Friday, 22 November 2013

Mothers on the Dancefloor


Man, I love November.  The beautiful light in the mornings as bright sunshine cuts through crisp frosty air; fireworks bursting into a night sky; the switching-on of pretty Christmas lights, and general permission to start eating gorgeous festive food.  But much more than that, for me, it's Birthday Month.

I am one of those people who is mad about birthdays.  All birthdays are good with me, but most especially (of course) my own.  I wonder whether I'll hit an age where it's less exciting, but so far so good.  My excitement starts on November 1st, and continues for a good few weeks, until I eventually pop out of the birthday bubble somewhere around now, a little like wobbling off a rollercoaster and thinking "Wahoo!  I can't wait to do that again!  But first...a cup of tea and a sit down..."

This year, I was determined to see in my birthday whilst dancing the night away.  Much to my delight, my Mummy friends (wo)manfully agreed to accompany me to a suitably cheesy establishment. Babysitters were booked, arrangements were made.  That was when we hit our first low.  Having booked a booth online (yes, I booked a booth, we are too old for that standing around with all our stuff crap now), I then got a telephone call during the kids' bath time.  "Hi, this is Vicky from Chicago's...erm... you've booked a booth for 8.30pm but we don't actually open that early, so...if you'd like I can ask my Manager to open early for you?  Let me know."

Mortifying.  Still, I rallied, threw down Larry the Lobster, and called her back, explaining that we'd be more than happy to just come when the bar actually opened.

On the night itself, the kids were fed, bathed and popped into bed in record time, and beautifications took place with great excitement.  One of the Mummies is still breastfeeding her newborn, so kindly volunteered to drive everyone there.  Upon arrival, we realised we were still early, so in order to save ourselves the shame of queuing too keenly, we waited in the car.  5 glammed-up (but playing it cool) mummies packed into a Peugeot on a retail park in Stevenage, windows gradually steaming up as we all got the giggles, was funny enough, but at the appointed hour, when we decided to (still coolly) unfurl from the car, we discovered that of course the backdoors were childlocked.  Further faintly hysterical giggling ensued.

We strutted over to the bar, still playing it cool, and were met by the Manager, a very sweet girl who gave us a broad smile and said "Hi ladies, come this way, I've chosen you a table near the dancefloor and away from the doors so it's a bit warmer".

Of all the lows, this may have been the worst.

We soon recovered our spirits, sampling the bar's complimentary 'bubbles', mysterious bright green shots and assorted pitchers, and by midnight, as the music took off (by which I mean, turned into mainly songs I'd heard of), I was bursting with birthday spirit.  Smoke machine: Check.  Strobe lights: Check.  Birthday shout-out from the DJ: Checkity Check.  That's the thing about me, I'm pretty easily pleased.  I love feeling my heart soar as a familiar beat kicks in, everyone's arms go in the air, and it feels for that moment as though the whole place is completely alive.  Hey, I love my role as a mother and wife, but I also love the way music can completely strip everything away and I'm back to just being me.  Me at my very core.  Me at my cheesy-music-loving best.  It's actually better than dancing as a teenager or 20-something, because in those years there was so much self-consciousness, so much pre-occupation with looking good.  Now, it's just about me, having a ball.  Peering through the smoke at my Mummy friends, I sensed it was the same for them.  And I loved them all the more for it.  Happy November, ladies.  We're still cool!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Defying Gravity




Well, here we are again, dear friends.  It's been a while, but this time I've got a pretty good reason.  I hit a rich vein on the writing front and managed to properly put fingers to keyboard and get my TV script written.  Sure, it's still got a long way to go, but it exists.  It is a thing.  A thing that popped into my head around 2 years ago, and now exists on paper and on screen.  Well, on my laptop screen.  As for the TV screen, let's see.

I'll be honest with you, I was starting to worry that I'd never get anything written.  People would ask what I was doing while the kids were at nursery (because obviously keeping a house and 4 people clean, fed and supported is not enough) and I'd say "Actually, I'm trying to write something". And they'd nod and say something like "Wow, good for you..." and back slowly away from the crazy lady.  I get that.  It's a bit of a bold statement, I guess, to say, "I have an idea that I think is good enough to get made and be watched by lots of people".  But here's the thing: I really do think that.  And I really am going to try and make that happen.

Over the last few weeks I've worked through a range of emotions.  I was elated with the achievement of having a script that makes me laugh, frustrated at how long and cluttered the road ahead seems to be, uplifted by the positive feedback I've had from the 2 people I've shown it to (okay, fine, one of them was Mr W, but trust me, he's no pushover), and am now nervously excited as I await feedback from the next 2 people, one who actually knows how to screenwrite, and another who is an actress.  I'm expending nervous energy like a big ball of...nervous energy gas? I don't know, that one got away from me there.

I'm not really afraid of much in life (apart from sharks, but honestly, that's just common sense) but I must admit, I'm afraid of a few things on the writing front.  I'm afraid I'll turn out to not be very funny, which after 33 years of being 'the funny one', could be something of a blow.  I'm afraid that impatience will cause me to hit Send before it's completely brilliant, and blow my chances of getting it made.  I'm afraid that I'm just as much of a cliché as every other writer out there, convinced that they have the Best Idea Ever.

Thankfully, this is where being a peppy optimist really comes into its own, as I'm spending probably an equal amount of time wondering which designer's frock I'd most like to wear to the BAFTAs.  Seriously.  I googled Monique Lhuillier at one point.  A little part of me is flying, just from the thrill of actually trying.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Stay Sticky




Last night, just before I dropped off to sleep, the strangest object came to mind.  It was a pot of glue.  Well, not quite a pot.  A small plastic bottle with a brown slightly oval top, containing a slit through which glue would ooze out when the bottle was squeezed.  It was the glue we used at home when I was growing up.  Goodness knows how long that glue bottle lasted, but it's the one that I associate most strongly with projects at home.  Glue - stretchy sticky binding gloop - has been on my mind since I watched my sister getting married a few weeks ago.

When I was about to get married, my Gran told me that the most important part of being a wife was to be the glue that holds family life together.  Not just husband and wife, but inlaws, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, third cousins twice removed. Even family-friends-who-aren't-really-aunties-but-we-call-them-that-anyway.  It was advice that really (ahem,my apologies in advance) stuck with me.

It came to take on even more significance once we had children.  Not only did I desperately want my children to experience being part of a big noisy family (my sister and I don't have any cousins so we had to content ourselves with being a small noisy family), but also, I came to realise that my newly inherited inlaws, aunts and cousins were a truly precious additional source of support in the early baby months and beyond.  When we moved out of London and had our second son, the women of our new-found Church family appeared and helped to carry us through the newborn months.  They were incredible.  We'd attended this particular church twice before the baby arrived, and once Mr W's two week paternity leave ended, a rota appeared.  For two weeks, different women from the church would appear at 5.30pm to deliver dinner for us all.  It's a rota I've had the privilege of helping on for new mums since then, and I think it's one of the nicest things about being part of our church family.

That's the thing about family - and women, in particular, I think.  We stretch.  We think we're already at full capacity but then someone nearby stumbles and we shift our load to the other hip and help them up.  We patch up holes.  We see the disagreements within families or social circles, and set about filling in the gaps.  Armed usually with tea and hobnobs, we try a little emotional darning.  And frequently, we bend.  There have been many times when I've had to bite my tongue as someone says something patronising or dismissive that suggests they see me as 'just' a Mum, 'just' a housewife, 'just' Mrs W.  My ego is desperate to whip out my academic record, my career highlights, my grade 5 flute certificate, but instead I root around for a little grace.  I remind myself that I love what I'm doing, my kids are cool, and this life suits us all very well.  But acknowledging all that - without resorting to brandishing woodwind certification - requires bending, nonetheless. 

So as a fully paid up stretchy, patchy, bendy woman, I thought I'd take a moment to salute my fellow...erm...Gluers.  To my dear friends out there, probably not reading this, far too busy being glue yourselves, you are gorgeous, sparkly, shiny people and the world is a better place for having you in it.  Mwah.  Stay sticky.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Hula Hooping to Glory


                                              Me and my friends.  No, really...

I am now one week away from my bridesmaid dress fitting.  3 weeks away from my sister's wedding.  And starting to feel the burn on the body front.  Since reaching my original target weight, things have reached a plateau, which is perfectly fine and at least better than piling it on, but as the wedding date looms, I do feel as though I want to be at my best.  Of course, this renewed vigour has coincided with the start of the school holidays, thus rendering the Wii-Fit the only realistic option in terms of daily exercise.  Fitting meaningful exercise around children during the holidays is surely impossible.  A dear friend with a toddler and 3 month old told me yesterday that her doctor had suggested spending some time each morning "before everyone wakes up" to do her stomach exercises.  I think we can all agree that in a household with small children, there is no such time.  How we giggled at the doctor's advice.  As my friend put it, "It'll be hilarious until my stomach drops out of my a*se in a few years".  A sobering thought indeed, and I'm sure we'd have stopped giggling right there, had it not been for the fact that she had said it loudly in M&S and was now being stared at by startled bystanders.

Another friend happened across a quick half hour aerobics class in her local newspaper, and - buoyed by its brevity and accompanying lower price - immediately set off to make it her regular fix.  Except it transpired that it was only half an hour because it was high intensity.  7 minutes in, she was fairly sure she was going to be sick, and that was the point at which she was asked to get into a crab position, scuttle to one side of the church hall, drop a dozen press ups, and then scuttle back.  She made like a crustacean until she reached the door, and promptly escaped.

And so it is that each morning, my children have the dubious pleasure of watching their mother huff and puff as she Hula Hoops and Virtual-Step Classes her way to glory.  <Pauses to giggle at the notion of this waistline being anything like glorious>.  As I puffed on this morning (curtains firmly closed as I was still in pyjamas to add to the indignity), I thought about how delighted everyone was that La-Middleton didn't try to hide her baby bump, 24 hours after giving birth, and the outrage stirred up by a magazine publishing "insights" into her post-baby weightloss plans.  I was reminded of something I read that described post-baby stretch marks as hard earned tiger stripes. I quite like that as an image.  Now I just need to craft something similarly poetic about bingo wings...

Friday, 19 July 2013

Good Luck Team Wales!




This week I've been thinking more than usual about the Duchess of Cambridge.  She's generally there as a sort of low level background presence in my musings, you know, in a "Sheesh, I wish I had a stylist like Kate's to help me tackle this heat frizz..." sort of way.  But this week, as the world awaits news of the royal baby, I feel for her in a way that's probably faintly ridiculous considering we've never met.

It just brings back so many memories of being pregnant, and then the Herculean effort that is labour.  To have to do it with such intense media scrutiny must be incredibly difficult.  I say that, of course the media only really gets to see the public moments - I suspect it's unlikely Team Wales will pop up on "One Born Every Minute" - but still, it must be daunting.

When I arrived at hospital to have my first baby, it was a cold November Sunday, but I was toastie warm with the first flushes of pain, and remember waddling out of the taxi in flip flops, clutching my pillow and assorted "essentials" that all first timers probably take in with them.  I cheerily ambled up to the desk and announced "Hello, I'm here to have my baby!"  They took one look at me and popped me into a room that might as well have been marked "In nowhere near enough pain".  Some hours later, when I'd quit the cheery banter and was at full moo, we all knew baby was finally coming.  Mind you, the good cheer returned immediately after I'd met the little man, as to Mr W's amazement and probable shame, I treated everyone to a round of the national anthem, honked through the gas & air pipe.  Except I realised at the end that something was amiss, roundly apologised ("I'm SO sorry everyone, that was the American one, wasn't it?  Here we go...") and then proceeded to honk God Save the Queen.  It's probably just as well that I couldn't see the stitches that were being done at the time - I can't imagine the nurse's hand was awfully steady as she shook with laughter.

Given Baby Wales's family, the above musical interlude might be something Kate would like to think about -  #justsaying and all that.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Feeling the Fear


At my friend's suggestion, I'm steering clear of singing Disney songs for a while - frankly it's getting ridiculous.


I've not had much luck with woodland folk of late.  Last week, a small bird plopped down our chimney (destroying our carpet with the accompanying soot and debris) and stared darkly at me for some considerable time before calmly flying out into the garden.  Then a few days ago, as I valiantly tackled some gardening while the children played, a frog (or was it a toad?) hopped on to my flip-flopped foot.  I screamed.  First because I thought it was a huge snail, and then again when it hopped off and I realised it had been something amphibious.  Eeeeuch.  I was on my own for the bird incident, but for Frog/Toadgate the boys were there to witness my reaction.  And what a reaction it was.  In that moment, I forgot I was a Mummy and reacted purely as me.  She who is afraid of spiders.  She who is a little afraid of the dark.  She who thinks frogs are slimey and yukky and...bleuurrrrrrggh.

The boys seemed quite bemused by it all.  My eldest stopped to enquire whether I was sure it was a frog (I had to admit I wasn't) and my youngest needed a wee, and wondered if he could possibly go al fresco.  It was a tiny reminder that actually us grown ups aren't always as interesting to our children as we might think.  Since becoming a Mummy, I have felt obliged to demonstrate fearlessness at all costs.  There's a huge spider in the bath?  Pah, not a problem!  In fact, isn't it a cute little thing? Look at all those hairy little legs.  Oooh, yes, he's a goodie, let's just pop a cup on him so that Daddy can see him when he gets home from work... (and yes, I do then watch the cup nervously out of the corner of my eye, to see if Spidey is moving it around with those aforementioned hairy little legs *shudder*)

I think it partly comes from a desire to avoid the trap of strong brave boys, and weedy Princessy girls.  I feel a sense of duty to raise young men who think women are awesome too.  Even if my youngest does add to my grey hairs regularly by delighting in telling me he only likes the naughty girls at nursery...

I think it's also partly because I feel the role demands it.  Being the only grown up on duty most days makes me feel as though I can't let the side down and rush around squealing - surely it's my job to make everyone feel safe?  Can I do that if they know I'm quaking in my Havaianas?

It was partly this thinking that led to the creation of Mummy's Adventure Board in the kitchen.  It features photos and souvenirs of me on assorted adventures.  My rule is that they have to be me in my own right, achieving some sort of goal or ambition.  As much as getting married and having these two gorgeous boys is a huge adventure, I want the board to depict other aspects of me, if that makes sense.  I'd say at this point it's about 50/50 between seeing the board as a way to inspire the boys and remind them that girls can do cool things too, and also as a reminder to myself that there is more to life than cooking a mean Bolognese.  I'm conscious that it's been a while since I've added to the board actually.  Time to think of some new adventures.  Mind you, if these woodland creatures keep turning up, I could be lassoing squirrels or riding muntjack before the week's out.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Path-finding


I do love a good present.  And last week I received a gorgeous one, in the form of the very beautiful header artwork proudly displayed at the top of this page.  A very dear and talented friend, Jo, created it for me as a gift.  If you're ever in need of inspiration, or just enjoy looking at beautiful things, check out http://www.atelierjoanafaria.com.

Jo is one of those fantastic bright sparkly people who make the world fabulous.  You'd love her.  Tumbling curls, huge smile, big impulsive Brazilian gestures.  I met her on my very first day in Adland.  Fresh from the tube (actually, can anyone ever be fresh from the tube?), nervously looking around at my fellow graduate trainees, it was a relief to see her friendly face.  We became great friends as we navigated the new landscape together.  A few years later, Jo changed from being an account man (liaising between clients, creatives and production) to being a creative herself.  Writing and art-directing her own work.  I really admired her bravery and determination to make something out of her creative instincts.  So often we stay on a path because it's one we know and are comfortable with, rather than because it's one in which we can truly flourish.

As I reflected earlier on Jo's change of path, I remembered the feeling I had at 19, when after nearly 10 years of planning to be a lawyer, I decided to change my own.  It was the summer after end of first year exams, and I was sitting in my car.  It struck me that if I was going to be a good lawyer, not just a competent one, I was going to have to work twice as hard as my peers.  Some might have seen this as the ultimate challenge.  I saw it as a total nightmare.  Why commit myself to a career of constantly playing catch up?  So I sat in my car and thought about what I was actually good at.  What sort of industry might I thrive in?  And gradually, it came to me.  Somewhere I could be involved in making things.  Negotiate with people, persuade them, be involved in creating something tangible.  Something I could show my family.  It was actually quite liberating.  A brief but glamorous summer placement at Saatchi's and I was hooked.  Advertising was the place for me.

Somewhat ridiculously, I didn't really see motherhood as another change in path.  I simply saw it as a sort of extension of the happy journey (ack, the X Factor has ruined that word for me) I was on with Mr W, and even though I knew it would involve a career change, it didn't seem that big a deal.  For a few years I was too busy slashing through the undergrowth to notice, but suddenly I can look around and see the beauty that's around me.  From being someone whose heel height (and, let's face it, laziness) dictated taking cabs for most journeys, I now squelch through muddy bogs in wellies.  After years of takeaway eating and cocktail drinking, I now possess a slow cooker.  I'll admit something here: I love my slow cooker so much I have actually given it a name.  Sven.  I figure Sven is the kind of capable, trusty second-in-command a girl can leave at home in charge of a bolognese while she gets on with the important business of puddle-splashing and bear-hunting.

Even if I couldn't see the changes immediately, my friends certainly did.  Apparently I look much brighter and shinier these days than I did before.  It's a shame that when you become a stay at home Mum, people tilt their heads sideways and ask if you're really satisfied, if it can possibly be enough for you.  In my case, it has turned out to be the most wonderful path of all.  It's given me the freedom to try things I'd never have made time for before (singing, writing, depicting assorted superheroes through the medium of cake), and most importantly, has given me the opportunity to watch my little people set off on their own paths.

So here's to those who seek their own paths.  Here's to gorgeous Jo.  Cheers.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Home remedies



I'm crying about almond oil.

Specifically, the memories evoked by popping a few gently warmed drops of it into my eldest's poorly ear.  It was one of my Grandma's trusty remedies for ear-ache.  I can't tell you the number of times I would go to her as a child, crying about an ear ache or sore throat or any of the usual childhood illnesses, and she would soothe it with a homespun remedy.  Almond oil for ears, cloves for throats, ginger ale for feeling sick. The latter never failed to make me throw up (I guess her intention was just to speed up the process and end that awful period when you know you're going to be sick?!) and I still feel a bit queasy now when I smell or taste it.  Of course, I had no idea while I was growing up that these remedies weren't the norm.  They weren't entirely wacky, and my folks were by no means against going to the doctor or using conventional medicine in addition, but for the everyday niggles that cause me to reach for Calpol, my Gran had other answers.

My sister and I had the privilege of growing up with a live-in Grandma.  When my parents needed her help with childcare so that my Mum could return to work, my Gran sold her house in Karachi and moved to the UK to live with us.  I wish I could remember the Karachi house.  I've been told so many great stories about it.  My favourite is that of my Gran potty training me, both of us sat underneath her mango tree.  Me on the potty, her on a little wooden stool, which I've now inherited.  I had sweet notions of sitting on the stool while I potty trained my own children, but the dear British weather and my lack of gardening skills could never quite recreate such grand settings (the above pic is A mango tree, not THE mango tree, sadly).  I can't tell you too much about Gran because I wouldn't know where to start, but she was wonderful.

We lost Grandma unexpectedly to a stroke, the week before my eldest was due.  She passed away a week later, my Mum calling to tell my husband just as he was calling to tell her that I was experiencing the very first twinges of labour.  You might call it beautiful.  Generally, I do.  But sometimes, I'm still caught by the rawness of that grief, the sense of being cheated out of an amazing source of wisdom and comfort just as I needed it most.  You never know how long you'll have someone for, and you never think to ask them for all their advice, remedies and wisdom upfront - how could you?  I remember asking my Gran for one of her recipes, and she duly described it all to me, right down to 'use this much chilli powder', indicating with her thumb against the tip of her forefinger.  I wish I'd at least taken a ruler out and measured how much forefinger!  I suppose that's the thing.  These days we have so much information at our fingertips, science has provided so many answers, overturned so many rules that our parents lived by.  She would find it hysterical that I want to know how many millimetres of chilli powder to use, or what temperature exactly I was supposed to warm the almond oil to.  Like the whole 'check the baby's bath water with your elbow' rule that has supposedly been 'bettered' by the invention of baby bath thermometers etc, it's all got a bit complicated, hasn't it?

Maybe that's why I struggled so much to feel what I thought was maternal instinct coming through at first.  I knew I had heaps of love, I just didn't know exactly how warm to make the milk.  I think I thought the latter was about instinct.  It's only now, with the benefit of dear old hindsight and his wonderful friend sleep, that I can see it didn't really matter, so long as no-one was getting scalded.  Our babies were loved and loved and loved - that was the instinct part.  At times they were wept over, puzzled over, and studied with a sweet bewilderment - we took it all very seriously.  But while we were taking it seriously, reading the books, swotting up on the milestones, our boys merrily did their own thing.  Ate, pooped, grew, became little people.  And it all became a little easier.  A little less dramatic.  I still have plenty of moments of wondering what on earth a grown up would do in a given situation, but I'm learning that on the whole, my instincts aren't steering our little team too far wrong.  So the almond oil is joining the Calpol in the medicine cabinet.  An addition which makes me feel oddly proud.  If my eldest's ears drop off overnight, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Anger Management


Last week, I got angry.  I knew it was coming.  After a week or so's worth of emails, texts and phone calls about a children's birthday party, of all things, I sensed the limits of my patience were in sight.  Dark clouds gathered.  I knew I was about to declare myself really rather cross.  And then Mr W called, with news of yet more changes to said birthday party plan.  The anger arrived, a big storm of indignation, a whirl of rage, where I physically shook like rattling windows in a hurricane, followed by raining tears...and then...a sense of calm...as we always say after a good summer thunderstorm "Ooof, we needed that".

I don't get angry often, but when I do it tends to arrive with fairly startling force.  I remember my Grandma as being the same.  She seemed to have vast reserves of patience and love, and then suddenly - too late - we'd realise we'd tapdanced on her very last nerve, and the storm was upon us.  Whenever I get angry with the children, and am inevitably reflecting on it later, racked with guilt, I take great comfort from the knowledge that I loved and admired my Gran hugely, even if she did occasionally unleash a little fury in our presence.

When I say I don't get angry often, I'm talking about moments of real rage, not the minor annoyances or irritations that can happen every day.  Pffft, there are plenty of those.  One of the worst offenders is the Facebook status updates of women (and I'm afraid it is usually women) essentially posting their to-do lists and telling us all how many loads of washing they've already cracked through that morning.  Believe me, I know there are times when you really would like a trophy for cleaning the shower, but it's part of what we've signed up for, no?  Then there's the people who mistake being at home for being an airhead, and assume that because you've chosen to be home with your children, it must be because you couldn't cut it academically, or in your career.  Not so, mon frère, some of us just choose to put our energy into running around the common chasing small people in superhero suits, rather than climbing the career ladder.

See, even reading the above paragraph makes me feel a little disgruntled.  It's not so much a case of Hulk-style "You won't like me when I'm angry", it's more that I don't like me when I'm angry.  Angry me is negative, draining, faintly out of control.  I'm all for a little healthy repression.  At work I used to be encouraged to get angry.  It was good to have a little tension in the creative process, I was told, and it kinda made sense. It wasn't a strength of mine, but I can see why having someone constantly seeking to keep the peace wasn't always the best way to arrive at great creative work.

In motherhood, however, being angry seems to be a pretty definite no-no.  I remember thinking that potty training was like some form of unique torture.  Someone who you know is perfectly able to understand you, is going to wee and poo in their pants, on the stairs, at the dinner table, wherever they so please, and you must use your kind voice, wash said pants, disinfect said stairs, all whilst being encouraging and positive.  I think I lasted about a week with both boys before Mummy Got Tough.  And funnily enough, that seemed to work wonders for their understanding.

I think a distinction must be drawn between getting angry and completely losing one's temper.  Even at my most cross with the children, I have been keenly aware of my language and the commitment Mr W and I made to never smacking in temper.  I've been the angry Mum in Sainsbury's, and have felt the weighty stare of judgement upon me.  But as long as I am in control of that crossness, I can deal with it, and see it as part of bringing the boys up with discipline.

I have only had true red mist rage once.  It was at my first ad agency, shortly before I resigned (fortunately).  I worked for two fairly ridiculous bosses at the time.  One Friday afternoon, as I worked hard to finish a presentation that had to be sent out, and after much less-than-sober provocation from both of them, I felt a rushing sound in my ears, literally saw red mistiness in front of my eyes and heard myself screaming "I'LL F*CKING HAVE YOU!"  How mortifying to know that when really pushed, I'm more Peggy Mitchell than Bree Van de Kamp.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Truly Special Brew



This afternoon, as my children ran around the garden in superhero suits, I made a pot of tea.  It was loose leaf Assam, and it was wonderful.  It's become a fairly regular pleasure of late, and always makes me feel charmingly Edwardian.  I feel as though the vicar might pop by at any moment, ideally on a bicycle, and enquire about my forsythia (for some reason I am obsessed with forsythia today, I have no idea why, sorry).


Anyway, as I sipped my tea, I realised a milestone had passed without my noticing.  My tea was hot, and indeed has been for some time.  When did this happen?  I remember shedding actual tears when my first son was only a few weeks old - tears for hot tea.  Tears for a time when a woman could make a cup of tea and drink it without (obviously, a very sensible) fear of scalding the baby, or a cycle of feeding, winding, nappy changing and crying keeping said woman away from her tea until it had gone distinctly lukewarm.  I remember genuinely envying my husband for going to work and being able to consume hot beverages whenever he liked.  Now, in a faintly more rational mood, I concede he probably can't just stick his phone on mute mid-conference call and head off for a Lapsang Soucho, but back then it seemed like that's what everyone else was doing.  Every other adult I knew was probably quaffing the stuff in steaming mugfuls, while I - in NEED of caffeine - couldn't get near it.

I'll be honest, in the early years people always said "Oh, enjoy this time, it's gone before you know it", and more often than not my smile in return was through gritted teeth.  The early baby years were not my finest.  I didn't feel maternal instincts coursing through my veins immediately.  Oh but I had love in abundance, the sort of love that fulfills all the cliches and genuinely does make you catch your breath in wonder at the small people you've created.  It's a love that pours out of me freely and easily, much like the kids spilling their squash, but I kept waiting for some sense of  'just knowing' what to do, and it didn't really come for a long time.  Mr W and I have always been fairly academic sorts, so we stuck our heads down, read a ton of books and kept going until somehow we all popped through the other side.  And here I am, drinking hot tea.

Over the last few weeks both children have been offered their school and nursery places, and now I can see parents buying school uniforms (yes, for September, yes I know it's April), and making plans for what they'll do until 3pm each day.  For ages I've looked forward to buying the little name labels to sew into my eldest's school uniform as and when he gets it.  And yet suddenly I find myself saying "Oh there's no rush" and smiling fondly at Mums with babies in the park, almost daring myself to tell them how quickly it passes.  I remember Mr W and I remarking during the baby years that every time we got the hang of it, the goal posts would move and we'd be on to a new stage.  It didn't occur to me at the time that this could just be parenthood in general (maybe Mr W clocked it but thought it wise not to mention it to a woman who was already crying about tea).

And so we roll towards the next chapter, I suppose.  As a frazzled mum of a newborn, the first day of school seemed miles away.  Suddenly, it looms large and I feel a compulsion to squeeze every last superhero-costumed drop out of the coming months.  If you are reading this with children of a similar age, then good luck, old chum, as we prepare for this new adventure.  If you're still in the baby years, come on over and I'll gladly cuddle the baby while you try the Assam...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

St George & The Dragon

Sometimes my mind likes to go off on adventures of its own.  Here's what happened when it did so today...


A valiant knight trots by on his steed
As sunlight dapples a lake in Silene,
Where the people fear a dragon
That's hungry and mean.
For years it has been their custom
To present this beast with fine lambs,
But now there's a shortage of poor woolly friends,
And the dragon eschews their burgers and hams.

"There's an obvious solution"
The town's menfolk declare,
"We'll give him a maiden!"
The ladies look scared.
"Are you crazy?!" they cry
Manicured hands held aloft -
"We'll slay him ourselves,
If you're all too soft."

"Don't get all Beyonce on us"
The men retort in a huff.
"Ok", the Princess steps forward,
"I think that's enough!
I'll talk to the dragon,
I love a good cause"
As she goes over to chat,
He grabs her in his jaws.

The princess screams out
As the people watch the saga
"Get off me, you half wit,
This dress is Balenciaga!"
She spies St George and cries:
"Help me, good sir, I can't do this solo"
St George shrugs his shoulders:
"Sure, after all - YOLO"

And verrily he slays the dragon,
(Who I imagine felt rather bitter)
"Let us feast and be merry!
But first, let's get this on Twitter"
Thus the legend became recorded
With many a Facebook 'like' and 'share'
And St George felt jolly relieved
To have saved the maiden so fierce and so fair.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Alpha seems to be the hardest word



Is it possible to wonder if you're an Alpha Male or Female, or is the mere act of wondering distinctly un-Alpha?  Today, much (more) is being written about a very famous Alpha Female, and it prompted me to ponder where I stand in the greek alphabet order of things.

I've never thought of myself as being particularly Alpha.  I've always associated it with a hardness and ruthlessness that I can't identify in myself.  However, it may be my understanding that's the problem.  Outside the animal kingdom, there seems to be no universal definition for Alpha-ness - everyone brings their own prejudices, insecurities and values to bear, particularly when defining what makes an Alpha Female.  The characteristics that most often come up - forthrightness, ambition, arrogance - tend to have an especially negative connotation when applied to women.

I've been fortunate enough to work in an agency with two incredibly strong women at the top, and whilst they were clearly ambitious, competitive and sharp, I'm not sure they would buy the 'Alpha' label.  But perhaps that's the secret weapon of the Alpha Female - possessing the empathy and communication skills to wrap ambition and sharpness in gorgeous cashmere.  Perhaps the first rule of Alpha Female Club is to never talk about Alpha Female Club?

For me, Alpha status has always seemed like a pretty unlikeable position to hold, and I am nothing if not keen to get on with people.  If I ever purport to be keen on confrontation, you may remind me of an incident in Paul's Patisserie, Canary Wharf, a few weeks after our eldest child was born.  It was my first trip out without my new baby, and all I wanted in the world was a good chocolate eclair (fear not, the inlaws were with him, I wasn't that ruthless in my pursuit of patisserie goods).  Mr W had gone off to browse, and I was left to purchase the goodies.  Just as the eclair was handed over, still in its packaging, I read the description and discovered that it contained chocolate cream, not fresh cream.  I asked the gentleman very nicely if I could return it and he refused, rather bluntly.  Try not to judge me when I tell you that I then sat in their cafe, blinking back tears, until Mr W returned, at which point I recounted the whole sorry tale.  Is there anything more sad than a slightly soggy, overtired, overwhelmed woman in need of a proper chocolate eclair?

Mr W was galvanised into action.  He began pacing up and down beside the counter, furiously channelling his inner Rumpole.  All I remember is his opening statement "I ask you...definitionally, what IS a chocolate eclair?  Is it not the classic and specific combination of choux pastry and fresh cream?"  And so he went on, as my bleary little eyes brimmed with tears, my hunting-gathering hero took that Saturday patisserie assistant DOWN.

Not my finest girl power hour, but I like to think that having given birth, I'd already demonstrated my credentials.

I remember a few days after having our youngest son, thinking back over the labour and the point at which I became really genuinely frightened about how I was going to do it.  I had rarely, if ever, felt real fear before, but in that moment I was really very scared. Afterwards, I felt this huge sense of pride and courage - I'd been afraid but had delivered him safely anyway, and what was left to fear now?  I'd made a freakin' person!  Two, no less.  It was a really liberating moment, a rare flash of "Check me out!". 

Which is why I've always feared the idea of Alpha Parents, especially Mummies.  I imagine that if you were always a fairly formidable woman, the added boost of having given birth must give you veritable super powers.  I've yet to step into the world of the PTA, but I'm already imagining a cross between The Apprentice and the Great British Bake Off.  A bit of me can't wait to see how I measure up, and the rest of me would rather keep my head down and run with the gammas.

I guess that's the thing about being Alpha.  On some level, you presumably have to care about being the leader of the pack, and assert your dominance accordingly.  To be honest, I'd rather just eat really good, "proper", chocolate eclairs with people I love.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Etiquette of Playdates



The etiquette of playdates fascinates me.  Much like dating, or indeed that very first client meeting, you quickly seek to establish common ground, share view points and assess chemistry or 'brand fit'.  Over the course of a few hours you establish whether the new Mummy is your sort of Mummy.  Of course, with dating and client chemistry meetings, you don't tend to have toddlers present.  Thus, in those cases your careful preparation and cheery warm welcome is unlikely to be thwarted as soon as the door opens by a small person declaring "Oh no, Mummy, I didn't want you to invite THIS James, I meant the OTHER one..."

Anyway, the inaugural playdate is booked.  Assuming that you're hosting, there's prep to be done.  Firstly, whether or not you think it's ridiculous to clean the house before double the usual number of marauding small people run through it, you will inevitably try and tidy to some sort of universally acceptable standard.  Apparently being too clean can inhibit creativity and play, but no-one wants to be the Slummy Mummy, so somewhere between OCD and E-Coli, you should be good to go.  Next up, snacks.  If etiquette is about making others feel comfortable, then it makes sense to take your snack cues from whoever is coming to visit.  Some Mums are fruit only, others will happily break out the Bakewells.  If you don't know where they stand on the snackage spectrum, then you aim for somewhere in between and hope the kids don't rat you out for never usually having organic flapjacks.  Oh, and the juice vs water debate, that's another thorny one.  Basically, so long as you don't offer Coke (yes yes, of any kind), all should be fine.

Your playdate companions arrive.  Your kids were well dressed when you last saw them but are now either naked or wearing superhero costumes.  You go with it.  Snack time hopefully passes without incident.  You now face the final hurdles: Discipline and CBeebies.  Telling off your kids in front of someone you don't know very well is always a bit uncomfortable.  I always wonder if the other parent thinks I'm being too hard or not nearly hard enough, but - much like horses - the boys can smell fear, so I tend to put indecision to one side and go with what feels right.  When they are old enough to be threatened with being embarrassed in front of their friends, I suspect that's an area that will resolve itself.  The question of whether you can tell off the playdatee is a whole other issue.  I think on a first playdate it's probably out of the question unless the child and parent are so awful you plan never to see them again.  After that, there are probably gentle ways and means, but it's a minefield. The last decision is whether or not to put on the TV.  For some people, it is absolutely unthinkable to put on the television during a playdate.  For others, the commanding tones of Captain Barnacles are infinitely preferable to a soundtrack of squabbling kids, and the TV is put on without hesitation.  As with snacks, when it comes to TV, I tend to take my cues from my guest.

Again, much like dating, by the end of your time together you'll have a fairly good idea of whether it's ever going to happen again.  The Mummy circuit is remarkably intertwined, so to some extent you can never quite shake someone off, but equally there seems to be an understanding that some people just click better than others and no offence should be taken if you happen to see some Mums more than others.  Which is just as well as there's a real mixed bag out there...

Anyway, today the children and I had a second playdate with some people we've known for a while.  We had in our midst 2 Spidermen, 1 Spiderwoman and a Superman.  No-one bit anyone or wet themselves, and everyone enjoyed the hot cross buns.  That, my friends, is a playdate match made in heaven.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Roughcut


There was a time when a roughcut meant the first edit of a new ad.  I used to love getting the phone call that heralded its arrival, and would positively skip up the stairs to the creatives' office, to view it in all its glory.  Except, it was never that glorious.  As I came to learn, there are thousands of caveats one must give when presenting a rough cut, as it is literally just an edit of the footage that the director and creatives are happy with, without any post production magic or (boo hiss) client feedback.  Speaking of client feedback, the following never fails to take me back to those days with a smile:  The Rough Cut Lady Song

Today, I completed my first roughcut of the year.  It's the first time I've mowed the lawn in 2013.  I like to refer to it as a roughcut because it's generally just about cutting back everything that's grown over the autumn and winter, and getting it to a manageable state.  No fancy stripes or finer details for this cut, just the basics.

I also like to refer to it as a roughcut because it tickles me to use my old industry language in my new Mummy world.  It's like seeing an old friend in an unexpected place.  Recently, over dinner with dear friends from advertising, I referred to my brand onion. For those of you questioning the sudden use of vegetation, a brand onion is a marketing tool used to establish what's at the heart of a brand and then each layer that goes around it builds a picture of that brand and how it connects with its consumers.  Anyway, as we laughed, I heard a particular sort of chuckle in my friend's reaction.  There was surprise at hearing the term after so long (and from someone so far out of that world now), and delight in the shared understanding, the use of a term common to those of us in that industry (and common to poor old Mr W who had to learn all about it when I was in it).  It made me think about how tribal we all are, and how brilliantly language can bind us together or draw us apart.  We all seek out common ground with each other, and the kinds of words and references we use are such a substantial part of that. 

About a year ago I made a new Mummy friend and mentioned to Mr W after one of our first playdates that I particularly loved hanging out with her because "She'll refer to something as being 'very Temperley' and she knows I know what that is!"  A few weeks ago, on a rare Mummy night out, I had to hit the dancefloor when Sweet Female Attitude's one hit wonder "Flowers" came on.  To my delight, one of my Mummy friends was right there with me, singing all the words too (ok, fine, so it's not exactly lyrically taxing, but still).  In the search for common ground, beyond just knowing the same version of "Hop little bunnies, hop hop hop" (and seriously, who knew there could be so many?), occasionally we bump into old terminology from new people, and we get a glimpse of our old selves, in our new roles.

So today I'm celebrating those nods and smiles of recognition, the chuckles of delight at shared terminology, and of course, the smell of freshly (rough)cut grass.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Mummy Makeovers

Oh dear.  It has been months, hasn't it?  I am a teensy bit prone to flights of fancy, and the critic in me is already smugly crowing "See, I knew you didn't have the staying power for this blogging business".  Still, if I've learned anything from my faddishness, it's that some things are best left abandoned and some things deserve to be picked up, dusted off, and enjoyed once more.  So here we are.

I had big news last month - I hit my target weight after around 2 years of slimming.  2st 8lb off, hoorah!  I still feel like there's more I could lose, so the journey goes on, but hitting target meant the Great Wardrobe Purge could finally take place.

I have never been particularly into fashion.  Aside from the early days in my career, clothes have tended to be about camouflaging wobbly bits or having a quick and cheap mood boost.  Initially as I gained weight, and then as I adjusted to life at home with children, there seemed little point in buying expensive clothes, or indeed in thinking about clothing much beyond whether it did the necessary.  However, as the fog of the baby years started to lift, I looked at myself with fresh (ish) eyes.  I was adrift in a sea of waterfall cardigans and baggy jeans.  No wonder no-one could tell I was losing weight.  No wonder I felt so...beige... And so, for my birthday and Christmas presents, I asked my family if I could possibly have clothing vouchers.  When I hit target, I hit the shops.

My first stop was a personal shopping appointment, where my new shape was identified and revealed.  I am now <play triumphant fanfare here> a Column <fanfare to trail off in slightly deflated manner>.

May I humbly suggest that whoever is in charge of naming women's body shapes (who is it these days? Did Trinny & Susannah get the old heave-ho?) finds some slightly more feminine / flattering / aspirational terms.  I mean, honestly, a Column? Could they find anything, well, girthier?

Anyway, once I'd learned how to dress my Column physique, I powered down Oxford St, spending my vouchers with gleeful abandon.  Well, sort of.  It turns out that quality capsule wardrobe pieces cost a lot and require careful choosing  So I now own approx 8 items of clothing.  But, capsule was what I wanted, and capsule is what I have. It certainly saves time in the morning.

The whole experience has made me start to enjoy fashion just a little bit more.  I still don't have the time / inclination / budget to follow every trend, but I'm more aware of what works for me and feel far less...invisble, really.  It has also opened up some really interesting chats with friends about our relationships with clothes these days.  Friends who had amazing workwear wardrobes admit they have lost their way post-motherhood.  Friends who used to be very feminine have found that the need for practicality has forced out the girliness they used to enjoy.  Friends who are used to receiving compliments now find that centre stage has long gone to their kids.  We all see it, from the clothes we wear to the hair and make up styles we sport.  It's no wonder women talk about struggling with their identity once they become a mother - very often the frazzled creature staring back at us in the mirror is a world away from how we think of ourselves, and how we are used to others thinking of us.

I sometimes wonder whether there is a business idea in Mummy Makeovers.  Then I consider how incredibly perfect I would have to be, before I dared suggest to anyone else that a blow dry and dash of peplum would work wonders. Hmmm.  Time to mind my own column-shaped business.