Saturday, 25 February 2012









Mid-Life Crisis?


As I near my mid-thirties I find myself experiencing a career crisis and I am wondering if the latter is just part of a bigger mid-life crisis. I am not even entirely sure when a mid-life crisis is supposed to occur, the only reference I have is that of the clich├ęd image of a forty-year old man swapping his wife and kids for a younger woman and a flashy sports car. My fortyyear old-ish husband is also having a midlife crisis of sorts although luckily for him he does not need to start hunting for a younger spouse as he was clever enough to marry me- a woman fourteen years younger. He is probably secretly desperate for a sports car but that is hardly going to materialise and anyway he now finds himself lusting after any car that is bigger than our VW… to fit all the bloody kids stuff (he complains whenever we leave London for a weekend).

His crisis, like mine, is to do with his career. He spent most of thirties (much like his twenties) in a rock n' roll band, touring and playing music. When the band broke up very suddenly when he was 44, he found himself at a loss: his passion and role in life had lost its meaning and he didn’t know where to turn… He decided to go to college and earned a distinction in the first proper qualification he has ever achieved, it gave him an unparalleled sense of pride although unfortunately not a job. He is now keeping busy with any work that comes along: painting, decorating, restoring furniture and still making music because as any artist knows, you can never simply stop doing the thing you feel you were put on this earth to do.

This is the place I find myself now, wondering what exactly I was put on this earth to accomplish. Are we all predestined to a particular life and career or are we masters of our futures, able to conjure up new starts and exciting prospects? I like to think that anything is possible in this life….

For the past six years I have worked as a massage therapist, something that I sort of fell into. I have loved every minute of it but during the last few years a little bit of doubt began to creep in… I hadn’t necessarily found my niche or specialism within the industry. I also knew that I would need to find a less physical element to my work in order for me to continue without causing damage to myself. I thought about Acupuncture, Nutrition, Yoga. My doubts coincided with a longing to have another child, something I had put off for a long time because of my work. Instead of facing the issues with my career, I steamed ahead with the notion of having another baby.  I stopped massaging for a good fifteen months and in this time I began to think whether I wanted to go back to my job after all….

So here we are, both my husband and I pondering over our working futures. Like him I have an unparalleled passion: something I have no doubt I was put on this earth to do: to write. I have written stories ever since the day I started reading books, I have poured my heart into journals, diaries and now blogs - to make sense of my life and of the world. I have attempted novels, short stories and even my half-finished projects have filled me with happiness. Whether it makes me money or not or makes any sense, I always feel compelled to write. 

Perhaps one day my writing will return a profitable gain but until then I need to pull in the coffers somehow. I have started thinking about jobs. I have always said that I would rather die than work in an office but as I mentioned in my last entry- I am now over the self-indulgent melodrama of my twenties. Still, if possible I would rather avoid spending all day sitting in a cubicle and instead do something more creative, more flexible, more interactive. I need to work with people and better still, to work towards helping people, I couldn't do a job without some kind of moral prespective… I would languish pretty quickly in anything to do with fashion or media.

So perhaps- like many others before me- I have fallen upon the idea of teaching. If anybody had suggested this to me in my twenties (which I think somebody once did) I would have laughed. No way! But I like to think that I have grown up a bit since then.

Recently I have become involved in my daughter's school life, I have read in class, joined the kids on school trips, helped with fundraising… and I have loved every minute of it. I have watched my daughter grow from a slightly unconfident and not very loud child to an all singing, all dancing brain box who gets very excited about going to school. I know a lot of this has to do with the teachers who have inspired and encouraged her. They have certainly inspired me. I have just spent a couple of weeks volunteering in a school and I was hit by a sudden epiphany. It felt completely natural to be working with the children and helping them with their learning. Despite the negatives: being called ugly on my fist day, trying to control a group of noisy seven year olds, hearing teachers complain about their twelve hour days, I still left with the feeling that yes, this was something I would really like to do...

Could I be a teacher? Long gone are the days when teaching was seen as a dowdy and lowly profession. 'Those who can’t teach' and all that malarky. Now the teaching world holds stiff competition with Oxbridge academics and other talented graduates battling for spaces on PGCE courses. 

I have my interview for a PGCE in two weeks, so really I should be researching that rather than writing this but- I woke this morning with a desperate need to get this down, for my own clarity but also because I know there are many others out there who are in the process of changing careers and shifting the patterns of their lives. If you are then come share your experiences… I would love to hear about them.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Good Life

Having returned home to London from the countryside to the news that there is a strangler roaming the streets of Queens Park (in a sort of Victorian, Ripper-esque flurry of madness) I have started pining for a permanent slice of the good life. Cottages, greenery, horses, fields, vegetable patches, dogs, open fires, village pubs... is it enough to pull us out of the city forever or just tempting enough for a weekend away? Could my idyllic portrayal of country life actually be a frontage for a tedious, yawn inducing, even more depraved way of life? I'm racking my brains trying to think of heinous crimes typically committed in the countryside but I guess anything is possible (but hopefully less likely).

We spent the weekend with friends who have ditched London for the rural lands of Northamptonshire. They have the aforementioned horses, dog, open fires etc, etc and are mightily happy with their new life. Well who can blame them? Did I also mention that they are massively in love, which must help when you're living in a village with a tiny population and your only point of human contact, other than with each other, is the neighbourhood Morris dancing troupe. 

They are happy and we were even happier to be spending the weekend with them, loafing in front of the fire, drinking wine and eating lots of home cooked food. Obviously I know that this is not what life in the countryside will be like 24/7. I realise that there must be lots of hard graft involved to ensure that your weekends can be spent in a haze of food induced laziness. And I know that with two kids in tow, life in the countryside could be just as full as in the city but I guess what I'm hoping for is that it will also be a little bit slower.
 
When I asked my friends if they missed the city they said most definitely not- not one teenie bit although they did admit to occasionally feeling lonely and I think it was much a joy for them, as it was for us to play host for the weekend. Loneliness. The couple in question don't have children and I tend to think once you have been a stay-at-home parent you get over the feeling of being lonely because parenthood can be horrifically lonesome with only the sound of crying, farting and Cbeebies to keep you company. So I'm not concerned about loneliness. As a family unit we spend most of our time on our own and frankly at this stage, now that I'm past my hideously self-conscious twenties, I'm pretty content with my own company.  

I keep harping on to my husband about the benefits of the countryside: better air, roomier properties, less stress, less angst, less stuff to rob you blind (i.e lattes, london transport, Pret sandwiches...) and best of all we could get a dog! (A horse is maybe a little way off- much to my daughter's dismay of course). Our youngest is dog obsessed and makes happy noises and points his tiny fifteen-month old finger whenever he spies one in the street. More often than not he is pointing at a cross-looking Staffy (apologies all Staffy lovers I'm sure they are not all angry dogs) so I tend to steer clear but this weekend he spent joyous hours feeding his breadsticks to a Labrador and a Schnauzer and loving the feel of canine spittle all over his face. Ah the simple pleasures of life. 

Are we ready to ditch the bright lights of the city for the more sedate meander of country life? Well I for one say yay, let's give it a go and if we miss anything, well, who said we can't return?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Sleep Wars

Any home that includes a child under the age of five will include a sleep war at one point or another. And I'm not talking about the tribulations involved with getting a child to go to sleep, to stay asleep or to sleep more than five hours a night, but rather the full-on wars parents have with one another when the day's discussion turns to the subject of who has had the most sleep and who needs MORE sleep.

We spent New Year's Eve with friends in Norfolk. They also have two children and the youngest is nine months and still being breast-fed so he is waking up two or three times in the night to feed and snuggle up with mum. Having learnt something from the sleep deprivation caused by child number 1, our friends now have a structured system whereby Mum gets up in the night and dad gets up in the morning (every morning) so mum can catch up on sleep. I find this pretty heroic considering the dad goes out to work every day but the mother insists that a day's work is totally achievable if you've had six hours solid sleep. She may be right. Needless to say, despite the system, they are both equally shattered and can still easily slip into an argument about who had the most sleep and who might be entitled to an afternoon nap at the weekend.

Mmm... It all sounds horribly familiar.

After Elvis was born, we adopted a similar system of me getting up in the night and the husband dealing with the early mornings. When the baby hit nine months I decided to wean him. The day he gulped down three big bottles of milk, he slept through the night. Ah- the moment all parents dream about! We have since enjoyed a few months of relatively uninterrupted sleep but recently due to illness and bouts of teething, we have had to put pay to the glory of a decent night's sleep. Elvis is now waking up crying a fair bit and will moan (or shriek) until he is cuddled and allowed to snuggle down with us. I have always been a bit of a stickler about not having the children in our bed, mostly because the bed just isn't big enough and because I also seem to develop insomnia the moment a small, snuffling thing is tucked up beside me. So we try to resettle him in the cot but as all parents know, this doesn't always work. After a restless night the baby wakes up at the crack of dawn. Since both my husband and I work part time we take turns with these dreaded, early mornings.

We try to be fair, we try to not care about who gets up when, but it is hard not to feel annoyed when you have to haul yourself out of bed for the umpteenth time whilst your partner sleeps on. It is hard not to feel resentful when your better half has a cosy lie in and you have to deal with the crying, the whinging and yet another overly cheerful episode of Postman Pat. Even if you do take in in turns, because lets face it, even with odd lie in (and by lie in I mean 7 rather than 5 or 6 am) you never really stop feeling tired.

Our friends in Norfolk are able to laugh about their sleep wars. The mum joked that when things get really bad, she actually wants to get physical (she feigned a punch to the jaw) and I kind of understood what she meant. Not that I would ever throw a punch (at anyone mind) but there's nothing like a bad nights sleep (over and over again) to make you feel massively, hugely pissed off with those you love and frankly with the whole entire world.

Here's to (trying to) laugh in the face of sleeplessness!

Friday, 2 December 2011

The mother of all colds

Just when I think it's over, another bout of sickness invades our home. First it was the husband who spent a good three days holed up in bed. Then the baby fell ill with a hacking cough that turned into a fever and a permanently runny nose. Two weeks later I thought we had the all clear but no, my eldest succumbs too, with a cough that keeps her up all night and a hollowed, washed out complexion that could rival the Corpse Bride.

And what about me? Well except for a sore throat and a permanent sense of exhaustion, I seem to have escaped unscathed. However, I also suspect that, like most mothers, I have been far too busy to be ill. Anyway without donning my feminist cape again, I wanted to share my number one all-round remedy and aid for those dreaded winter bugs. This juice is delicious, wholesome and packed full of goodness. My husband and I are addicted to it, my daughter won't touch it (but we are trying to convert her) and the baby guzzles it down. Take my word for it- if you are feeling depleted- this is nectar.

Beetroot Power juice:

In a juicer juice:

3 large beetroots.
3 large sticks of celery
3 large carrots
2 apples
A thumb sized piece of ginger

Enjoy!

(serves 2)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.

Is this what little boys are made of? Not according to their mothers of course. If you ask most mothers, little boys, just like little girls, are made of sugar and spice and all things nice and maybe, even possibly, with a layer of sweet frosting slathered on top.

I have been wondering whether mothers favour their sons more than their daughters and whether this is ultimately the reason for certain behavioural patterns that continue well into adulthood. Like what exactly? Well… like men leaving wet towels and clothes on the floor, snivelling and moaning with a cold as if on death’s door, avoiding housework and cleaning at all costs (because their mothers always did it for them)… and as for the women folk, well most women could easily be categorised as SUPERWOMEN: they are domestic goddesses, baking delectable delights, cleaning and tidying and organising, all this whilst getting a PHD in nagging. Why? Because this is exactly what our mothers’ did.

The big difference between then and now is that most women these days aren’t content to simply bring up the kids, bake a brownie and polish the silver. Most of us are also career women and we strive to be the best and do the best we can. By contrast, there are also many men out there who have become domestic gods in their own right. Not my husband mind, although luckily I have landed a man who was not mollycoddled by his mother and can- thank heavens- cook delicious meals, change nappies and do the housework. That said, he still prone to leaving towels and clothes strewn across the floor and collapsing into to bed every time he is afflicted by a cold. Perhaps some things will never change…. (Especially if I continue to pick things up after him and nurture his oh so terrible man flu).

A good friend of mine once said ‘women are their own worst enemy.’ We were living in Argentina at the time, land of frequent machismo, where women are often idealised as angelic homemakers or terrible vixens. My friend was referring to a male friend of hers and his overbearing, indulgent mother. Apparently, it was the mother’s fault that her son had turned out to be a complete philanderer. No woman was ever going to be good enough for him (in the eyes of the mother). I didn’t think much of it at the time but ten years later, as the mother of both a daughter and a son, I find myself going back to that moment and wondering, with a sick sense of dread, whether I am making the same mistakes as a truckload of mothers before me. Will I favour my son more than my daughter?

Right now it is probably too early to tell, my son is still a baby after all and yes he does get a massive amount of cuddles and kisses but largely because he is tiny and learning to walk, the recurrent bumps and falls and woes need to be reassured somehow. My daughter gets kisses and cuddles too, however, despite feeling like I am doling out equal amounts of love between my children, I have become aware of hard I can be on her.

I know I am not the only mother behaving this way; this topic has come up in conversation with many friends in recent months. A mother of a girl aged eight and a boy aged five, knew without any doubt that she was harder on her daughter than her son. She said it good naturedly and without any sense of guilt (or maybe she had dealt with the guilt already and was sticking with her parenting because she didn’t know any other way).

A few mothers have described how their daughters (usually first born) were less affectionate and loving than their sons. ‘Just you wait’ they said ‘little boys are so loving!’ But is this only because so many daughters can sense their mother’s disgruntlement and judgement, even from an early age? This disparity of affection has not been my experience, my daughter has always been warm and loving, gifting hugs and kisses with an overwhelming generosity. If anything, I have been the less generous one, too impatient with work and tiredness to reciprocate her tender demonstrations of love. My daughter always picks me up on this lack of affection or sympathy. Quite often, when she hurts herself or bursts into tears, I will bark at her impatiently. Will I do this to my son when he is older? Or will I mutter ‘there, there’ and kiss it better?

When I became pregnant with my daughter (aged 23) my mother told me, in no less subtle terms, that my life was over. And not because she was angry at my unplanned pregnancy but because, I soon realised, this was what she must have felt like when I was born. It was a bitter pill to swallow. I now know that she did not mean that having me was a mistake or that she had not loved me (far from the truth- she was a doting and loving parent) but that her life as she had known it was over, and that her future would hold nothing but domesticity and drudgery. She never got to study or work or live a life that didn’t involve catering to the every need of her children and my very non-domesticated father. Luckily most modern women have moved on from this trap of domesticity. And if not, then quite often it is because they themselves have chosen the housewife role (usually after working for years and hating every minute of it). For some women the arrival of motherhood is a blessing in more ways than one. They have chosen to be at home and to enjoy it.

These days I am fortunate to be able to divide my time evenly between home and work. My children have a mother who is very present and not at all distracted. But I have digressed from my original question: do I treat them both equally? The answer, quite honestly, is that I don’t know. I am aware of my tendency to expect great things from my daughter: fabulous behaviour, good manners, academic brilliance etc … I like to think that I will want the same things from my son but what if I don’t? What if I excuse his laziness, laugh at his messiness and applaud his womanising, all in the name of love? I shudder just thinking about it.





Wednesday, 14 September 2011

What's in a name?

After our summer holiday, the cat welcomed us back with love (or as close as she gets to demonstrating affection- scratching at the bedroom door in a desperate attempt for a snuggle on the bed, followed by nips at our ankles as punishment for leaving her with only the neighbor to feed her). Our cat's name is Pepper. I think her name suits her sometimes moody personality. For a while both my husband and daughter wanted to call her Frisbee (as a kitten she could leap sky high) but I thought this name was verging on the absurd. Pets, like babies, don't get a look-in when it comes to choosing their own names (although people can always change their names later in life) and so it falls upon the adults to be clever but kind and choose a name that doesn't ridicule them in any way. I don't think 'Pepper' is ridiculous but her vast array of loving nicknames might just be: Pepsi, Peps, Pepperpot, Pepperami, Pepperley, Pepi le Pue.... Occasionally I catch her staring at me with disdain and I wonder, if she could talk, would she berate us for addressing her with all these silly names?

I've been thinking a lot about names: first names, nicknames, pet names, children's names and the obsession some of us have with choosing the most perfect, inimitable name possible. Last month the Office of National Statistics published their latest list of the most popular children's names in the UK. Oliver and Olivia came out tops followed by the the usual plethora of popular British names: Harry, Jack, Charlie, Sophie, Emily etc, etc... which are all lovely if (dare I say it) a little ordinary. Most parents I know live in horror of giving their child a convential name, instead they seek out the unusual; a name that is unique, cool and definitely not to be found on the top 100 list. It is not an easy task despite all the resources: baby name books, websites, novels, films, records etc... it is actually quite tricky to score high on originality and good taste when choosing a child's name.

When my daughter was born, I was so taken aback at actually having a baby in my arms that the act of naming her got a bit sidelined. She was nameless for a good six weeks. My husband had wanted to call her Lux, a great name but so close in sound to my sister's (Lex) that I wasn't convinced. I then set my heart on Lila, which held all the wrong associations for him (he knew a Lila who was... well, a bit rough round the edges) We argued and argued some more and in the end we compromised by calling her Lila Lux, a name that people have always loved.

When it came to our son, I conceded that having got my way with child Number One that my husband could choose whichever name he wanted. One night I discovered him and my daughter plotting away after her bedtime stories. They had come up with a name for the baby: Elvis Zorro Alvin. I don't know if it was the blissful fog of pregnancy but strangely I wasn't completely horrified. I did however tell them that they would have to choose one name out of the three and that whatever happened I would decide on his second name. They chose Elvis. His second name is Cassady.

The name caused controversy amongst friends, family and strangers and occasionally still does. My sister laughed when she heard it and told my daughter we couldn't possibly name our baby 'Elvis' as it was a 'joke' name. My father-in-law was incredulous and wondered how he would be able to push a pram around with a grandson called Elvis nestled inside (oh the shame!) I was more bemused by the fact that he envisaged himself doing a whole lot of pram pushing (he lives over 100 miles away).

People either loved the name or were shocked about our choice. We didn't name our Elvis after Elvis Presley although there is no denying that we are Elvis fans (but not in that stalkerish let's light a candle at Gracelands sort of way) We simply loved the name and knew that there weren't many Elvises around so our son wasn't going to feel like any old Tom, Dick or Harry (pardon the archaic phrase).
After the first round of criticism and as I neared the end of the pregnancy, we kept our mouths shout when people asked that tiresome question 'Have you thought of any names yet?' We hadn't changed our minds, we had just got sick of hearing unwanted advice. Elvis was named an hour after he was born; he was always going to be Elvis despite what anybody else said.

Now when strangers hear his name their response is mostly a polite and baffled silence. We get a few laughs and talk of 'Well do you have a back up just incase?" Incase what? Incase Elvis and his classmates realise that he shares his namesake with somebody famous who died over thirty years ago? I have a feeling that his generation will be far more precocupied with whatever starlet is at the top of the charts or whichever footballer or actor happens to be famous at the time. Fortunately for Elvis, he has not been hit by the ugly stick (ok I know- all mothers think their children are fabulously good looking but since strangers keep making comments about his good looks I'm assuming I'm not being self deluded). For this reason and many others, I have a feeling he will more than live up to his rather spectacular name.

                                                            
                                                            The lovely Elvis Cassady

Thursday, 21 July 2011

wanderlust

As much as I love London I am often besieged by powerful moments of melodrama where I imagine myself running off into the sunset and moving, lock stock and barrel, to another country, preferably somewhere hot and exotic and with little semblance to the city that I love/hate/love/hate/love/hate.

My relationship with London is a bit like a love affair with drugs or junk food or your first ever obsession: it makes you feel so good that you are literally soaring but it also has the tendency to drop you from a great height, leaving you feeling worthless, small, an insignificant little speck.

I was born in London but didn’t live here until my twenties. More than ten years later it feels like home. Sometimes the sense of familiarity and belonging is so strong, so powerful that it leaves me a little breathless and I wonder if I will ever be able to escape its grasp. I say ‘escape’ as if I am being kept prisoner like Rapunzel in a concrete tower, but nobody is holding me here against my will.

I love London for many reasons. I love the old, gentrified buildings, the graffiti, the multi-ethnicity, the constant source of things to do, the fact that you can eat any type of food: pad thai, cream teas, dhansak curries, soya lattes, wheat free brownies, sushi, dim sum, samosas, dolma, roast dinners. I love London for its dirty nights out and its summer park days. The walks on the Heath, the drinks in Soho, the coffees on Portobello; the house parties that end at 8 am.

The things I hate: January, February, March, the cold, the rain, the ugly concrete architecture, the rudeness, the anger (angry bus conductors, angry drivers, angry people waiting in queues), the traffic wardens, the surveillance cameras that seem to watch our every move.

But…I love where I live in west London. The sense of community here is really strong; the kids play out on the street, the adults talk and often invite each other in for cups of tea. Everybody looks out for one another. I know this isn’t normal; the last place I lived, the neighbours didn’t even look at each other. Of course once you venture away from my street, it’s not all jelly and ice cream. This is still London. At the mini market nearby there are thirty strong gangs hanging about. They like to throw bottles at each other and occasionally stick a knife in when they feel the need. Unsurprisingly, I don’t want my children growing up in the midst of all this angst and teenage strife but if not here, then where?

When I was little, one of my father’s favourite topics of conversation began with the question: 'If there was a plane waiting to take you anywhere in the world, where would you go?' As children and later as adults we would play this game with feverish anticipation. It fed my imagination, my wanderlust. My parents are modern nomads, gypsies my husband calls them, because they have spent their lives going to and fro, occasionally settling down for a bit but always to moving on to somewhere else, to something better (or sometimes worse) but always something new. My husband is fascinated by this life in perpetual motion. What drives them?  Do they never get tired of travelling, of living out of a suitcase? Of course they do, I see it in their weariness, in their frustration at misplacing things between ‘here’ and ‘there’. But ultimately the downside is justified by the huge rewards: a life of permanent sunshine (no melancholic Februaries for them), the chance to explore, to reinvent, to experience things outside the norm.

I can’t remember the answers I gave to my father's question over the years. Right now I would feel torn to give a straight response… there are so many places I want to visit, countries and cities I have only been able to dream about since I became a mother and took up permanent residence in London: Tokyo, China, Mexico, the Greek Islands, the Grand Canyon, the northern beaches of Brazil…

I was lucky to travel a lot as a child, the memories of these journeys still flash through my dreams and thoughts: the mayhem of Bombay’s shantytowns, the sight of barbecued grasshoppers in Bangkok, the smell of jasmine in Bangalore. As a teenager and then as an adult I carried on making these journeys, first with friends and then on my own. I spent months backpacking around South America and because I spoke Spanish and looked the part, people often mistook me for a local. I rarely felt like an outsider. This journey was the pivotal moment in my life; it changed everything. Now, whenever I feel low or confused or unconfident, I remember the charged sense of adventure and gustiness from that time and I tell myself that I can do anything…

Would I go back to South America? Well yes, in a flash, but would I live there? I wonder if I could cope with the stress of being the only bilingual person in the family. Would my husband and children learn the language with ease or would they flounder under the pressure? I have witnessed first hand what can happen in such a scenario: my father never learnt to speak Spanish and so my mother became his translator.

I have imagined living in other places… Australia, Goa… I romanticise about what life would be like. But is that all it is, a wishful fantasy? I am full of admiration for people that take off and begin a new life somewhere else, their courage and confidence is inspiring. It is never easy leaving ‘home’, your comfort zone; homesickness is a haunting wound and I have been injured by it often… I spent most of my childhood feeling homesick for one place or another. But now I have no regrets, I’m glad we moved and travelled and started anew. It made me adventurous, resilient, spirited.

I hope my children get the chance to feel this way too. I also know that I will never properly fall out of love with London. Like a beloved ex lover, it will always remain cherished. So, until my wanderlust finally takes me somewhere else for good, all that remains is to keep dreaming about far-flung places. In that spirit, I'd like to know: if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?