Monthly Archives: February 2009

“I’m Not That Kind of Mum”

I say this with such an air of confidence.

It’s a friday night and the girls and I are out for drinks. Just the four of us from the “Mom Dept.” We have been colleagues for years, but bonded for real when we popped our spawn with a few weeks between us. There is an easy compatability, a disarming honesty and an abundance of belly laughs in this group. Most importantly, a complete absence of judgement.

E is telling us about a co-worker who moped through an entire weekend trip to London, longing for her children. That’s when it slips out. “I’m definitely not that kind of mum!”

Quite honestly, I’m not. This was no false bravado. I have a career that requires travelling. This is one of the reasons I love what I do as much as I do. At regular intervals, I am sent to see wonderful cities in (often) fascinating countries, equipped with a generous expense account. And then occasionally, I have a five-hour stop in Schiphol on the way to a deadbeat Belgian town. You can’t win them all.

I love travel and I love to meet people. I enjoy demanding work. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to surround myself with seriously interesting and cool people on a Saturday night (or a Wednesday for that matter!) and party my hiney off without having to worry about anyone but myself the next morning. Its not that I don’t miss my family or that they are not on my mind. More often, it is the combination of a packed schedule and the delicious feeling of not having to be seen as someone’s wife/mother/daughter for a few days. Of being free to be just me, unfettered by my usual qualifiers. I relish that immeasurably. It baffles me that anyone would spend any amount of time openly moping for WHAT YOU WILL HAVE IN ANOTHER THREE DAYS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! instead of breathing in and enjoying that moment.

As you may have guessed by now, I am destined to choke on unimaginable quantities of humble pie.

Last week, I had five days in St. Petersburg. A gracious, opulent city spilling at the seams with history, beauty and culture. The kind of city that leaves you drunk on baroque and slack-jawed with admiration for its intense passion for culture. And then it was on to a tiny, sleepy university town in Wales called Newport, where unbeknownst even to its inhabitants, spring was upon us. The grass was green, the sun shone and warmed the earth and tiny, exquisite flowers timidly reared their head. In both places, I met great people,  experienced the wonderful culture and hospitality, engaged in interesting conversations, did my work and retired to my room.

Utterly miserable. Miserable that the Viking and I have been bickering so much lately and that we have been too sleep-deprived to enjoy anything much. Miserable that the kids were sick/upset again and missing me. Missing being able to comfort them and just being home. What really caught me off guard was how achingly I missed the physical closeness that is such a given with children in your life. How after a certain period, your body reacts to not being hugged with wild abandon and smothered with kisses. How I almost have to restrain myself from scooping up a beautiful Russian babushka-like child I see on the street to hold her close. The longing for chubby little hands and gentle brown eyes!

A couple of bottles of wine later, I am closer to an explanation of what I consider to be my bizarre behaviour. I love my family. But lately, it has been hard to love my family. Let me rephrase that – it has been hard to love my family well. There has been a lot of work and there has been a lot of illness. There have been packed weeks and even more packed weekends. Sleep has become a precious commodity. Place these factors in a sensible matrix and the result is pretty much the same.

A big sucky stew.

At some point, wading through this unlovely morass, you look at your work. And you like it because you control it and it responds to efforts in a predictable manner. Hell, you LOVE it. At work, you are serious and responsible and everything gets done on schedule. People send you e-mails telling you how much they appreciate your efforts. They pat you on the back and say, “good job”. You are generous and diplomatic and sane. You are validated.

You come home and everything is not only insane, but also entirely out of your control and going belly-up. Kids will not eat properly, kids will not sleep properly, you bicker over basic chores and all those wonderful skills that helped you steer that board meeting? – it is as if you never had them. You no longer have your firm, controlled voice or your solid arguments. You waver perilously between fascism and pleading. And you flounder hopelessly without a manual to help you steer this life, these people.

So back to my coherent explanation. In the periods when one loves well, one is more free of guilt and therefore less prone to mope in the absence of love-objects – having given freely of oneself in the moment and all that. Subsequently, when we do a deplorable job of loving well, and living and loving in the moment with our families is about as delightful as repeatedly punching our own ears, we must give into mope attacks in the absence of said love-objects. Am I onto something here? Will Rhonda Byrne co-author with me?

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I am on my way home and hanging out for a couple of hours at Schiphol airport. I do my usual round of shopping, check out designer labels I will always ill-afford and saunter towards the sushi bar. This is my sacred Schiphol ritual. An hour before boarding, I will hit the sushi bar and place the “usual” order. Six sushi rolls, four maki and a glass of their best champagne. With enough wasabi and ginger to put your rear end on fire. I relish my final moments to myself, by myself.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the bar mirror. Well dressed, confident and assured. Plate of sushi in one hand, glass of champagne in the other. Sleek hair, cute pumps and funky bag. I suppress a near-hysterical giggle as I survey my personal mirage – the young, 30-something corporate traveller. Is that me?

It is a part of me, maybe a part of me that needs to live and breathe just as much as the frazzled mum-of-two who is always behind on her chores, low on domestic motivation and trying to ignore her frizzy hair and awful skin. The mum in godawful peejays and t-shirts from the 90’s, who still hasn’t shed her baby weight. The mother who hears with a heavy heart about the Turkish airline that crashed just beyond Schiphol, aching for those who would never be re-united with someone they loved.

Just like that, my weariness and occasional resentment fade to nothing in the face of an immense gratitude for this rich life, with all its inherent challenges, complications and choices. Gratitude for a hearth, a home and three lads who, inspite of rough patches, always make choosing easy.

Ultimately, I am their screwy kind of Mum. And then some.

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Tagged!

I was tagged by a Facebook buddy and decided to take it up on a particularly jobless night.

25 Random Shal Facts

1. Highly sentimental. I keep EVERYTHING. Ticket stubs from special dates, post-it notes left by the Lad, deli placemats. I would have even kept the stub from my babies’ umbilical cord if grossness had not prevailed. I. Must. Be. Stopped.

2. I love Red. And Black. and Purple. Colour analysis clearly reveals manic depressive tendencies. And some illusions of tragic grandeur.

3. I am not politically tolerant. Chances are – if you are Rush Limbaugh or the ultra right-wing, politically conservative guy living down my street, I will hate you. I will not try and understand your POV, mostly because I think it sucks.

4. I am drawn to music lovers. I am prone to judge people based on the kind of music they listen to (as do you!). My husband is the only non-musical person I have hooked up with. He made up for it by wooing me with Ravel and Bach and (in the last 10 years) providing the musical hardware and software to keep the missus happy and spiritually intact.

5. I strongly dislike the Norwegian word “Fruen”, meaning Mrs. Why don’t you just call me “Hey-frumpy-lady-in-sodding-apron-looking-terminally-depressed.” Yes, why don’t you? And watch my right hook.

6. My terminal crush on Ethan Hawke has sort of fed on itself and grown for the past 20 years. See, I’m capable of a long-term relationship.

7. I can literally consume my body weight in jelly. I loves me some jelly THAT much.

8. If the husband and I so much as breathe each others breath, we get pregnant. Disgusting -and proof that nature has no logical plan. I LOVED being pregnant and having a body full of baby. A dangerous combination. Probably a good reason to be cursed with horrendous births that probably serve as cautionary tales in medical textbooks.

9. Is there an expiry date for being besotted by your children? I will always miss the exquisite feeling of a baby perfectly nestled against my heart, eyelids perfectly pink and limbs heavy with sleep.

10. Over-zealous, politically correct, done-by-the-book parenting bores and annoys me. I’m going for interesting kids who will join us for dinner and loud, heated debate. An appreciation of inappropriate humour is mandatory.

11. There is something incredibly sexy about people who wear their authority and knowledge lightly. Yes, Barack Obama, you know who I mean. And don’t you slink away, Jonas Gahr Støre.

12. Top OCD: I need to make the bed perfectly, hospital corners and all, before I lie in it at night.

13. I am a night owl. I do my best work between 10.p.m. and 7 a.m. I am a total misfit in a 9 to 5 world.

14. My brother and I had a ridiculously happy childhood surrounded by a large extended family with talented and unusual people. I am still trying to figure out how my parents made life seem easy.

15. I don’t really enjoy dancing. I’m a singer. I trained in Carnatic (South Indian classical music) for 6 years and I miss the trained voice I once possessed. Whether its acting or singing, I love the tremendous high of being onstage. The paralysing shyness seconds before the curtains go up and the rush of a good performance.

16. No latte or cappuccino will ever hit the spot like a good cuppa masala chai or South Indian filter coffee.

17. In 50 years, the lad and I will be in adjoining wheelchairs, still bickering about the temperature of the thermostat and why the hell am I ALWAYS late for everything?

18. It was a good idea to get hitched to a man who is a world champion bear-hugger, hand-holder and back-rubber. A true triathlete he is.

19. Its been a long road from half a room in paying guest accommodation in Bombay to suburbia in Sandnes. The big city girl is still sitting the fence on this one.

20. My perfect holiday involves concrete pavements, sand, a pool, books and a extensive range of alcoholic beverages. And a HUGE bed you need a road map to find your way out of.

21. e.e. cummings is my favourite poet. Followed by Rilke, Neruda, and Tagore. And lately, Wendy Cope.

22. I re-read books obsessively. Especially if they are by Haruki Murakami, Nick Hornby, Frank McCourt, Alice Walker or Jeanette Winterson. I can never be well-read.

23. I have watched Sound of Music 25 times and know every single song and turn of phrase by heart. For years I wished for my mothers’ speedy metamorphosis into Julie Andrews.

24. Lyrics that always give me goosies: “Juliet, the dice were loaded from the start.

And I bet and you exploded in my heart.

And I forget I forget the movie song..

When you gonna realise it was just that the time was wrong?”. Thank you, Dire Straits.

25. I never really believed in being connected through several lifetimes till I held my babies for the first time.

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Why I hang in there..

.. through a gruelling week at work.

A few key things.

Saturday. The bed. The Boys arm in arm in arm. And waffles or pancakes that aren’t featured here.

Winter sheets

Reading in bed

Glee

Just plain wicked, this mite!

My freeze frames of happiness.

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