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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).