Monday, 14 April 2014

From career woman to washer woman: finding work life balance

It's all about balance isn't it ?
I've mentioned before how I had a well paid job and now I don't have any job. How I went from being a manager with responsibilities to being a mother with different responsibilities.

I meet so many women who are entrepreneurs having set up a business when they had children. They have a great idea and want to work family friendly hours so they either bake stuff or make stuff or sell stuff or teach stuff. I admire all of these women and wish I had a 'thing' that I was good at doing so that I could 'live my dream' and make antimacassars from recycled ribbons or something equally magical. Instead I collect random things, think about what I could be good at and keep on keeping on. Wondering what I am good enough at to do it for a living. I often wonder what I should do now as we prepare for the boy to start school in September.

I have realised that the world of work is very different from how it was and I am different now too. I first started working when I was 16 and had a part time job and I worked while at university and during the holidays too. I found working in the library interesting and made friends and learned a lot about things from colleagues like Sandra. We shared a love of movies and used to go to the cinema every week together. It was Sandra who introduced me to Bill Bryson and who was writing a romance novel.

When I worked at VSO in my first fundraising job Karen was the best manager I ever had. She was fair minded, clear in her leadership and great fun. She was also very kind to me when my marriage ended and took me to one side to say that it was only work and if I needed to be alone or to talk she was there for me. I loved her so much and told her what a great manager she'd been years later when we'd both moved on and I had the hindsight to appreciate her. 

Tea for the workers
I've often worked in offices so I have perfected the tea run and Friday cakes. I worked in a housing association once where the politics of tea making made Drop the Dead Donkey look tame. I also learned here that washing my hands and applying hand lotion before making the tea was making it taste floral funny. 

I have been lucky enough to work in jobs where there were staff lunches and after work drinks. Not just for networking or to keep in with the boss, but for fun. It would often go a bit too far on Friday nights, but I rarely stayed late as I always had an early yoga class or stand up lesson on Saturday morning anyway. 

When I was doing my public speaking job I was travelling around the country and I didn't see anyone from my office, but I was supported by amazing colleagues who kept me informed of all the gossip. The fabulous Jan rang and told me that as I'd been in Devon where they had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, when I got back to work I'd have to wait outside the farm buildings where we were based so that I and my car tyres could be decontaminated. It was more the Archers than Silkwood thankfully. 

This all changed when I joined the Civil Service. It was ok at first and my colleagues were friendly and chatty. When I hosted a meeting I would bring in cakes and make the tea and I had a great relationship with people I worked with. I worked with these people for years and they witnessed our first attempt to adopt and eventual successful pregnancy. I wrote and hosted the Christmas staff quiz and we all went out for party nights and occasional drinking sessions. Returning to work after a year off on maternity leave this had all changed. The office had relocated and with it the tone had become very unfriendly and sadly the cliche of being bureaucratic and unfriendly was a reality.

My boss said he hadn't expected me back and he didn't have any work for me. During team meetings colleagues would look at me strangely when I mentioned what I was doing and I felt judged and shamed for not being in on whatever the massive issue was. When the option of voluntary redundancy came along I discussed it with Hubbie. It took a few months of trying to make it work out, but paying someone to care for my son while I went into work just wasn't worth the hassle any more. I took the redundancy payment and dedicated myself to being a stay at home parent.

In the time since I left I have questioned that decision so many times. To go from being well paid to not paid. To go from having a job title and being a manager to being a Mum and not much else - not that that isn't a big job, but it is very different. The redundancy money enabled us to hire professional movers when we moved into this house which was far less stressful than trying to do it ourselves with a one year old. It meant I was there to be with my boy when he first walked and when he learned to speak and I have been his primary carer which has been immense and tiring and rewarding and frustrating all at once.
My 'workplace'
Being at home I have had the time to write this blog. It also gave me the opportunity to go back into radio and I have been delighted to be able to produce not one, but two regular radio shows on Croydon Radio. It also means I am the one who does the household chores. I've gone from career woman to washer woman. My house is clean and I plan our meals and even go swimming most days. It isn't such a bad life really.

The only thing is I have no idea what I am for any more. I also don't know what I'm supposed to do.

Any ideas ?  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Neo is the one (if you're not a cat person probably best skip this one)

Six years ago we walked into the cattery at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home and as we opened the door a handsome chap greeted us. His ulterior motive was to try and escape, but he realised this wasn't going to happen so decided to charm us instead. We'd gone there looking for 2 cats who could keep each other company while we were at work. All the pairs had been allocated.

The chap who'd greeted us wandered freely around all the cat pens and we saw his write up. Domestic short hair, 6.5 years old. Suitable for a family with children. Prefers a garden. He was looking down at us from a height at this point. We discussed whether we could take just one cat instead as we had hoped for two. Hubbie confessed he'd fallen for the white cat who was watching us. That was Neo's plan all along.

We asked if he had been allocated and were directed to the vet who told us he had a heart murmur and an undiagnosed skin condition. She advised we go away and think about whether to take him on and to decide. He'd already been rehomed and come back and it wasn't fair on him. I went to see a vet the next day and took some advice. She said that depending on how bad the murmur was he might live for months or years. It was a risk, but not measurable.

I told Hubbie and we decided we had to bring him home with us. I went to the PDSA and bought a cat basket and we got cat toys, a scratching post and litter tray. It was a week later before we could pick him up and I was desperate to bring him home as I didn't want him to be in that pen for a day longer than necessary knowing how much he loved to roam.

Saturday morning came and we were up early and on the train with our basket to pick him up. He was checked over by the vet and they gave us his blanket and a towel to keep the rain out. As we were leaving every volunteer stopped us to say goodbye to Neo. They were going to refuse the suggested £50 donation as they couldn't be sure how long he had and didn't feel it was right to take our money. We insisted on giving the donation as we valued his life however long or short it was going to be.

Drinks at the poolside
On the train home he was cooed and petted by children and other passengers who admired his good looks. As soon as we got home he checked out the whole house. We couldn't let him outdoors for few weeks and he was home all day so I would rush home from work and go straight to him and fuss and feed him. On his first visit outside I stood at the garden fence he'd just leapt over and worried he'd get lost or never come home again. My heart felt like it had stopped the whole time he was gone, but after a little while he skipped back indoors and ate his dinner. He'd come home to us.

He loves being outside and now that we have a very big garden it is his domain. He is a total Mummy's boy, but is a character who is recognised by all the neighbours. When they ask if the white cat is ours I always ask if he's been any trouble and they just smile and say no he just pops by sometimes. He is very sociable.

When I was pregnant he used to sit on my belly and listen to the baby's heartbeat. When I was in hospital with the newborn he looked around for me and pined. He gave the baby a wide berth, but used to check he was asleep before going to bed himself. Now they are the best of friends and the toddler loves to feed Neo and they even share the sofa occasionally.

Neo chose us six years ago and we fell for him. I took him to the vet for a check up after six months and he said the heart murmur was undetectable.

We like to think we mended his heart with love.

Happy Anniversary Neo :)

My first baby

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

My imaginary family (and other first world problems)

I have a lot more than this 
Talk to anyone who has known me for a few years and they will tell you about my compulsive shoe and handbag habit. Neil will tell you how at Uni I was invited to most concerts because I was the only one who had a credit card to pay for gig tickets. This is the only explanation I can (or will) offer for having been to see Clannad. Bee will tell you how I own more coats than it is possible to wear - I know this because when we were watching Buffy once I mentioned that she had a different coat on every night and Bee said the words, "Pot, Kettle, Black." SJ will tell you I have accessories ranging from belts and bangles to perky hats and pashminas. I might not remember what day it is, but I will be damned if I'm going out uncoordinated.

I mention these oddities as my evil capitalist ways have been curbed in recent years, due to a combination of reduction in income and changed priorities. Yes I know being a stay at home parent is reward enough - blah, blah, blah - and I genuinely do prefer to buy things for my son and Hubbie. However I appear to have swapped one overindulgent habit for another. It became apparent to me as I found myself picking up far too many Easter gifts yesterday - I can't say any more than that as Hubbie does read this and I don't want to spoil the surprise.

Hot Cross buns a-go-go
You see there are three of us and yet I grocery shop like the apocalypse is imminent. At Christmas I bought 4 Christmas puddings - 4 !! Our boy doesn't even eat Christmas pudding and we still have two of them. I've just stopped myself from buying a bumper pack of Easter eggs from Thorntons - I've already bought enough for all of us and all our siblings. In the supermarket the other day I bought up one of every type of Easter cake for a 'special Easter afternoon tea' and we currently have four flavours of hot cross buns at home. I reiterate, there are three of us.

Don't panic though, I think I've worked it out. I'm shopping for my imaginary family. I know, I know. Bear with me here. I'm one of four siblings, my father is too and my mother is one of five. Hubbie has one brother and we have one son. I always thought I'd have a pretty big family. I wanted to have four and Hubbie was kind of ok with two. Before we had our boy we were approved to adopt two children and at one point were asked to consider three children - a toddler and younger twins - so we would have been a pretty big family overnight.

As it is we have one child and he is gorgeous and we adore him. However, we had thought we'd have more and part of me clearly hasn't let that go. In my head I was supposed to have a brood of kids and I'm clearly shopping for them. That's why I have enough cakes to sink a small fleet, a freezer filled with mini twister lollies and enough straws to build a replica Eiffel Tower.

I saw someone this afternoon who I haven't seen for a few years. She asked me if I'd had any luck in falling pregnant again and I told her I had been and it hadn't worked out. She said, "Oh well at least you've got little one." Of course I have and he's not a consolation prize. She's not the only one to remind me that our family is incomplete. It's a regular question and I dread any family event where I'll see someone who's onto their second or third or more pregnancy. It reminds me what I don't have and it prompts them or others to ask if we want to have more children.

Of course we do.

I'm not ungrateful for my small family. I love how close we all are. I just have to get real about how much chocolate, cake and biscuits we can get through.

Monday, 7 April 2014

He waits... that's what he does...

On holiday one afternoon we went for a walk and saw cats roaming on the beach. There were signs all over the place warning not to feed the cats. The Whiskas treats scattered on the rocks suggested that people had a tendency to ignore these polite requests.

Clearly a few treats do not a meal make so the cats had to use initiative to find enough to eat. We were captivated by one in particular.

We watched as he walked across the beach towards an angler:

Then he sat and watched the man:

And eventually he moved a little closer:

We never found out if either of them achieved their aim.

Friday, 4 April 2014

I'm incensed by this (incense, get it ?)

I last did the Moonwalk 5 years ago and often take part in the race for life - I used to do about 3 a year, now I do just the one. I don't like to hassle people so I really try only to ask for sponsorship for the big events which I'm putting some effort into taking part in. The Moonwalk is still the hardest thing I've taken part in (I'm including childbirth in this - yes seriously) although it's nothing compared with what anyone trying to survive a diagnosis of cancer is doing.

Which brings me onto a bug bear of mine that I've decided to voice here. The response I had from some people about donating to cancer charities. Now you choose what you give your money to and if you decide not to give to certain causes - or any - that is up to you. What I cannot understand is why some people feel the need to give out about how they disapprove of cancer treatment and get all judgey about it.

To be clear I think animal testing is abhorrent and I'm not impressed that cancer research charities essentially fund pharmaceutical companies to do research into treatments that they eventually charge money for. It's not exactly transparent is it ? What I have no right to comment on, however, is a person's decision to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy or any other drug treatment for their particular condition. I have been taken aback and horrified to see 'friends' making remarks about how it's evil and doesn't work because of what happened to their family or friends. I have two specific reasons for finding his behaviour reprehensible.

1. In the last few months I've been delighted that one of the fantastic midwives who took great care of us when my son was being born has fought and beaten her diagnosis of inoperable cancer. Penny was fit and healthy, practised yoga and swam daily. When she found out she had pancreatic cancer and probably only a few months to live she decided to fight it with a hardcore regime of chemo and radiotherapy and this week Penny had the operation that signifies she's beaten a cancer that kills 1 in five of those who have it.

2. One of my dearest friends who I'm walking the Moonwalk with was diagnosed with breast cancer and undertook a gruelling chemotherapy regime while also caring for her young son and elderly mother. We had long phone calls between chemo sessions and one day she spoke to me about how difficult it was. 'Friends' had suggested holistic therapies to her and she felt guilty that she was choosing to be 'poisoned' into killing the cancer. I talked to her about seeing the chemo as the thing that would make her well and that the massages and reflexology would be a lovely between treatments addition. If she could see it as making her well it had a better chance of working and the end result would be that she would be around for years with her young son and partner. Soraya is now fit and well - albeit with shorter hair. She writes a fab blog about her (mis)adventures with breast cancer here: Big C in 3G

Both of these women are alive because they had treatment. Both women love yoga and are keen advocates of alternative therapies, but they also chose to have 'conventional' treatment that means they are here now to be with their children and families. I also have plenty of friends and family who did not survive treatment and passed away. It is not fair, but it does happen.

I admire the work of Marie Curie Cancer Care and Macmillan nurses who took care of people I cared for very deeply. Walk the walk (the charity behind Moonwalk) was founded by a woman whose own experience of breast cancer informed what she felt was important in helping her to recover. Treatments and therapies including cold cap - that helps with hair loss during chemo - and centres to provide support and care including childcare during treatment all make a huge difference.

Cancer affects so many of us either directly or in a close friend or family member. It's fine to have an opinion. It's fine to believe that your way is the best way. It's not fine to share it when I've asked you to support or donate. You may well believe in sugar pills, or chanting, or wheatgrass and that is lovely for you. You don't, however, have any right to judge or castigate someone else for choosing to have a treatment that you would not have. Again for clarity, none of those who have made these 'helpful' remarks have ever had cancer, so it's all theoretical.

If you don't want to donate your silence will not be seen as offensive or require any explanation. Your desire to make comments that are unkind and unnecessarily cruel to someone who has made possibly the toughest decision of their life, however, is unwelcome. Just keep your comments to yourself.

As your Mum probably told you, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

If  you would like to sponsor me and Soraya in our efforts to walk a marathon between us overnight on 10th May you can do so here: Team Swazi and Soraya

Thank you xxx

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Blog your heart out

Fellow Team Honker and Honkopoly birthday girl Franglaise Mummy has tagged me in to “blog my heart out” - a blog post that tells readers more about me and my blog. The idea is that I answer 5 questions and then tag five other bloggers to do the same. So, here we go:

Who/What encouraged you to start blogging ?
I'm pretty sure Hubbie had something to do with it. I spoke to a few people who were bloggers and because I love writing I thought I'd give it a go. I was at home with my son, not working, and it seemed ideal as I had the time to devote to writing when my son was having a nap.

How did you choose what topics to blog about ?
It depends what is happening in my life/ in the world and if it's a special occasion. I swim and walk a lot and when I'm pondering I often have ideas for content and a topic will become clear to me. I take my iPad with me everywhere so I an jot down ideas and sentences as they occur to me. When I was walking the other day I had an idea for a particular sentence and didn't have any paper or my iPad so I recorded a sound clip on my phone so that I didn't lose the idea or form of words I was so pleased with. Some topics seem a good idea and when I start writing they just don't work. I have so many posts that are just a few ideas waiting to form into something cohesive/interesting.

What is something most people don’t know about you ?
I was stopped at the airport leaving Sierra Leona as the authorities suspected me of smuggling diamonds. Turns out they had been mislead by the diamante stick on tattoos I had in my luggage. Oopsie !
Who could mistake these for blood diamonds ?

What three words describe your style ?
Visual, passionate, rumbunctious (Hubbie suggested the last one !)

What do you love to do when you’re not blogging ?
I love my family and my friends and enjoy spending time with them whether it's swimming as a family or enjoying dim sum or a lovely glass of wine with friends.
I love music and present a radio show on Croydon Radio - I swim pretty much every day and even though I'm not great at it I enjoy dancing. I'm training for the Moonwalk this summer so I'm also walking a lot which is really helping me to finally lose some baby weight. Seeing as my boy is three and a half I think it's fair to say it has been a bit of a battle !

Ok, so now it's my turn to nominate 5 bloggers to do this.
Please be upstanding:

Monday, 31 March 2014

My so-called life: fakebooking and other social media faux pas

On holiday we kept in touch with world events via BBC News which seemed to be wall to wall analysis of the whereabouts of the missing Malaysian Airways plane with an occasional break in of other news stories. Wifi was not easily available so I wasn't social media-ing as much as usual, but did post a few photos when we had some data to use (and when EE wasn't up the swannie). I also heard about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin's 'conscious uncoupling' or break-up as most of us would refer to it. Her website GOOP went bust with all the interest in the announcement which she made personally rather than through publicists or an open letter in a newspaper as some celebrities prefer to share their personal dramas.

Most of us have Facebook or Twitter to voice where we are, what we're doing, who we're with, what we're eating or any other mediocre detail of our lives. We all know someone who posts abstract status updates that invite a comment or a sympathetic response and if I get another request to like a photo if I love my kids or hate cancer I will just block that person's sorry ass. Not to mention the people who seem normal, but go and share a homophobic or racist photo / news item that makes me wish I didn't know that about them. We all risk sharing too much.

Then there is the phenomenon of 'fakebooking' or posting selective status updates and creating an alternative life that bears little resemblance to the one we actually live. I'm thinking here of the friend who posts photos of her with her husband and kids and updates such as "Happy Christmas from all of us" as if she hadn't separated from her husband and moved out last year. I don't know whose benefit the fake status updates are for as most of her friends know the situation. Maybe it's for herself ?

It's not a criticism as I am guilty of doing it too. On holiday I posted photos of my boy being cute, smiling, making sandcastles, climbing rope ladders and generally having fun. I didn't let on that most days he was hell on wheels and yelled, screamed, fought and cried through most of the activities pictured. I captured the moment he was smiling, not long after he had been creating and banged his head on the restaurant window causing all the other diners to wince at the thudding sound. I post photos of my son for family members and friends who don't get to see him often because they live in India, Mexico, Argentina, Australia an assorted other world locations.

Blowing bubbles 
Social media is a wonderful way to share, but it is also a clever way to lie publicly about how we're doing. From relationship status updates that tell us that the boyfriend is not around any more to the amusing online quizzes that tell us if we're well read or middle class it's a convenient short cut to catch up on relationships that we can't necessarily nurture in the conventional way. Just please don't ask me to like a mindless proposition or share a ridiculous image that will enable spammers to harvest my personal data.

For the record: Yes I hate cancer, Yes I love my son, Yes I love my husband, No I don't support bad stuff and I don't care if me not liking that photo means little Johnny won't get a hamster for his birthday.

Oh and I'm going to keep posting positive images on Facebook. My social media persona is happy, positive, pro-active and lives a golden life. Even if my real one is sitting on the sofa drinking tea and picking cat hairs off my trousers.
Beach bunny