change Ava's nappy with the other. And a few hours later, as I continue my peeling, I consider again the life in which I discover myself, occasionally with a sense of surprise, sometimes a vague horror, more often than not a warm acceptance and comfort.
Today, I am in the mood to contemplate contentedly, to giggle at the state in which I find myself - as is so often the case. And it occurs to me that it is no wonder the number of 'guilt piles' I am stockpiling - the piles of photos still untransferred into albums; the piles of artwork delivered home by the children, still unsorted and waiting to be glued into scrapbooks; the piles of household paperwork, waiting to be filed; the piles of clean washing, tottering precariously on the stairs, on chairs in the children's bedrooms and just about anywhere you can imagine. The piles are like scurf; they litter my mind, but also they wash to and fro with the tides of my thoughts. If it is 10.30pm and I am peeling plasticine from the surface of books, if it is 10.30pm and I haven't yet sat down simply to relax, to watch some TV or to read a book... then really, is it any wonder? And I choose to let the tide go out again. I look down at the ball of plasticine in my hand and I hold my head back and I laugh.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Free time comes with a price

Over time I've pretty much become an old pro at cutting off emotionally from home life in order to get through the day at work. As I close the front door (sometimes against screams of protest from Ava) I've come to harden myself, take a deep breath and set off into my day. It's more or less an unconscious effort. If I'm honest, I'm so busy most days that I spend very little time really thinking about the children. They are an essential part of me and in that sense they are always with me, like a part of my soul, but I don't spend time in the office wistfully wishing I could be with them or worrying unduly about them. Their pictures smile out at me from my desk and I glance at them now and again but generally not with anxiety or concern or even sadness at being apart from them. Maybe that sounds cold-hearted but it is the reality of how I cope, day to day.
What I find much more difficult is the days of the week that I don't work, and even the parts of the day around my office hours. This time is firmly set aside in my mind as 'family time' - and I've noticed increasingly that I find it extremely anxiety-inducing to be apart from any of the children during this dedicated kid time. In the mornings as I take a shower or make toast for the children in the kitchen I have come to resent every minute not spent in their company; I rush through tasks to speed my return to them; I have to resist the urge to keep them up later than their allotted bedtime just so that I can cuddle each of them for a few more minutes; and God forbid that I should use 'family time' to go have a haircut or a manicure. That would be sacrilege indeed.
On Saturday, this anxiety reached new proportions. Eden was performing in her end of term ballet show, which clashed with Ava's nap and was simply not a suitable form of entertainment for Nathan (or rather, he was not a suitable form of audience for it, being unable to sit on a chair for more than a microsecond or go without making loud raspberry noises for even less time than that). I was simply going to have to leave the two little ones at home while I went to see Eden in her show. Right after the ballet show there was an Easter fayre at a local school and it made more sense for me to go straight on to that with Eden, leaving the other two at home. But that would mean I was going to leave Nathan and Ava with Paul for two or three hours *on a Saturday*. Shock, horror. No, really. Back and forth I went with Paul on the logistics of whether I should risk taking Nathan to the ballet performance - and if not whether I should come back for him and Ava before going on to the fayre - or whether I should not take Eden to the fayre, possibly risking upsetting Eden but allowing me to get back to Nathan and Ava earlier than I would otherwise.... I stopped mid-flow, noticing suddenly that Paul was looking at me askance. Actually, that is putting it rather too kindly. He was looking at me as if I was a batty old fool and clearly wondering where his usually calm and unruffled wife had disappeared to and wishing I would stop burbling on like a nutcase about something so trivial.
"Of course you should just go, see Eden in her ballet performance. And why not take her to the fair afterwards? I'll look after the other two. What are you worrying about?" he asked, in a reversal of our usual roles (he is usually the one to fuss, me the one to offer calm, logical solutions).
Of course he was right. And of course that's what I did. Friends I met at the fayre reminded me how good it was for Eden to get a bit of one-on-one time with me without the endless interruptions of the little ones. But it didn't stop me feeling an underlying sense of guilt all the time I was apart from them and it didn't stop me driving home with an enormous sense of urgency to be with them again. Why can't I simply relax? What is my problem? As a friend commented later on, "I know, you just can't help it. It's rubbish, isn't it?"

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Bad day?

Arrived home more than usually exhausted last night. Dino the Physio had warned me that he was going to get me to try out some 'strengthening' exercises for my upper back and stomach, the former intended to help to pull my recalcitrant shoulder back into alignment, the latter to help me stand up straight. I hadn't quite taken on board the fact that he'd be putting me through my paces in the gym next door to his studio. 45 minutes later I was red-faced and sweating, my legs quite jelly-like and my embarrassment complete after some extremely dodgy manoeuvres involving an outsized rubber exercise ball. The last time I even looked at one of those was in my first pregnancy, at antenatal yoga classes, in those heady and optimistic days when I mistakenly thought a few yoga exercises and some well-timed breathing might get me through childbirth. What was more, after months, possibly years, of believing my stomach muscles had forever gone the way of the dodo, I had finally rediscovered them. They were definitely still there. And they hurt. A lot. I was still trying to work out whether I felt invigorated or just very, very red, as I walked into the company boardroom to give a presentation.
Presentation over and the final meetings of the day concluded I felt slightly battered – physically and mentally - and I was relieved to be on the train home. It’s funny how in this limbo stage between work and home one can picture a rose-tinted vision of the family life one is about to re-enter. The reality is often quite different. Yesterday, I was greeted as I walked through the front door by screeches of pain from Ava as Nathan landed on her head (again), a harrumphing Paul trying to keep the dinner warm as I was twenty minutes later than scheduled (bloody buses) and Eden in hyper mode (this is when she behaves as if she's on speed but is actually extremely overtired and / or bored). Half way through dinner Ava grabbed a piece of Eden's artwork from the dinner table, screwed it into a ball and threw it on the floor. Eden reacted by screaming at her to stop and then breaking down into uncontrollable sobbing. Feeling like screaming myself I took a breath and put my arm round Eden.
"What's the matter darling? You can't be this upset over a picture?" I intoned quietly, glancing at Paul, who was looking quite concerned but at the same time raising an eyebrow, ready to be skeptical.
"No, I'm really sad and cross and upset cos I had such a bad day today," Eden replied.
"Oh no, what happened?" I asked, worriedly.
"My school dinner was nasty and I couldn’t eat it, a horrid chicken thing that I didn’t like, and it was wet playtime so we had to stay inside, and I've got a bruise on my leg and it really, really hurts and Mummy came home LATE and I'm really, really very cross indeed!!"
Breathing out slowly I began to relax. She wasn't being bullied. She hadn't been 'sent to the office' for bad behaviour. Nothing dangerous or sinister was going on at school. She was just tired and frustrated. I know how she feels. Only I wish the worst thing about my day was that I had to endure ‘wet playtime’.
"Here. Come and have a cuddle", I said.

Friday, 7 March 2008

"Good things Dady Dose"

Ted Danson-esque or not, Paul has steadily been adapting into fully-fledged house husband. The evolution from Rob Fleming to Sam Holden more or less complete, he would be the first to say that despite having learned to cook, how to operate a washing machine and how to do coffee mornings (when pressed) with the rest of the school gate parents (a healthy mix of mums and dads, round our way), he still finds the day-to-day of staying at home with three small children pretty damn exhausting and more than a little stress-inducing.
After a challenging week dealing with some of Eden's more precocious tendencies, relations between them were wearing a little thin. I received a harried phone call just as I was about to walk into a 4pm meeting on Thursday:
"Sara, could you please try to talk some sense into Eden?" he begs. A hysterical Eden comes on the line. Between gulping sobs, I make out the words, "I want Daddy to go to work and you to stay at home!"
"Well, that's not really possible now, is it?" I reply, trying to keep my voice reasonable and calm even as I observe the rest of the meeting attendees peering through the glass-fronted meeting room at me, wondering who I could be speaking to that it is urgent enough to keep them all waiting. "Why don't you find something fun to do for a little while and before you know it, I'll be home and we can talk about it properly then?" I suggest.
"But I want you to come home noooooooooooow!" she wails plaintively.
I quickly resort to blackmail, eyeing the waiting room-full before me: "I tell you what, I'll be able to pick you up from school tomorrow", I say. "It's the school book and cake sale so we can go to that together, just you and me. You can choose yourself a new book and we can buy cakes for tea."
"OK," she sniffs, cheering somewhat, "As long as we can go, JUST you and me, noone else. Not Nathan. Not Ava. And definitely NOT Daddy!"
Of course, as I leave the meeting and make my way home I discover, calling home, that the hysterics had subsided within minutes of the call, Eden has been playing happily ever since, that all is well and supper will be ready when I get home. The background noise sounds harmonious enough, and this time Eden doesn't even want to speak to me - she is too busy playing on
I don't think there is a simple answer to whether it's harder to be at home, dealing with the hysterics directly, or to be the one at the office, listening to it all over a phone line, feeling slightly helpless and more than a smidgeon guilty.
Whatever the answer to that eternal conundrum, I think Eden has the solution to family woes tied up. She won't be needing therapy when she grows up, that's for certain. On my return home, she tells me that she has dealt with her feelings of ill will towards Daddy by writing down two lists. The first, headed "Bad list of what Daddy dose", reads:

he shouts at me
he mons
he plas on the computer all day
he lasis in bed

The second is entitled, "Good things Dady dose" and reads:

he coms to pic me up
he gives me cudles at home time
he kisses mummy - sometimes
he mackes dinner

I humbly suggest that neither list is exhaustive, by any means, but by now Eden is ready to confess that Daddy does a pretty good job. And I think, to be honest, that he probably does the hardest one, too.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Calling Scarlett Johansson!

I'm waiting by the phone. Ever so patiently. I'm sure it will start ringing. Any time now. Film rights, anyone? What? What am I on about? Well, haven't you read The Guardian's weekly blogroll feature in Saturday's The Guide yet? Baby Juggler is listed. It gets all of two lines' coverage in this UK national daily. But it does suggest Baby Juggler is, 'a blog, but also quite possibly a new movie starring Ted Danson.' I assume they mean he'd be playing my husband Paul, billed rather flippantly in my profile as a 'gorgeous old hippy,' and not me, as I am decidely not either old or a hippy. Nor am I a man, obviously. So, who should play me in this movie (which is obviously going into production imminently, just as soon as all the agents start calling, and the rights get sold for tresquillions of dollars, and I become rich and possibly even a Hollywood star......) ? I'm thinking Scarlett Johansson. Yerright. In your dreams, slightly saggy-stomached, worry-lined mother of three trying to hold down paid work alongside your real job! Get back to it and stop day dreaming! OK, how about Michelle Pfeiffer, then? Oh. Alright. I see. You don't think it really will ever become a movie. Well, it's nice to fantasise once in a while. And Ted Danson? Yeah, wouldn't mind, actually. (Paul, if you're reading, this is just a joke. It's a thing we do sometimes for Comic Effect).

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Limbo Bimbo

Returned to work Monday after bloody lousy half term holiday spent mostly on my back (and for all the wrong reasons). Actually, the lying-on-my-back thing had its advantages. My middle bro pointed out that being half-crippled was about the only thing likely to slow me down. When else would I spend four days lolling about, watching TV and eating leftover chocolate cake from a three year old's birthday party? And the kids thought I made a great tumbling mat.
Erm, well, that was about it actually on the advantages. On the down side, the usual cloud of fogginess that descends on my brain after any extended time away from work was much, much worse. It occurs to me that day to day, I jump in and out of my neatly compartmentalised 'work' and 'home' boxes, navigating pretty smoothly from one headspace to the other. There's no time to think about the mental adjustment; it just kinda has to happen otherwise things would start to fall apart. But after a week of unavoidable lolling, of Toy-Story-on-a-loop, of camps made out of blankets and too much chocolate cake, I found myself in a weird limbo-like state on Monday; I was back in the office, but I hadn't quite fully made the transition back into the World Of Work. I smiled benignly at a colleague as he waved his arms around emphatically, denouncing the latest move by one of our competitors, and felt rather distant from it all. I stared at the 400+ emails in my inbox and was unable to summon any level of panic, or motivation to clear them. I was a Limbo Bimbo, and my head felt full of cotton wool.
By Tuesday morning the fog had cleared, I'd successfully avoided the pain au raisin at the train station on the way in, and three coffees in to the morning I felt like I was firing on all cylinders once more. I'd departed Limbo and I hadn't descended into hell. I was simply back at work. I feel a lot more comfortable in the hundred-miles-an-hour me; it feels high-energy, productive. But somehow I still have the sneaky suspicion that my brood all kinda preferred 'Lazy Mummy'.
Emailing with a female colleague later today, I got the sense that like so many of us WMs, she also has to manage the desire of her kids for Mummy to slow down once in a while. I felt an enormous sense of kinship as she cried off an evening event in a couple of week's time. She'd only just be returning from a business trip and would have to 'beg forgiveness from the children and husband for my wicked business travelling ways.'
I emailed her back, "Well, the sum of all my earthly wisdom is: 'don't beat yourself up'. It works for me every time."
"No need to beat myself up, when everyone else does it for me," she replied bitterly. "I've outsourced that function very effectively. Sigh."
That made me laugh out loud as I travelled through the oncoming darkness into south east London and back to my family.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Cabin fever

It's the end of half term week, which I took as holiday in order to make up for my treacherous behaviour deserting everyone for New York the week before. I had envisaged fun days out with the children: to the park, to the London Aquarium, down to Brighton for the day. But first thing Monday morning, as I changed Ava's nappy at the changing table, I bent over to pick up a clean nappy, sneezed, and felt a nerve-jangling sensation rip through my lower back, pulling me up short. I was frozen by the pain, stuck with a seventeen month old half naked on the changing table and a three year old and a six year old in various stages of dishevelment and undress running around the house. I've heard people talking about sneezing and putting their back out so many times, but I guess I didn't really believe it was possible. Or maybe I thought it only happened to geriatric types. Until it happened to me. Long story, short: I spent the next four days in a virtually immobile state and with an almost unbearable sense of frustration, feeling that the precious days set aside for family time were slipping away as I ailed on the sofa. Meanwhile, however, I began to learn a valuable lesson: the children were basically fine. Yes, we had to stay indoors for most of the week. Yes, Mummy was doing a lot more sitting around than usual. Yes, the television was doing more of the entertainment than is usually strictly endorsed. But you know what? It's amazing just how fun a camp made out of three dining room chairs and a couple of blankets can be, especially when you add saucepans full of dried pasta and wooden spoons from the kitchen into the mix. A neighbour with teenage children came over to visit, and agreed that her children were always happy as larry simply 'hanging out' at home with Mum. What I learned was that I was the only one who had cabin fever, that maybe all the activity is often more for my sake than for the children's, that just 'being' with the kids is what matters. It's all about the 'KISS' approach ('Keep It Simple, Stupid').

Thursday, 21 February 2008

How to go on a business trip

I've been so remiss with the blog that even my former boss, Richard Charkin, has started to nag me about it. (A couple of years ago I had this crazy idea that he should start a blog to introduce more effective company communications; he posted every day for two years but he has never forgiven me for it, and I think the nagging is by way of punishment). Part of the reason is that I started another blog at the end of last month: the digitalist. It's a work-based blog by me and my team, all about the sweeping changes being introduced to the media by digital technology and trends. It takes a little more brain time to post to it, and so babyjuggler has taken second place for a bit. Part of the reason is that I'm secretly lazy. I do an excellent job of pretending not to be... but every now and then my true character emerges, blinking, into the sunlight, and... lies down for a rest. But the main reason is that I went off to New York for a week at the beginning of February,on business. I was only away for a week, that's true. But still, it took a week of careful preparations, military planning and conniving to make it possible. First, there was the blackmailing of my husband, Paul, who was not entirely overjoyed, shall we say, at the prospect of spending five days entirely in the company of small children under the age of six while I gallavanted off to the Big Apple. I had to promise seven inch singles from New York's finest indie record shops and something gorgeous from Kenneth Cole before I got the first smile out of him. Then, there was the blackmailing of the children: "I know Mummy's going to be away and that we'll all miss each other, but guess what? I'm going to come back with such lovely presents! An American doll for Eden and a fire truck for Nathan!". Ava is too young to be blackmailed. She was also oblivious to my imminent departure. But this made the guilt at leaving somewhat worse in her case. Glittering presents duly promised, it was time to brief the friends and neighbours: one to pick up Eden for school; one to distract Eden and Nathan with visits to the park; one to check Paul was eating OK.... Next it was off to the shops to buy a children's book about New York for Paul to read to the kids at bedtime so that they could imagine the world I would be inhabiting for a week. And finally, I wrote letters for the kids to 'discover' around the house during my absence, and taught Eden how to send a text message so that we could be in touch. In the end, the trip was OK, Paul didn't stop talking to me altogether, everyone loved their presents and it was really lovely being reunited on my return. (And don't tell Paul, but spending a few days away in a nice hotel without the everyday demands of the kids, was really, really good).

Monday, 28 January 2008

Politics, schmolitics

You could tell that the weekend's glow was still washing warmly over me despite the cold dousing in the shower that is Monday morning when at lunchtime today, listening to a colleague wonder at the absurdity of some political in-fighting over a particular issue, I dreamily replied, "Well, you know what, I don't really care. What really matters is that Nathan told me unsolicitedly that he loved me at the weekend, for the first time ever."
The young male colleague stared back at me, slightly bewildered for a moment.
"My three year old son," I clarified, hastily.
"Ah, well, that's alright then," he agreed.
Yes. It is. Extremely alright.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Pain management

Just before Christmas my partner slipped a disc and I slipped into another world; one in which instead of thinking 'Do I really have to do bloody everything round here myself?' I really did have to do bloody everything myself. The timing perfectly coinciding with the week of mad pre-Christmas preparations, I stoically put my nose to the plough and embarked on an ambitious round of kid-ferrying, present-buying, food-preparing and gift-wrapping along side all the usual cooking, cleaning, tidying, bottom-wiping, bathing, dressing and entertaining that having three small kids entails. A few weeks later, Christmas and New Year out of the way, and Paul's back is much better thank you, but my neck only swivels in one direction, I have shooting pains up and down my right arm and every now and then I have no feeling in my hand. A visit to the physio ensues. Dino (yes, that is his name) is a Kiwi (that probably explains it) who says to me after an initial examination, 'Man, you are totally neurally tight.' The English tranlsation is that I am a complete physical wreck at the tender age of 36 and cannot extend my right arm in any direction without extreme pain. My back is so tight that he is unable to manipulate it despite exerting a great deal of effort trying. The answer, he assures me with great confidence, is for me to undertake a series of exercises each day to stretch the nerves and muscles in my shoulder, neck and arms. He whizzes me through umpteen exercises: this one, ten times, four times a day; that one, just a couple of times every hour; the other one, twenty times, but just a couple of times a day, and so on and so forth. There is a slight issue with all of this. At some point in every day I have to get at least four people up and out of bed, washed, dressed, fed and out of the house to various locations, I have to squeeze in eight or nine hours work and then I have to tidy up after everyone, manage the household admin, write the shopping lists, pack the school bags, make the lunch for nursery next day, maybe watch a bit of TV or read a chapter of a book and then, oh, maybe get some sleep. And as I leave the physio to re-enter the fray I am already struggling to remember all the exercises, to remember the various frequencies... Man, if it wasn't automatic I'd probably forget to breathe!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Raw talent

A plaster-dripping builder came into the hairdressing salon in which I sat having my hair cut last night and asked for a grade 1 head shave. After making a few severely un-politically correct comments which I shall not repeat here, he turned and noticed my six year old daughter, Eden, sitting quietly in the corner drawing pictures with her felt tipped pens. "What've we got 'ere then?" he asked, "Is this a babysitters or a hairdressers?" We politely informed him that Eden was my daughter. "Ah! Drawing are we?" he enquired of Eden. "You draw a picture of me and I'll give you a paaand". Eden promptly drew a picture of a rather grubby man in a stripy T-shirt with no hair, and handed it over. "Brilliant, love!" he exclaimed, and handed over a shiny new pound coin. Eden was clearly delighted with this exchange; even more so when I allowed her to buy a bottle of Ribena and some Tooty Frooties with her new found gains on the way home. As I tucked her into bed later, she wondered whether she "might be an artist one day, and sell her paintings for money."
"Maybe you will" I replied. "I was really proud of the way you behaved this evening, Eden," I continued. "You behaved really nicely while we were at the hairdressers. And I think you are really talented, too".
"What are my talents, Mummy?" she asked, innocently (I'm pretty sure she hasn't learned to fish for compliments - yet).
"Well, you're great at drawing, and dancing, and writing, and running, and reading... and you're really funny and charming," I said.
"I think you're really talented, too, Mummy," she commented dreamily.
"Really?" I replied.
"Yes," she answered. "You're talented at cooking, and tidying up, and looking after your kids, and telling stories, and drawing, and being nice, and working on the computer. And you're really good at dressing!" (I'm not sure if she means this last in the Trinny and Suzannah sense or the being-able-to-do-up-all-my-own-buttons sense).
I know she's only six. I know she doesn't know any better. I know she still thinks I'm the best person in the world. And yes, yes, I know it won't last. But it's still great when you feel like most of the time you're doing everything so badly and yet someone who really matters says you are not. And it's the tops simply to be loved so unconditionally it hurts.

Monday, 7 January 2008

New Year's Resolutions

1. Be a better Mother (count to ten more often)

2. Be a better wife (count to, say, twenty or so, a *lot* more often)

3. Lose the jelly belly (will ten sit-ups per day do it, do you think?)

4. Replace the morning croissant with Special K (might have something to do with 3, above)

5. Seriously kick arse at work (may need to reinstate croissant, then, purely for increased energy purposes)

6. Take control of finances (maybe learn to count, first; will also help with 1 and 2 above)

7. Exhibit greater tolerance and increased patience (see also 1 and 2 above)

8. Forget all of the above. Just be perfect, dammit!!

9. Oh sod it, relax more and get more sleep. That should do the trick.

10. Whatever happens, *do not* go on the waggon for January. That would be inexcusably rash, and, quite possibly, Wrong.