Travels with my daughter – Paris revisited

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Lunch in Paris on our first day

A very special gift 

This time last year my daughter Paula and I travelled to Paris for her 10th birthday for a weekend.

It was a gift that would provide us both with an endless supply of memories – the kind that form the life support of a mother-daughter relationship.

Paris was the obvious choice for what I hope will be the first of many travels with my daughter because it was where Paula spent the first two years of her life. We moved to Paris from the UK when she was only 10 days old.

A very different journey 

As we queued excitedly to board the Eurostar with hundreds of other tourists in the early hours of the morning, I was reminded of a nerve-wrecking trip 10 years ago, when my husband and I transported our fragile, crying little bundle across the channel, guarding over her like hawks.

This time the journey was much more relaxed. Paula and I fine-tuned our itinerary over coffee and hot chocolate, chatting and giggling non-stop.

Our list of must-sees included obvious tourist sites she’d been learning about such as Arc de Triumph and Eiffel Tower, as well as the more obscure haunts of an expat mum determined to enjoy her beautiful baby girl in spite of hostile Parisians and a lack of French.

She had no idea how terrified I was

As Gare du Nord was announced over the speaker system, my stomach tensed.  Could I do this? Could I really travel alone in Paris with a young child? Everyone knew I was completely directionless and hopeless at reading maps. How would I find anything without my husband – or a man by my side? My mind seemed to be erasing every French word I ever learned, rendering me helpless.

I looked down at my little girl, who was positively beaming – loving every minute of precious time alone with the mum she usually had to share with two younger brothers. She had no idea how terrified I was.

And so, I gathered our suitcases and coats and with it my courage. We got off, negotiated our way around the Paris Metro to our hotel near Notre Dame with little effort as if this was what we did every day of our lives.

First stop – lunch

After a short stop at the modest hotel to deposit our bags and in my case refresh my face, while Paula inspected every inch of the room and arranged her giraffe soft toy on the bed, we hit the Parisian streets in search of something typically French for our dejeuner.

We took our seats among office workers on lunch and map-reading tourists on the pavement outside a café. The chairs faced the busy square allowing us to observe the noisy and animated street spectacle over our Croque Monsieur and frites.

And so our adventure began…

(To be continued)

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The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

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I’ve got two degrees and a few certificates to my name, most notably a South African law degree (useless anywhere else) and a journalism masters (useless everywhere).

The certificates enjoying pride of place among children’s artwork and the family weekly planner on my study wall, equip me with such sought after skills as reporting on AIDS and teaching English to foreigners.

These framed accolades are all that remain of the career aspirations I once had.

They also suggest that I once must have had a fully functioning brain with eager grey cells sparking excitedly like toddlers on a sugar rush every time they got to file away new information. Little did they know…

Those once animated cells have turned into bespectacled, slippered slouches, worn-out after 11 years of helping me function as a half-decent mum of three, while desperately clinging to the coat tails of my career.

In fact, my brain cells go on strike causing me to want a lie down every time I read an article about another superhero working mum telling women they can have it all.

The last such article was a review of Lean In, a new book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, which made me so fatigued I had to ask my husband to do his share of the domestic duties (one of Sandberg’s gems of advice). He got as far as picking up his underpants from the floor.

Mrs Sandberg, who at 43 is the same age as me but looks 10 years younger, wisely opted to study something slightly more useful than journalism – and was top of her class at Harvard Business School before filling high-powered jobs at the US Treasury, World Bank and Google.

The reason, she says, that my poor brain has all but seized up and my day is a survival struggle from when I stumble out of bed to make lunchboxes until I stumble towards my first glass of Chardonnay (in the evening I should point out), is because I didn’t LEAN into my career.

I’m really too exhausted after three bundles of washing, the weekly shop and homework duties to read her book but one of the ‘inspiring’ examples she apparently quotes, includes a super-efficient friend who puts her children to bed in school clothes to save time in the morning.

She probably also substitutes bedtime stories with a power point presentation for the next day and flosses her teeth while having sex, to squeeze in a few extra minutes.

Mrs Sandberg proudly reveals how she secretly pumped breast milk while on a teleconference, pretending the beeping of the breast milk machine was a fire engine.

I found swapping from one monstrous mastitis ridden boob to the other, attaching and reattaching the breast pump to extract a few more drops, painful, uncomfortable and stressful.

Doing this while discussing million dollar deals with Mark Zuckerberg-types on the other end of the line, inventing lies to cover unpleasant background noises sounds like a recipe for a stroke. This is progress for women?

It reminds me of a rather nasty incident when I was interviewing a male neuroscientist over the phone from home.  I was potty training my toddler at the time and he ran into the room announcing that he needed a poo and threatening to do it on the kitchen floor.

I failed womankind by ending up frazzled, with poo on the floor and a disgusted neuroscientist on the other end of the line

Sandberg’s book doesn’t inspire me to Lean In – it makes me want to Lean Away from the madness of telling women they can have it all.

It also makes me want to Lean ON something. This is not helping women – it’s making them feel even worse about not being perfect at everything.

More helpful titles from the likes of Sandberg, would be:

Trust me, you don’t want my life – it sucks

The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

Do you think women can have it all? 

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Spring cleaning? I’d rather pick my nose

Spring cleaning

Tots100 Best Blog Posts by Parent Blogs

The other day I dropped an earring and it rolled under the bed. When I kneeled down to look for it, I wished I hadn’t.

Unbeknown to me, the forgotten no-mans-land under our bed had turned into a wilderness of dust mites, lost socks, chocolate wrappers, abandoned Happy Meal trinkets and what I suspect was an apple in an advanced state of decomposition.

You would think that this kind of discovery would fulfil any self-respecting housekeeper with enough self-hate and disgust to send her into a frantic fit of hoovering.  In my case you’d be wrong.

The problem with this type of discovery is that I have every reason to suspect it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Once I move the bed to hoover under it, I’d be forced to take a closer look at the life forms in other occupied domestic territories in our home, such as the hinterland behind the sofa, the desert on top of my wardrobe, murky corners of kitchen cabinets and the science project that is the bottom drawer of the fridge.

And if I’m not careful, this kind of unprecedented cleaning could spark a full-scale war against grime or so-called spring clean, which would have devastating consequences for my already dwindling social life and frazzled state-of-mind,

It’s not that I’m lazy – I do the odd spot of cleaning, usually after midnight on a Wednesday or just before the cleaners come on a Friday. Yes, I do have cleaners – and I love them almost as much as my husband, but they’re not stupid – they also know better than to actually move any furniture or go where no self-respecting woman has gone before.

Trying to keep a house with three children and a 40-something male dirt-free is like fighting an out-of-control fire with a water pistol.

Some weeks ago, during a weak moment, I mopped the kitchen floor. Exactly four and a half minutes later, Max, 4, helped himself to a jam tart, spilling half a pack of sugar all over the floor in the process.

Not long after I cleaned that up, his sister poured herself juice and promptly dropped the cup, clearly illustrating once and for all the futility of mopping the floor. It would amount to an act of conscience, at best.

The same logic would apply to wiping grubby finger prints off the walls or windows, fighting the rebel armies of assorted crumbs under the kitchen table, dust balls behind the curtains or venturing into the sticky swamp between the sofa cushions.

There is no point. It would be about as effective as trying to persuade Greek citizens to pay their taxes.

I do admire women who fight on fearlessly, finding time not only for a weekly deep-cleanse, but also to iron and fold kitchen towels, dust off lampshades, wipe skirting boards, install military order in a cutlery drawer or label the spice rack alphabetically.

I admire them, but I pity them. Some even say they find cleaning therapeutic.

Call me superficial, but plucking your eyebrows or picking your nose is more therapeutic and rewarding and there’s more of a sense of achievement too.

My kitchen floor will remain in a state of semi-permanent stickiness and the ecologically sensitive habitats behind our furniture will stay undisturbed for some years to come.

But at least, I get to read the odd few pages of a book, watch the news most nights and manage to squeeze a bit of quality time with my children into the maddening schedule of a (sort of) working mum.

Next time I drop an earring, I will write it off without a second thought and go out to buy a new pair.

Finally… Recognition for my late night efforts

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Get a job, wash the car, iron something, cook tea, but stop wasting your precious pre- and post school run hours ranting, raving and rambling in a blog that no-one in their right mind will ever find, never mind read.

The virtual skyline is cluttered with the leftover thoughts of zillions of exhausted, frustrated mummy bloggers in a desperate online search for their former selves.

This has been the abusive line of questioning I’ve been subjected to by my tetchy inner voice ever since I started blogging a few weeks ago.

So, it was with great excitement that I discovered the LIEBSTER AWARD comment last week. (Not that I’m counting comments or anything)

AWARD? I have been nominated for an award: Now, we’re talking! I smirked at my inner voice: “Somebody DOES appreciate me after all!”

I was working out who I should mention in my tear-filled acceptance speech as my main source of inspiration – ruling out God, my dad, my husband and any other man for that matter, before I took a closer look at the small print.

The Liebster award is a blogger-to-blogger award with no winners and no judges and I have been nominated by a kind-hearted online Samaritan who takes pity on bloggers with fewer than 300 followers.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I was a little put out at first that I wasn’t going to be able to sell the film rights to my little blog just yet.

But after some soul searching, I’ve decided an award is an award, beggars can’t be choosers and one day when I’m the type of bloggess who doesn’t get out of bed for less than 10,000 comments a day, I will remember with fondness the day I received my Liebster award.

I might even reach out and give my Liebster badge a little virtual stroke from time to time.

So, Thank You Rebecca at The Dissocial Mom  – for noticing my late night efforts and bestowing this honour on me, which I will pass on to a few of the blogs I’ve found and liked so far – bearing in mind I’ve not been around long and I’m discovering wonderful new blogs every time I go online (a little intimidating at times)

As a recipient of the Liebster award I should now share 11 facts about myself, answer 11 questions set by Rebecca, nominate a few other blogs and set questions for the bloggers I am nominating.

But because this blog is already too long, I will answer five questions and hope that my audience will not be too disappointed.

What motivated you to start blogging?

A dire lack of intellectual stimulation, a dwindling social life and the desire to see my name in print again.

If you could ask only one thing of your children, what would that be?

That they listen to me, never talk back, never raise their voices like I do and go to bed early so I can have my first glass of Chardonnay at a decent time.

What is your most favourite thing to do during your kid free time?

I love having uninterrupted thoughts.

I love getting to the end of my sentences when talking to other adults without hearing “Mummy! Mummy!”

And my best thing is sitting down alone with a frothy cappuccino in my favourite coffee shop, scribbling ideas and plans in my colourful notebook, while eavesdropping on other people’s conversations.

What is one thing that you used to love doing as a kid that you still secretly enjoy doing?

I’m a bit of a fairground slut – flashy lights, blaring music, fluffy pink candy floss, plastic ducks, rows of trashy prizes, bumper cars – my psyche is obviously still dealing with some unresolved childhood fairground issues.

What is the best advice you can give other parents on how to cope with stress?

Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Don’t be obsessed with your children and never, NEVER take advice from your husband (or any other man for that matter) on childbirth, childcare or what you should be doing with your life.

And here are a few of the blogs I like – and I have no idea how many followers they have because I can’t figure it out (but does it matter?)

Madame Expat  -as a mum who has been (and still am) an expat mum this website talks to me because it’s about following your heart and your passion wherever you are, which at the moment for Madame Expat is creating the most exquisite flower arrangements. Very inspiring.

Liveslifewell is a beautifully written and inspiring blog by someone who seems to know herself and has the confidence to follow her heart and live life well, but has to combine that with the realities of living with a husband, two teenagers and a couple of dogs. She seems to get the balance right most of the time.

Pangaweka – a small collection of simple pleasures- this one is all about food – and Portuguese food in particular, which includes lovely recipes such as Portuguese seafood rice – tasty, exotic, spicy – need I say more?

My questions for the nominees:

1. What do you get out of blogging?

2. Was motherhood what you thought it would be, and if not how is it different?

3. What do you miss most about your pre-children self?

4. What advice would you give to your younger self?

5. As a woman – do you believe it’s possible to have it all

Feel free to add more questions or include 11 facts about yourself and thanks again Rebecca for taking the time to read my blog and nominate me.

Who needs an Oscar – if you can get a Liebster award?

So motherhood didn’t turn out the way I expected

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So motherhood didn’t turn out exactly the way I expected.

It has all but ruined my career, erased my social standing, shrunk my social life and nearly wiped out my self-confidence and my pelvic floor.

My carefree, wild spirit is hopelessly lost within the discipline and military order needed to make a busy household run smoothly.

Daydreams and ambitions have been replaced by worries about the ever-shrinking pot of money that has to stretch ever further for never ending piano lessons, school trips, dance outfits and party gifts.

Guilt has become my constant companion…   taunting me, paralyzing me every step of my busy, frantic day.  Guilt about working, guilt about not working, guilt about not being involved enough in my children’s lives, guilt about being too involved. Guilt about reading, guilt about not reading enough. Guilt about drinking, guilt about not drinking enough. Guilt about everything I do (or don’t do).

Cooking, once a favourite past time, an opportunity to explore exotic ingredients from around the world while listening to French Café music, has turned into an every day headache of serious hangover proportions.

Come dine with us… Chez Koscielny – Here’s the challenge:

Three children, who between them like only five ingredients, but they don’t all like the same ingredient – so we’re down to about three ingredients.

Throw this in the pot and come up with something that doesn’t look like the dog’s dinner, tastes better than a MacDonalds Happy Meal, and includes your five-a-day.

Oh yes, you have about 10 minutes to produce this before they attack the cereal box or cookie jar like a pack of hungry wolves, completely spoiling their appetite and rotting their milk teeth.

And then produce a scrumptious meal for your husband and yourself, unless you want to eat the cold leftovers of the three-ingredient meal described above. Actually, not bad washed down with a few glasses of Chardonnay.

Sex – the kind that would have turned Mr Grey a few shades redder in the face, has been replaced by very sporadic efforts with about the same level of energy and spontaneity as an afternoon tea dance for geriatrics.

Yet, from the moment I squinted myopically at the first little wrinkly face and held the squirming little body in my arms – nearly 11 years ago, I was completely hooked.

On Facebook childless school friends show off their still shiny hair, line-free skin and pert bodies. They sip cocktails in expensive bars and go on mid-week short trips to exotic destinations, where I’m sure they have show-stopping sex.

But I wouldn’t swop lives with them. Not for anything in the world.

Motherhood didn’t turn out the way I expected, but it has given my world a depth of emotion it didn’t have before. It made me understand love.

Productively tweezing hair working from home

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I’m writing this while ‘working from home’ because something really got up my nose and I can’t share it with anyone around the water cooler because there is no water cooler and my only colleague is the imaginary friend I invented when I started telecommuting. (Professional speak for working from home)

I’ve had three coffees, a homemade smoothie and a second breakfast, stacked the dishwasher, blow dried my hair and re-organised the toy box – so it’s almost 11am, but I just had to get this off my chest first.

Just exactly who does this Marissa Mayer woman thinks she is? Never heard of her until this week – so just Googled her to try to understand what possessed the 37-year old new Yahoo boss and mum of one to ban home working in a company that must surely have as one of its primary business objectives to drive more people online.

Telecommuting is only possible because of the internet, an industry which will allow the lovely Marissa to take home a cool basic salary of £77million over the next five years. (This is not counting shares and bonuses of as much as £45 million per year.)

For that sort of money I could probably be persuaded to commute into the office naked on a unicycle every day, but that’s not the point.

(You’ll excuse me if I just go and tweeze a stray hair from my left eyebrow at this point. It’s really disturbing me and so hard to concentrate when you’re not surrounded by hard working colleagues.)

What outrages me is the suggestion that speed and quality are sometimes sacrificed when working from home.

If anything, the quality of my work really benefits from the daytime television and Internet surfing I manage to squeeze into my hectic day.  Speed is also not sacrificed, because I can now paint my toenails, wipe my toddler’s bottom and cook tea, while taking part in an important teleconference.

According to this poster girl for working women, home-workers are also starved of the creativity of working with others, which affects their work… affects their work…affects their work, have I mentioned it affects their work.

(Sorry, must be the lack of stimulation from colleagues)

Which reminds me, the last time I was in an office, I worked in a very small room with two men, one more boring and up his own behind than the other (they often are, aren’t they?). One was obsessed with Formula one racing and the other one was the world expert on everything including child birth and I quickly learned to avert my gaze and avoid all conversation if I wanted to get some work done or didn’t want to be bored to tears.

As far as meetings go – I can probably count on one hand the meetings I went to in my many years of working full time in an office, where a) I learned something b) anything useful was decided or c) anyone was creatively stimulated by what anyone else was saying or doing.

And sure, if I was earning millions of pounds for every article I write (cherish the thought) and could persuade someone to build a fully staffed nursery for my own children next to my office, like the ever considerate Marissa has done before decreeing all other mums at Yahoo had to be separated from their children, I might swop my slippers for stilettos and my telecommute for a chauffeur-driven Ferrari ride into the office every morning.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I really have to dash to fetch my son from the nursery (which was not custom built for him) and bring him home for a spot of lunch. Perhaps I’ll work a bit more later…

Quite pleased with myself really – This has been one of my more productive mornings this week!

Do you work from home? Would you be more productive, creative, in an office?