Three Words

Feisty, fun, brave – these are the three words I would choose to describe my friend Amanda, whose funeral is tomorrow. After an arduous, painful and brave battle against cancer she passed away last week, leaving behind a supportive and loving husband and her five year old boy. He is the one I am thinking of today: the deserted survivor; with barely enough years behind him to comprehend the breadth and depth of his own sadness.

Not long ago, she had said that one of her greatest gifts from the big C was its generosity in allowing her at least the time to see her little boy start school. She recognised that in that most precious and depreciating commodity of time, we should value the high points and simply let go of the low.

In life, we are divided into two camps: those who fight for what they want and those who follow what they’re given. Amanda was the contender who put complacent resignation to shame.

I will remember you in your hairdresser’s convertible, roof down, sunglasses on and driving with your perfectly pedicured feet in pink flip flops. And of course, I will remember you for your strength of character, optimism, energy and not least of all, our shared love of clothes.

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Handbags at Dawn

This article was first published on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/02/16/handbags-at-dawn/ on 16 February 2011.

In the bygone era of my banking days, I was once hailed as the Imelda Marcos of handbags.
Today, while walking past the local Waitrose, furiously conducting an internal debate over this evening’s  dinner options (is spagbol twice in a week too much?), I glanced in the window to spot a familiar face. She was looking a tad bedraggled with a hint of the disorganised madwoman about her and she was carrying a rather limp looking nylon handbag of Le Sportsac variety. Then I realised it was me.
It strikes me that I am a long way (geographically, mentally and most evidently, sartorially) from the Birkin-toting self of yore. My footwear is a rotating cycle of Ugg boots/ FitFlop Mukluks/ trainers – a good three inches lower than the de rigeur uniform of towering heels, scaling the corporate ladder. Rosa Klebb dagger was optional but useful in disposing of the opposition especially during bonus season.
Recent years have seen my arm candy of choice reduced to the hideous Le Sportsac (which doubles as a nappy bag) and a wipe clean PVC Cath Kidston number. Suddenly I am pining for my 2.55 (aka Chanel, for the handbag heathens out there). Notwithstanding the fear of a small child defacing a bag worth more than a small car.
I practically run home, almost mowing down a couple of pensioners in the process, sprint up the stairs to the attic where, gathering dust, resides a box marked ‘handbags’. Tearing it open, I discover they are nestled alongside two other long lost friends I haven’t seen in far too long; namely, freedom and independence.
So I have vowed to sling on an impractical but beautiful bag and strap on some killer heels the next time I am not doing the nursery run/ performing a supermarket sweep/ chasing children round a playground. As for my dear friends, freedom and independence, they have been lovingly laid back to rest in the attic for another few years.

Sleeping with the Elephant

This article was first published on 1 Feb 2011 on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/02/01/sleeping-with-the-elephant/

Some use alcohol as an emotional crutch; others use food; and more still use religion. As for my son, his crutch comes in the form of a decapitated elephant head attached to a scrap of, admittedly very tactile, blue fabric.

More specifically, the ears of said elephant – he cannot enter the land of nod without having one clamped firmly in the gummy grip of his mouth.

An unsuspecting newborn gift from the far-flung reaches of across the pond has unwittingly become the dreaded ‘lovie’ (Baby Whisperer lingo) a.k.a. comforter/ blankie/ security blanket. It appears my 8 month old is Linus reincarnate.

The problem is that half a dozen months of sucking on said elephant’s ears has left it looking rather lacklustre and fearing the day he awakes to Dumbo with downright disintegrated ears, the quest began for some sneaky substitution. Mr A recommended a bout of cold turkey but I’m yet to find a life occasion worthy of veering from the path of least resistance.

Many hours of (much interrupted) cyber surfing later, it transpires that my son has been inconsiderate enough to develop an addiction to something nigh on impossible to get his grubby hands on outside the US . Amazon (.com not .co.uk) will sell and send for the price of the GDP of a small nation with delivery anywhere up to a month. Cold turkey wouldn’t even take that long. Then, eureka, Google uncovers some obscure luxury baby goods retailer here in Blighty who actually stock them. The euphoria can only be likened to Mr Newton’s apple on head moment. No matter that the cost leaves barely enough change for a skinny latte from a fifty (GBP not JPY).

The elephants (yes, plural – shame it wasn’t 3 for 2 or BOGOF)  arrived yesterday to much whooping and smugness. Evening rolled on and a box-fresh elephant was placed in the cot while his bordering on unhygienic relation, was flung on the precariously close to a landslide of a laundry mountain. But all elephants are NOT created equal. The 8 month old cast it aside like poo from his shoe and as punishment for my efforts to deceive him, promptly engaged in a 90 minute screaming session.

So here’s hoping the course of cold turkey doesn’t last as long as that left over from the Christmas dinner. As for the exorbitantly priced elephants (ears intact), they are waiting patiently for friends (or foe) to have new babies. At which point, the cycle of desperate parents hunting down substitutes will restart (it beggars belief what parents will pay for the promise of a good night’s sleep). And as for me, I will be first in line if that company ever floats.

 

The Good, The Bad and The Short

In a bid to squeeze in some warm Waltons-family type of weekend activity, I booked tickets for us all to see Snow White (the panto) at the local theatre. Pantomimes have never been my viewing of choice. Even when within the target age group, the garish getups and cross dressing characters made me cringe rather than laugh. German mum of one thought that a pantomime was a silent theatre show (a ‘mime’) – if only. The idea of the quintessentially English panto is so diametrically opposed to the restrained, stiff upper lip English reserve that it’s almost like the  Mr Hyde alter ego.
Actually, despite the very amateurish performance and the man a few seats along from us with VERY dubious personal hygiene issues, oh, and the fact there was no chocolate icecream available in the interval, it was, dare I admit it, most enjoyable.
Tinkerbell is now an aspiring dancer (preferably more Black Swan standard). Mr A is now experienced in dealing with the wrath of fellow audience members seated in the row in front when Golden Boy gleefully grabs handfuls of their hair (useful for our impending holiday flight). And I (just about) managed to explain (a) why it’s okay to be a dwarf and (b) why the Queen (Snow White’s mummy) wanted to kill her daughter without engendering any paranoia in my own two year old.
Two and a half hours later, Golden Boy was officially getting restless and Mr A was late for a conference call (yes, on Sunday evening – boo hiss – sorry!) so our Waltons–esque family outing was officially over.
Today, after I confiscated her new 10 colours-in-one Hello Kitty pen as punishment for defacing my favourite White Company duvet cover, Tinkerbell now believes I am the ‘mean Queen’ personified.

(Thirty) Seven Year Itch

My parents have been married for 37 years. It has recently become apparent to my father that his itch has now reached such insurmountable levels that it can no longer go unscratched. Who better to provide said scratching than someone only a handful of years my senior with no child bearing scars, stretch-marks or indeed any familial duties that make so many of us only a shadow of our former fun selves.
My mother is distraught; my father dismissive of the depth of his betrayal; my siblings and I are wedged firmly in the unenviable position of choosing a side.
Apparently we are to view our situation as fortunate – we could have faced the prospect of single parent syndrome while we were still dependents. Instead, we all now have our very own set of dependents. The family unit is knitted together to tightly yet so precariously – like a precious winter woollie: one snag could potentially unravel its entire existence.
But every hurdle is a life-lesson. As I one-knit, one-purl through my own relationship, I am ever more vigilant about its tenacity.

Tiger tiger burning bright… here to give your child a fright

This article was first published on 20 January 2011 on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/01/20/tiger-tiger-shining-bright/

Oh how this media circus surrounding Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, or more specifically, her child rearing philosophy, must be helping her Amazon stats!
Being inadvertently the offspring of a ‘Tiger Mother’ (of sorts – she was coincidentally born in the Year of the Tiger but that’s by the by), has instigated innocent inquiries by the truckload at the nursery gates regarding my stance on the issue. With narrow-eyed  suspicion, the underlying question is, ‘Am I a closet control freak with borderline child abuse tendencies? And if so, may I please retract last week’s invite for a playdate’.
My reply would make a politician proud; discretely adopting a different angle to cater to the appropriate audience. Say, in response to mum who still co-sleeps with her as yet un-toilet trained three year old, I laugh off Ms Chua’s philosophy as just an exaggeration of any conceivable reality. But in the spotlight of mum who has slept with a copy of her Gina Ford bible under her pillow since her pregnancy tested positive and is not altogether against the theory of corporal punishment, I am willing to concede Ms Chua has me wondering how best to utilise her technique with my own children.
In the aftermath of the consumerism that epitomises Christmas, my two year old was dutifully making a mountain of Thank You cards. A few cards in and probably already bored at the tedium of drawing a big smiley face under the stick-on googly eyes, she rebelliously scrawled and defaced the next card. Not quite as severe as Ms Chua’s throwing it back in her face and declaring it ‘rubbish’ approach, I did deem it substandard and suitable only for some distant relation, too distant to judge her (me) on my, ahem, her, artistic abilities.
As we resumed the card-making production line, I wondered whether any unintentional criticism is an assault on my daughter’s self-esteem and rather, should I err on the side of caution and deem her every effort worthy of a Turner Prize. Because that is invariably the way of the modern western world: confidence is boosted to the point of delusion. How else does Simon Cowell ensure a steady stream of willing fools convinced of their X factor status?
The dirty truth is that I do want the best for my babies. Who can argue with that? Growing up, my Tigress of a mother ranted relentlessly about the importance of doing myself justice in life. I strived to be the best (refused to partake if I wasn’t haha) and achieved straight As (pre the A* era) throughout my school years .  While I may not have engaged in the fun of my friends smoking, snogging and downing Diamond White behind the bike sheds, I don’t feel remotely deprived.
I don’t condone ruling with a rod of iron and whipping children into high achieving automatons but, being a mother myself now (Tigress status to be confirmed), I do believe in encouraging our future generations to be the best within their ability. There is a risk that in this age of plenty we lose sight of instilling an appreciation for opportunities taken for granted, encouraging a squandering mentality.
Ms Chua may well engender the Marmite love it or hate it response in the manner of a Gina Ford technique for our older offspring but as Gina fans know, there is method in her madness!

New Year’s Revelation

After the best part of a bottle of wine, the discussion turned to reminiscing on momentous occasions of 2010.
Mr A is silent for a while, in what I presuppose to be awed reverence and remembrance at the thought of Golden Boy’s birth.  Pause complete, he pipes up with, ‘All I can remember is the smell when they cut you open; like offal at the butchers… only more pungent as it was warm’. Pop! The rose tinted memory bubble surrounding GB’s birth is now tainted for eternity by a smell that no amount of Oust will out.
There comes a point in a woman’s life AD (after delivery) when she feels she has plunged the depths of dignity-defying degradation. Legs akimbo, screaming like a banshee, while naked from the waist down and carrying more excess body weight than a heavy duty sumo wrestler, it’s hard to cling onto the smallest shard of dignity.  But now I see that Dante was onto something: Hell hath more levels than a woman simply slit open.