Monthly Archives: March 2014

A working mom’s day

Raging Bull

The Raging Bull at four and a half

I once read this tip from a working mother: dress your kids in their clothes for the next day the night before. That way you don’t have to worry about what they are going to wear in the morning.

It might sound more extreme than throwing yourself down a mountain on a board, but the advice comes from some high-flying chief executive. On bad mornings, though, I do wish the kids would wake up miraculously ready, like robots that just need to be switched on and marched out the door.

So I am facing another working week. On one particular evening recently I had just picked up the kids from the childminder after yet another stress-inducing commute on the tube. Knowing that there is nothing to eat in the house, I drag the kids into a local supermarket that mostly sells pre-packaged food. I tend to fall back on the packaged food at 6pm on a weeknight.

I stare at the aisles, my eyes hoping to alight on some inspiration. I end up buying fries – they call them ‘frites’ here to make them sound posh – that you just pop in the oven. The other part of the meal, I figure, will come to me like a blot of lightning. It doesn’t.

I get home at 6.15 with a small selection of random groceries, the Raging Bull’s artwork, two water bottles, one child’s backpack and a change of clothes stuffed into a plastic bag. Since becoming a mother I’ve developed some sympathy for mules.

All I could think about was sitting on the sofa and watching House of Cards on Netflix while drinking a glass of wine. But instead I knew that one of my chores would be putting out an array of black socks on a drying rack after they’ve come out of the washing machine. (I don’t have one of those fancy things called ‘tumble dryers’.)

There was no English Husband at home, so I’d be lucky if I sat down by 9pm.

I must have hinted at all these chores or given the impression of exhaustion when the four-year-old Raging Bull asks me earnestly: ‘Are you fed up, Mommy? Do you think you’re fed up?’

The Raging Bull, now four and a half, has reached the climax of her cute phase. I fear that this is the cutest she will ever be and then, like the fragile spring blossom on a tree, it will be gone.

I laugh, knowing that one day I will wish for this moment to happen again. No matter that I nearly lose my sanity every week, that I run around from one place to the next, often barely catching my breath. Or that I never quite know what homework is meant to be turned in on which day, or when the ‘reading day’ is meant to be or the PE day.

Never mind that family dinners are fraught affairs in which I don’t even have time to sit down with the kids. I just go from kitchen to table, ferrying food, fruit and water, hoping to get it all done by 7pm so that they can have their bath.

But one day in the distant future I will wish for this all over again, just to hear a four-year-old tell me that she loves me.

 

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Why being 40 sucks

About 40 years ago, this was me

About 40 years ago, this was me

The transition from my 30s into my 40s has been a bit of a rough ride. There now seems to be a literal divide between me and everyone else who isn’t my age, i.e those who are younger than me.

It’s kind of like what parenting does to you. There is you Before Kids and you After Kids. You can never return to the days of BEFORE and you hardly remember what that looked like.

Well, there is you Before 40 and you After 40 and never the twain shall meet.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about my gradual freefall into this decade:

There are no best friends. Remember all those intense conversations you had as a 16-year-old? Remember how much your friends meant to you? Remember swearing eternal and undying loyalty to them? Those friendships are well and truly over. These days you are much more likely to exchange a few text messages, be sent a three-line email or get updates on social media. And, anyway, your soul mates from your childhood now live in different countries or at least in different states.

You try to guess people’s age. Yes, everyone looks young, including people of authority. But if the person doesn’t immediately look to be a mere child, you try to guess whether they are with you (40+) or just outside. To your horror, you discover that those you believed to be older than you are actually three years your junior. This happens a lot.

You swap hard alcohol for wine. You can no longer cope with the hangovers, and the children wake you up at the crack of dawn, which makes any meaningful recovery next to impossible. So you start laying off the hard stuff. Wine consumption with dinner (almost always at home, of course) goes up.

Parties get more predictable. You used to go to parties after the pub shut or following a few drinks at the bar. Now, venturing out after 10pm feels like you are stepping into an episode of the Twilight Zone; everything is slightly weird and off-kilter. No longer do you show up to house parties where the host is a ‘friend of a friend of someone you kind of know’.

Gigs. It was amazing when your favorite band played encore after encore at a concert. These days you get mildly anxious if they start on their third encore and it’s edging towards 11pm. And you do like to sit down if possible.

Joint pain talk. You discuss random things about your health, like your creaky knees, at parties. You hear people reminisce about when they used drugs for recreation, not to alleviate back pain, sleep through the night or to relieve anxiety. And talk always goes back to house prices, mortgages, and schools and kids (if you have them).

Your face stops resembling itself. Unfortunately you stop looking like the person you remember being, and start looking a bit like you but not like you. You might start to look like a parent (as in your parent). This generally perpetuates this thought: do I actually look old to others or am I completely blinkered about how much I have aged?

Compliments become increasingly qualified. You start talking about how good some people look ‘for their age’ or about being able to ‘pull things off’ because of their age.  

You console yourself with the belief that you can still do something significant, although you’re not sure what that significant thing will be or whether you will have the energy to embark on it.

There is no epiphany. You don’t wake up on your 40th birthday and think, ‘That’s it, I’m all grown up and responsible. I know why I’m here.’ Generally, you are the same as you have always been, but with more wrinkles and grey hair.

And why it’s not all bad:

You become more comfortable with the person you are, but you are not necessarily totally happy with it.

You tend not to fret as much about stuff which used to bother you. Anyhow, you don’t have that much time to think about it.

Small things can make you happy – like the sight of an empty dishwasher, folded, clean clothes, or a really good night’s sleep.

People become less intimidating. You tend not to be impressed with titles and accumulated wealth. No one has figured it all out.

You gain confidence, even if you also lose hair.

You don’t care that much what people think about you. Other people’s opinions are just not that important, so you can admit to liking stuff no one else does and even be proud of it.

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Stephen Lawrence: a mother’s fight for justice

Motherhood has not been a transcendental experience for me. I have moments when I absolutely love being a mother and other times when it feels like a parade of tedious chores and mini frustrations. But this is who I am now. I can’t go back and wish for another life, and I don’t want to. I have no regrets about becoming a mother, but perhaps I can take the experience for granted.

This came into absolute clarity recently when I listened to a mother speak about losing her son. This was no ordinary mother and no ordinary death. This was Doreen Lawrence, mother to Stephen, a black teenager who was killed in a racially motivated attack at a London bus stop in April 1993.

To people in the UK, the name of Stephen Lawrence is unforgettable. I wasn’t even living in London when the 18-year-old was killed, but the name has been seared into my memory because of what happened after his death. The police led a corrupt investigation into his murder, which ultimately allowed five suspects to walk free.

As a result of the Metropolitan Police Force’s bungled investigation, the Met became the subject of an in-depth inquiry. The Macpherson report, released in February 1999, found the Met to be ‘institutionally racist’. As a direct result of the report, the double jeopardy law changed in this country. As of 2005, you can be tried twice for the same murder if compelling new evidence comes to light.

Eighteen years after Stephen’s death, a new trial based on forensic evidence was called. Two of the five original suspects were convicted of the teenager’s death in January 2012 because of blood and fibre samples taken from their clothes.

Two years later I am listening to Doreen Lawrence recall some of these events in a session called In the Eye of a Media Storm. She is interviewed by BBC journalist Mark Daly, who reported on the murder case. He also presented a special programme called Time for Justice, which followed Doreen for 12 months.

I am not much taken by famous celebrities, but I am in awe of Doreen’s quiet dignity. She considers each question carefully before answering and keeps her emotions in check. There is no crying and yet sometimes I feel as if the tears are only just below the surface. She talks about losing her identity (‘sometimes I don’t recognise myself’), the break-up of her marriage under the strain (she’s now single) and how she found the media attention to be a ‘nightmare’ at times.

She explains how she is by nature a private person driven into the spotlight because of wanting justice for her son. ‘I didn’t want the attention,’ she tells Mark. ‘I do things because I know I need to do them.’

Despite her socially disadvantaged background, Doreen refused to allow people – some of them with imposing jobs and titles – to brush her off. She kept asking questions of people in authority. ‘I was able to speak in a way in which people listened to me,’ she says. This included demanding an inquiry into her son’s murder and the investigation that followed.

In what is an emotional moment, the journalist asks Doreen why this case achieved such prominence when others like it have been forgotten. She answers simply: ‘Because Stephen had me. I knew I would never let it go.’ It doesn’t come across as a boast, only the plain truth.

Mothers make sacrifices, small and big, all the time. For Doreen, however, the sacrifice was enormous. She lost herself in the 19 years she spent trying to bring her son’s killers to justice. She lost her marriage and perhaps gave up on things she might have wanted for herself.

I’d like to think I’d have the strength to do the same for my children, but I simply don’t know. The person you become after a tragedy is something you can never know until it happens to you. I certainly never want to find out what it’s like to bury a child and, worse still, lose that child in a violent crime. But I take great solace in this mother’s love for her child. You don’t have to be a parent to respect her indomitable character or to understand her immense bravery.

Doreen is now a Baroness with a seat in the House of Lords. She says she is going to use her voice to help those who don’t have one. ‘Everybody should have a voice,’ she says at the end of the session.

And wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone had a mother like her too?

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