Monthly Archives: October 2013

Pulling a sickie

Kids at British Museum

The girls on an official day off school

I’ve never been much of a rebel. The most anti-establishment I ever got was blasting Nirvana in my car, buying Doc Martens and once dyeing my hair a deep shade of purple. It therefore follows that I tend to break out in a cold sweat at the thought of doing something I know I shouldn’t. This includes pulling sickies at work.

I’ve done it. Haven’t we all? I have faked the croaky voice and sniffles; I’ve probably called in with a mysterious stomach ailment – but this is something I’ve not actually done in a long while. I always fear getting caught. I spend the entire day I’ve called in sick gripped with guilt, which kind of defeats the purpose of enjoying a rare day off.

That’s the kind of person I am. I guess some people would call it responsible, others might say it’s boring. But turning 40 makes me wonder if I’m just too old to go through the whole painful charade of sickies.

The answer is no and it surprises me that it’s because of the kids. For about a month I knew that we were visiting a friend in Manchester over the weekend. The train fare is extortionate on a Friday evening – about double the price – so I thought very simply that I would pull the kids out of school a couple of hours early. No big deal, right?

But as the Friday approached, I started to panic. What if the school asks questions about why I need to take the kids out? I hear from someone that the school has the right to fine you.

I wonder what excuse sounds plausible, especially for a Friday afternoon. Should I say we are going to a funeral and risk their pitying looks? Might a well-meaning teacher ask the kids how they are coping with death? Do I tell them that I have a hospital appointment, an excuse on a par with ‘my dog ate my homework’? I fret about it.

On Thursday night I decide that I will just keep the kids home all day and avoid the lying in person, which I’ve never been able to pull off convincingly. I take the coward’s way out and get the English Husband – who had a misspent youth – to call the school on Friday morning. He leaves a vague message on an answering machine about discovering lice in both kids’ hair. It’s possible. Hell, it’s happened before.

This brings up all sorts of moral conundrums, of course. The kids are liars by association. I’ve made them unwitting accomplices in my web of deceit.    

I feel like a teenager all over again and part of me wonders if I might end up being dragged into the principal’s office for a chat. Ironically, I was a model student when I was a child and never did anything that would have landed me there. This good behavior hasn’t translated into adulthood.

On Monday morning when I drop off the Raging Bull at school, her teaching assistant gives her a hug and says, ‘Where were you on Friday? We missed you.’

I dash to the door. Shame is prickling my skin and I don’t hear the Raging Bull’s response. It’s a good thing that most of the words coming out of my four-year-old’s mouth are lies anyway. If she happens to tell the truth about ‘Mommy the liar’, not many people are likely to believe her.


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The closet crisis complex

Raging Bull

The Raging Bull has a special dress sense

My fashionable friend tells me it’s a ‘universal truth’. But I’m more inclined to say it’s a feminine one. No matter how many new clothes I buy, I still can’t seem to find something to wear in my closet. I don’t walk out of the house feeling like I’ve stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Usually I feel like I’m one wardrobe choice away from landing a modelling contract with Angling Times.

It has been like this for as long as I can remember. I rarely pick out my clothes the night before a day at work, so I spend a frantic ten minutes – precious time I usually don’t have – staring at the cavernous space inside (it’s not really cavernous but I like the word) and wondering why I can’t find something that doesn’t leave me either bored or vaguely dissatisfied.

Usually this leads me to wonder why I’m so bad at putting together clothes and if I need to seek help. In a frail moment – usually at night when I’m looking at my favourite clothing websites after half a bottle of wine – it will be used as an argument for why I need something else, which usually produces a crisis related to money. This in turn leads to a crisis with the English Husband.

I’ve now discovered that I might have passed on the ‘clothing indecisiveness’ gene to my two children. Every morning I hear the same thing from the seven-year-old Chatterbox, who whines loudly: ‘But I don’t know what to wear.’ I’ll peek into the bedroom and see her staring at the clothes in her drawer, eyes as blank as a dead fish sitting behind the glass of a supermarket counter.

Meanwhile, her little sister Raging Bull is developing the kind of attitude to clothes that would send me reaching for the liquor if only it wasn’t 7.30 in the morning. She doesn’t like jeans; she hates seams because they itch; she’s not overly enamoured of dark colors; and she mostly wants to wear tights every single day with some kind of dress with frills. Even better if it resembles a tutu.

This would be bad enough if I only had to get her dressed in the morning, but I’m often negotiating with this obstinate child while I’m barely half dressed myself.

Eventually time forces the issue. I start to lose my patience, the Raging Bull or the Chatterbox end up wailing that ‘Mommy screamed at me’, I storm off to my room and look at the closet some more and then I’m about 10 minutes late for the bus, which means I end up waiting half an hour for the damn thing.

Being late to work inevitably sparks another crisis related to ‘why am I doing this?’ and then it all kind of starts over again.

I can only assume that men and their child counterparts, boys, don’t suffer from the same closet crisis that afflicts most women on a regular basis. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I’d like to think the girls will grow out of their clothing indecisiveness in time for their teenage years, but I fear they will be learning their future habits from the master architect of the closet crisis complex. Which will make for very happy mornings when they are 14 years old.


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Working women – still not level playing field

USA today article on working mothers

The simple fact of being a working mother makes headlines

As a working mother I get a little discouraged sometimes about how far women have supposedly come. Okay, we have a much better selection of clothes than our male counterparts, but women still appear to struggle in having equal opportunities in the workplace.

Here’s one surprising statistic, quoted in a London newspaper recently: London women are less likely to have a job in the capital than anywhere else in the UK. In the rest of the country, 66% of women are in work; the figure drops to 62.6% in London. You would think that London, the economic powerhouse of the UK, would be more progressive than that.

This eyebrow-raising percentage comes from an Office of National Statistics press release about female employment over the last 40 years. According to a mysterious government source, the smaller percentage of women working in London could be explained by the high-sky cost of childcare and also the fact that there are many single-parent families and ethnic minorities here.

The same release said that there are more women in work now than in the 1970s, which should come as little surprise. According to the ONS, 67% of women (16 to 64 years old) were in work; it was 53% in 1971.

Yet female graduates were still more likely to work in lower-skilled occupations than men and for less money. This is true of the UK and it’s certainly true of the United States.

If you thought America was making great strides in creating an equal workforce for men and women, think again. According to the US Census Bureau, the median earning for women still lags well below a man’s. It’s commonly referred to as the gender pay gap.

For 2010, the American governmental department published figures stating that the median income for full-time, year-round workers was $42,800 for men and $34,700 for women. I had to take this statistic from Wikipedia because I can’t access the US Census Bureau website, where the information appears in full. Blame the US government shutdown.

I can’t vouch for everyone else, but I do feel like as a woman and mother I’ve had to make some hard choices where my career is concerned. When I had my children I took all the time off and lost out on promotions and job opportunities. If my children get sick, I generally stay home. I’m the one who always leaves work early to pick them up. I’m the one who went part-time.

My career has suffered, no doubt about it. I don’t apply for challenging jobs because they might expect me to work long and anti-social hours. I fear taking a job that would leave me utterly depleted in the evenings. This is not because I don’t think I’m capable of doing something challenging, but because I’ve made a choice to prioritize my family. Financially, I need to work; having a nanny round the clock would negate that.

Now that I am 40, I also fear that I’ve spent too long working the same ‘easy’ job because it fitted around my life, and that people will wonder why I haven’t got further or pushed myself harder.

I can already hear the English Husband saying, ‘What about me? I juggle my life and my career, too, so that we share the burden.’ And he certainly does; he helps me a lot. But women in most households, even those who work, still disproportionately do most of the childcare and suffer the knock-on effects on their careers.

According to the World Health Organization, 16 million teenagers give birth every year. Every year! Imagine all those young women who perhaps never fully realize their potential.

What I would like is more equality for women (easier said than done, I realize); I want my female children to have better role models of their own sex. If I tell them that they can grow up to be anything they want, I’d like to believe it. I don’t always.

Gender discrimination plays out in many ways, some of them very unexpected. I think even my own children believe that my husband’s work is somehow more valuable than mine. Why? It’s small things. They will ask him about his day at work occasionally. But do I get asked? No. Do they even wonder? Never. Perhaps it’s because I don’t wear a suit and don’t exude the same sense of authority.

Maybe it’s even partly my fault because I have a very female habit of downplaying my achievements.

This is not a UK problem, but a worldwide one. If someone with my education and background still struggles to find well-paid, meaningful work that fits around their life and children, what hope is there for those who weren’t given the many opportunities I was?

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A Liebster Award

Liebster award logo

The only award I ever won was first place at my school’s Halloween costume contest. I went as the Statue of Liberty.

I’m going to come clean. Part of my day job entails me to write about awards. I’ve written a lot of these stories – so many, in fact, that I can’t help but feel that many awards are utterly meaningless. I know that’s perhaps a little mean-spirited, because the award winners are often inspiring, but it’s a feeling that can’t be helped. When I hear that I have to write another story about an award winner, my heart sinks a little. (It actually sinks a lot.)

With that now out in the open, this humble blog has been nominated for a Liebster Award by White Trinity, a blogger from Singapore who mainly writes about restaurants and food and takes much better photographs than I can.

The Liebster Awards are meant to recognize blogs with a small number of followers (under 300). The aim is, of course, to widen out that readership. It’s a very noble aim and the award is given to bloggers from bloggers.

There are rules accompanying this award. The one I have a problem with is nominating 10 more blogs for the award. I fully know there are 10 relatively unknown blogs worth nominating, blogs which are well written, funny, witty and useful. But you know what, I have no idea what they are. I simply don’t have the time to keep up to date with the zillions of worthwhile blogs out there.

I could pretend, of course, and talk knowledgeably about blogs I’ve barely ever visited. I could go around and just randomly nominate 10 blogs I have heard of, but this hardly seems the point. I’d be nothing better than a hypocrite.

So instead I will talk about the blogs I have actually read and which I think are worth a mention here – they each deserve a Liebster Award:

  • I am a reader. Always have been. I tend to read fiction books. This is an excellent blog for anyone who loves books and reading. I’ve subscribed to it for a year. It gets updated regularly and the girl who writes this is clearly a lover of words. I don’t know how she finds the time to read everything she does:
  • I am inspired by Helen Fawkes, a journalist who has written a blog about her incurable cancer. She is truly remarkable:
  • I like Lady Goo Goo Gaga’s refreshing take on motherhood, because we’re not all perfect domestic goddesses who like to fix our husbands martinis when they get home:
  • If you thought parenting was challenging, try raising five kids with disabilities, staying sane and keeping a sense of humor. This blogger has managed it and somehow finds the time to read my blog occasionally. Thank you:
  • A very funny take on one stay-at-home dad’s journey, and he likes to drink. We have more than one thing in common:
  • Finally, this blog is from another expat living in England and writing about her experiences:

Another rule accompanying the award is to answer 10 questions. Because I don’t want to bore you with my answers I’ll just choose one: Why do I blog?

I blog because I have always liked to write. Sometimes the entries almost write themselves, sometimes they can feel like homework. There are times I have thought about giving this up, because I think about the blog more often than I feel I should. I often wonder if anyone actually ever reads it, because I don’t read the other blogs I subscribe to as much as I’d like and then I feel guilty about that. Mostly, I write this for myself. It’s a diary, a moment captured in words, and I hope one day I can show it to my children and say, ‘This is who I was. I wasn’t a perfect mother or a perfect wife, and I had bad days when I  had to drink a bottle of wine, but I always loved you.’


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