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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.