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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).