Parental Politics

The trouble with staying at a child friendly hotel is that you are inevitably signing up to a stay plagued by other people’s children – and lots of them to boot.

 

It is in this precise scenario that we find ourselves. At first, we revel in the prospect of child-free dinners amongst the civilised sect (aka grown-ups) and no washing up for a week (they have a baby bottle/cup/cutlery washing service, where the soiled goods are deposited in the ‘drop off’ basket, to materialise miraculously, a short time later, spotless, in the neighbouring ‘pick up’ basket). The hotel kitchen will even puree food to order to cater to the discerning palates of the toothless customer and there are enough highchairs in the breakfast room to host a baby G7 conference.

 

Our suite allows for separate sleeping quarters for the Little One and is equipped with sufficient baby paraphernalia to make Mothercare proud – steriliser, changing mat, nappy bin, baby monitor for a child listening service while the grown-ups indulge in some wining and dining come evening time. There is even a pushchair you can borrow if you couldn’t be bothered to bring your own (or couldn’t cram it into the car). This is Utopia for parents of small children.

 

The cherry on the cake is that there is a spa, pool and, conveniently, a creche – complete with Ofsted report. I am still beset with reservations about abandoning my one year old to the care of complete strangers but, seeing as our travelling toy stash is more famine than feast, we drop by one afternoon for a quick reccy. And I’m really quite surprised – in a pleasant way. Though the air of tranquility may be more a result of the total lack of any other children present, fighting over toys and causing a nuisance. I consider the option of giving away my child (for a couple of mornings a week) if I can find an establishment like this at home. We return the next day to find a rather sweet little boy called Oliver, who is obsessed with tractors, and a different carer in attendance. She looks beyond bored and when a colleague comes in later it transpires that she doesn’t know/ care/ remember (what’s worse?) the name of the sole child in her care. I make a swift mental U-turn on the intention to abandon Baby-Bel.

 

It is only at breakfast that it dawns on us that, where we complain about the noise and mess generated by our one sprog at home, here we have that of almost a dozen to contend with. At the breakfast buffet I offer to help a girl of no more than three foot high, with the scrambled eggs. She declines politely enough but when her father offers the same, she turns to him in what can only be descibed as a scarily precocious manner.

‘I’m four remember’, she deadpans (read, ‘I’m not an imbecile’).

Yikes. I am rather taken aback and scuttle back to our table to resume the task of spooning petit filous into the waiting mouth of our comparatively angelic child.

 

After dinner on the second night, I go to the ‘pick up’ point to collect our array of feeding/ drinking implements, to find that the mother just ahead of me is in the process of walking off with our Tommee Tippee beaker. Fuelled by the courage incited by two glasses of robust red, a kir royale and the giddy excitement of being unleashed to dine amongst the polite society of other adults (a novelty these days), I chase after her and insist that she return what is rightfully ours – stopping short of offering to perform a CSI-style dental bite mould on the beaker spout to prove ownership.

 

In the cold light of sober day, a two quid Tommee Tippee cup is hardly grounds for a playground-esque bout of fistee cuffs but it occurs to me that being an (ex) banker has put me in good stead for such baby battlegrounds – I am very competitive and (nearly) always win. After all, there’s no point in taking part if you don’t.

 

I suspect that this is just a taster of the parental politics that beset the war zone of first nursery, then school. I am looking forward, with dread, to dealing with a scenario like that of a friend, whose six year old came home from school one day announcing that she hated a class mate.

‘Why?’

‘Because she’s ugly.’

Now that wouldn’t happen in a Utopian world.

 

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Are we there yet?

It is a common fallacy that all women are bad drivers and can’t read maps. But there’s no smoke without a fire and usually a contravention to every fallacy. Indeed, I am that woman who gives all the competent Sheila’s Wheels drivers and orienteering experts a bad name – I apologise.

The distance from our home to the south coast of Cornwall is just over 270 hellish miles. I know this because we have just traversed precisely that distance to get here. I was delegated the task of driving the second leg, after a pit stop for lunch and a nappy change (for Baby-Bel). Clearly I couldn’t be trusted to drive the first leg which included navigating through the traffic treachery that is Central London. What Mr A also shouldn’t have entrusted me with was the job of searching for a suitable venue for a pit stop in the Good Pub Guide (2003 version no less) whilst tallying it to our route via an AA road map but that’s another story.

Half a dozen attempts to pull out of the pub drive later, my shaky control over clutch control seemed marginally more road-worthy. Thereon began the remainder of the smooth ride south; bar stopping for an interminable pause to allow the crossing of a herd of neverending sheep – like an insomniac’s living nightmare of counting sheep and certainly not helped by half the herd having dodgy limps. Still, ample opportunity to admire the scenic vista.

Luckily we managed the whole journey (274 miles) in six hours – one of which was the lunch reprieve. My leg of driving involved Mr A barking instructions to drive more smoothly (read less erratically) and incessant pleas to move into 5th gear (I prefer to pootle in 4th and would more than happily settle for an automatic – Mr A would rather walk to Cornwall than relinquish the control and manliness that is allegedly inherent in a manual). I resorted to falling into a sullen silence that would have made an angst-ridden teenager proud, and Baby-Bel looked a picture of misery straight from an advert for NSPCC.

I am a very bad driver and I hate driving – I can at best can be described as a nervous driver; at worst, a Sunday driver or quite simply a liability to self and others. Mr A insists I partake in the activity to maintain (read develop) my skills but the undeniable truth is that I am the road equivalent of a novice yachtsman chartering a Sunseeker on his annual summer holiday by the sea.

So it is perhaps with a combination of both luck and relief that Mr A relieves me of my driving duties on the homeward bound trip.

Bye bye baby

I dedicate this post to my beautiful baby girl who has reached her first 365 day milestone. Bye bye baby – you’re a little girl now and a spirited, bright and wonderful one at that. Happy Birthday Little One.

 

My darling baby girl no more

I finally know what life is for

To watch you grow and hold your hand

Here by your side I’ll always stand

 

The path you tread will be your own

The joys and tears cannot be known

For the life you live and the choices you choose

Know that my love and faith you will never lose

Job market recovery or dead cat bounce?

 [This article was first published on 4 March 2009, on http://life.hereisthecity.com/the_soul_clinic/at_work/889.cntns.] 

This week an email was followed by a text, which was then succeeded by a phone call (which I scanned caller ID and diverted to voicemail), and then promptly followed by yet another text and another email. No – not a personal stalker, the preserve of the rich and famous, but the return of the head hunter.

One suspects they have been in hibernation and are now making their daffodil-esque springtime resurgence. Who can blame them? They currently rival estate agents in the stakes of who has the fewest wares to peddle, in this crunchy era marked by a scarcity of jobs and a dearth of property transactions. Those who have had the good fortune to remain gainfully employed are probably wondering about the timeframe that they themselves will be enlisting the aid of one of their own.

An interesting piece of bait being dangled carrot-fashion is the USP of a “guaranteed percentage cash payout”. To be fair, I’ve come across many a worse USP for a stock broking role. Furthermore, I can name many an ex-colleague who would, in the past, have happily traded in their grandmother for a contract clause of this nature. But belt-tightening times call for belt-tightening measures, which exacerbates the truism that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

If past history is any indication for future performance, as we are so often assured it is not when making any investment, then the hiring antics of the bulge bracket big boys should act as a presage of times ahead. Mass hiring has typically denoted a market top and mass firing a market trough. Could the mass job massacres have reached their peak, thereby, dare I suggest it, serving as a symbol of a turning of tides? I’m not betting my lunch money on it.

Having said that, this week the grape vine also brought tidings of not only a credit crunch-defying rise in year on year bonus payout for one front office acquaintance but an equally recession-resistant hike in basic pay to boot. It would seem the tide hasn’t quite decided which way it’s turning.

Regardless, having been thrown from the wheel of the rat race in such a disposable manner, I find it difficult to muster the enthusiasm to clamber back on board in any great hurry.

Working girl

As Baby-Bel and her cronies veer headlong towards and beyond their one year milestone so all my fellow mummy cronies are starting to dust off the high heels to go back to work – resuming the old life after an extended twelve month hiatus.

Surprisingly many are lucky enough to have negotiated the enviable situation of a part timer; getting to have their cake and eat it. Interestingly, I haven’t come across many mothers who have voluntarily chosen (some by way of forced necessity) to return to employment full time. I suppose these could be said to be the ones having their cake but not quite having the luxury of time to eat it. Then there are those of us with a surplus of cake-eating time but no longer the means to attain even a Betty Crocker DIY version – the stay at home non-earner.

I am the benched reserve in the game of life; not so much twiddling my thumbs as there’s plenty to do but left wondering as to my worth and role in the team. Whether for ‘Team Family Unit’ or ‘Team Women at Work’ I am clearly nowhere near pulling my weight. On a more insular level, it’s not just the team I’m letting down. My mind is lying dormant and disused – brain cells thrown out with the last nappy refuse sack. I am a crime against my own potential and I need to get off this bench before rigor mortis sets in and my mind becomes seized by the paralysis wrought by habit. Get up, set a challenge, score a goal and feel alive. It’s like a plea to a coma victim.

The bottom line is my feelings of self worth these days are already skirting the bottom of new depths and the question is, where further can it plunge?

Mr A has suggested I consider leaving Baby-Bel in a nursery for a couple of mornings a week, to allow me the freedom to investigate future endeavours but I think the guilt of abandoning my child with no justifiable cause (say gainful employment) might eat me alive. If that doesn’t, then the sense of shame of letting the side down and MiL (mother in law) drawing my ill-fated comparison to SiL (sister in law), utopian mother personified, would undoubtedly be enough to send my adequacy ratings through the floor more precipitously than Gordon Brown’s after the Northern Rock bailout. Furthermore, there simply isn’t a nursery in this neck of the woods which will stoop to accepting less than a minimum of 2.5 days a week. It seems business is still booming in childcare when tough times call for mothers to share some bread winning.

Is it a condemnatory confession to admit to harbouring an unmet desire to be free of one’s child for a handful of solitary hours a week? I sense moral discernment is destined to pronounce me undeserving and unfit for motherhood. I sneak a peek at Baby-Bel pushing out the zzz’s softly, her arms stretched outwards in an expression of innocent nonchalance, cheeks flushed by the warm haze of sleep. What I feel needs no justification.

Transmission hiatus

Little was I aware how dependent I have become on our laptop. That is, until yesterday afternoon when, upon the familiar action of flipping open the lid, I was greeted by the silent stare of an unblinking black screen. No amount of switching off and back on could resuscitate  the ailing might of Dell’s finest.

Annoyingly, Mr A is right: it is always me who has to sheepishly admit to causing irrevocable damage to our home PC. I have the cursed touch; sadly, not the Midas touch.

So I am sitting here feeling like someone has just turned off my life support and connection to the world at large. No access to files, folders or email. Luckily though we have a media system machine thingummy, which Mr A built (yes, I am married to a man of many talents thereby further highlighting my bungling incompetence), that incorporates internet access, thus explaining my ability to make this post.

I realise I am suddenly at an overwhelming loss of occupation while Baby-Bel is napping – this is the time of day that I leap into action, squeezing the most out of every second of her slumber, to churn out words, thoughts, shelved frustrations and postponed ponderings to friends, family (and on the odd occasion facebook).

In the days that I used to spend ten hours a day in front of not just one but at least two screens, the familiar flashing of neon on LCD was a sight inextricable from the wearisome toil of work. All systems down would have been a more than welcome fleeting reprieve. Back then, I never came across the urge to touch the home PC. Now it is my link to everything external to these four walls – the life I could live and still can live in a parallel virtual existence.

Anyway, Dell promises to send an engineer tomorrow (despite the arrogant call centre jobsworth who patronised me as I imagine he would an ageing and senile techonophobic great aunt). Transmission resumption expected thereafter.