Friday, 24 September 2010

A day in the life of....

Love it when things come together. What I mean by that may not be what you are thinking. I was having a conversation yesterday with the lovely Kate Beddow in which she reminded me about some of the key lessons in life in particular enjoying one's kids when they are young as they do not stay that way for long. Kate is someone who has really blossomed through running her own business. She is happy to build it slowly at the moment to allow her to be with her children and really reveals in being able to choose her hours to suit her.

We embrace this notion of quality time together. Thursday has now become our go slow day. I have a whole morning with my toddler in which we do very little except to be with each other. That said we did have a lovely time last Thursday doing yoga poses from the fab Pretzels collection which are specifically designed for children. I have no car in the morning so am fixed to the house and surrounding village. After lunch the 3 y/o goes for a sleep and my eldest returns from school - she does a half day until December. We then get an hour or so to spend together which includes me watching her do her piano lesson.

Yesterday was slightly different in part because the youngest had picked up a tummy bug and spent much of the day projectile vomiting! Also I had promised to produce something for the World's Biggest Coffee Morning - a charity event to raise money for Macmillan - this morning. Thanks to Mum's the Boss I made their very easy and absolutely scrumptious lemon drizzle cake.

There is always the sense of feeling good when you do something for a cause that is bigger than yourself and your world so that helps to explain some of my sense of well being. Yet it was not so much that as the fact that I found a way of using up a jar of lemon curd that had been sitting in the fridge for a while and a small pack of icing sugar that had been bought with some cake mixture and not used. I love the neatness of the all, it appeals to one of my core values, thrift and not wasting any food wherever possible.

Love to hear from you and whether you got involved in a Macmillan Coffee morning and how that was for you. Also interested in hearing about how you ensure quality time with your kids when you are working

Monday, 20 September 2010

One solution to spiralling childcare costs for the working parent

So it is two weeks since L arrived and she has revolutionised our lives. I was always a fan of having an au pair but it took a bit of convincing of the OH that it was what we needed. It is definitely the answer for those Mums out there who want more intellectual stimulation but for whom the cost of nursery makes work in any meaningful way seem impossible. This tends to be compounded for those with two or more kids. I thought I would share with you how to make having an au pair work as well as some of the funny things that have happened along the way.

One of the major bonuses of having an au pair is that it costs far less than the other options - we pay under £300 a month. It does mean that you need to be clear about the hours that they do - 25 hours is the norm but I do know of Mums that expect their au pairs to do more. A live in au pair comes into its own once the children are in some form of education. My eldest has just started school and my youngest does 5, 3 hour, sessions at nursery over 3 days so that the au pair does not have sole responsibility for the girls on any day. I think the trick to success is having an au pair that is slightly older and therefore more able to take a more considered view of her situation - mine is 27. Also because she is older, and fortunately for us has a degree in childcare studies, I don't feel as guilty leaving her in charge of the girls. All this of course is based on the assumption that you have a spare room for her to sleep in.

When I was considering the option of getting an au pair, the best advice I received was to be very clear about what I expected her to do and not to treat her like a servant. This was excellent because it made me write out a timetable for the week in excel of what I expected her to do. That was painful as it is not my way of working but at least it laid out the week clearly! The danger is that you think it is all over with at that point but I do need to keep a handle on it each week i.e for show and tell. This morning she did forget the 4 y/o's school bag which means she has not got her next jolly phonics letter/ sound.

Thinking about how to integrate au pairs, our view has been to include her as part of the family especially at weekends when she is not working but has yet to develop a social life. It does mean she has seen the other side of family life in that she is getting to know all the grandparents. I always make sure she does stuff she wants too. This Saturday I drove her to Stevenage so that she could check out Primark, a favourite destination of au pairs because it is cheap!

Talking of cars, the funniest experience to date happened on the first weekend L was here. We live in the country and so she has to drive to get the girls to ballet and get to her English classes at college as the bus service is too infrequent to rely on. I knew she was nervous about driving on the left hand side of the road but thought there is nothing to it, after all I manage driving on the right when on the continent. Well I lost count of the number of times we nearly hit a car on the passenger side because she found judging the distance very difficult!! It did not help that she was used to driving a 17 year old car so revved the accelerator rather than lifting the clutch up more. When we stalled we stayed that way for a while. A couple of left hand turns later saw us ending up on the wrong side of the road; fortunately we were not driving into oncoming traffic, one of the joys of country living. After two experiences like that I made the OH go out with her before it got dark and would you believe, he said she was a very good driver that's probably because my two previous attempts had ironed out the kinks. I still can't believe that I did not go grey from the experience.

It is a small price to pay for peace of mind. I do not have to run out the office on the dot of five pm. There are lots of other benefits too. For the first time in absolutely ages, both the OH and I managed to go out for a drink independently with our own friends. I am now planning trips to the cinema and so look forward to watching films when others do rather than months or years later! It brings so much freedom and at such a small price. The best gift she brings is her calmness and unflappable nature in the face of difficult behaviour from the kids who are finding the transition to the new way difficult.

There are so many other bonuses too. She is Spanish, my choice as I speak Spanish. I am so enjoying the opportunity to speak Spanish daily and am discovering new words and rediscovering what has lain dormant for many years. The girls are picking up some words and hopefully with time some phrases too. My hope for them is that they become bilingual, a real gift in a country like ours which has such a poor record when it comes to teaching foreign languages.

Any niggles you ask. No major ones. She does not enjoy cooking but as we love it that is no great hardship. Our response is to make sure we overcook so that there is plenty for the days we are not around. What it does mean is that she is quite prepared to wash up, a task I loathe so it seems a fair division of labour. In addition, she irons which is fab as I am hopeless at that and would rather buy a dry clean item then have to iron! She tends to spend the evenings in her bedroom out of choice unless we invite her downstairs and we have provided her with a flat screen tv and dvd player. Yes it costs more in terms of what we spend on food per week but it all still adds up to far less than other childcare options with many more benefits.

In short providing you can make time to help them settle in and make their down time fun. I am nadly introducing her to other au pairs and nannies in the village as a way of building her social life. We encourage her to get know people at college and have helped her plan a long weekend in London with friends. In two weeks she will receive a free weekend in Bath, the home of my parents, which is a great city for tourists and shopping. So if you are wondering how to make working and having a family go together, do consider an au pair. My only word of advice is that it is best to wait until your children are out of nappies because most au pairs do not have a child care qualification.

Friday, 10 September 2010

How can you juggle work in the City, a family and a life?

Although it is Friday and fewer people read blogs at the end of the week, I am conscious that I have yet to submit a post this week. One of the things that I like to do is reach the goals I set myself and currently I have said I will submit at least one blog post a week quite a challenge with a three day week in the City, as well as pursuing other business interests and spending quality time with the girls on the four days I am not working.

What is the secret to juggling so many balls all at once? Here are my tips on how to do it often learnt through making lots of mistakes:
1. Be very clear about your values and how to make them come alive.
Now I have kids they are my top priority because I know I will never get this time back. It means that I make sure I leave London in time to see them before they go to bed and I am always rewarded with shouts of glee and cuddles which definitely makes it worth while.
2. Have clear boundaries between work, social and family time
I don't like spending my evenings on the laptop so I make sure all big things are completed before I go home so that I can really focus on my other roles as a mum, wife and friend. It is a challenge to get the balance right.
This week my eldest started school and as I started my new role in the last two weeks of August, we could not have a last minute holiday to mark the end of the era or anything like that. However we did have a very special day in which we went to Gulliver's Land just me and the girls. The sun was shining, we had a great picnic and some spoily treats like chips with our sarnies and later an ice cream. Everyone got to go on their favourite rides except for the Python: the youngest was too short for that. It was a great day and a fab way to mark the end of pre-school and the start of a new stage - I highly recommend it.
3. Communicate clearly what you need and want from others
Easy to say and hard to do. With my husband I have realised that I have to spell things out in black and white. A recent example was saying I need thirty minutes to think and write otherwise I get constant interruptions or there is an expectation that I will drop everything to help him with something.
4. Being grateful for what we have
We have our very first au-pair which is exciting and demanding all at the same time. Fortunately we are very lucky to have some with an even temperament who is very obliging but there are things that do not get done. She does not enjoy cooking and I asked her to do sausages, beans and potatoes for the girls. At 6pm nothing had happened because she was playing with the girls and lost track of the time, so my OH who was at home, got up and cooked the dinner. Again tonight she asked to help and I got her to do the cheese sauce, the cheat's way as perfected by Delia - bung the flour, milk and butter in a pan together and stir rapidly. She left it for a while and so we ended up with loads of lumps and much swearing under the breath from me as I tried to fix it.
The way forward: I need to remind myself of how much help she is giving and how many great qualities she has; and my plan is to write a plan of what I expect her to do this w/e along with a meal planner. In fact we are delliberately cooking more than we need so she does not have to do too much cooking on her own. Watch this space.
I hope this post is helpful and would love to hear what it has sparked off in you. I leave you with this thought that taking the time to invest in someone at the beginning and give them support will lead to them being fully effective and happy in their role much more quickly. This is true whether it's an au pair or a colleague at work.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Under pressure

Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day. Do you ever have one of those days when you feel there are loads of things that you need to get done and you don't know how you are going to get them done? If this sounds familiar then you will know what space I am in at the moment. It was in fact always one of my concerns about working in London three days a week. So what I am talking about? Here is my list:

Next week my eldest starts school, I have yet to buy her a pair of school shoes. An event I am not relishing because she is not a fan of black. That will happen later today.

The au pair arrives on Tuesday and we still need to make some changes to her room, most importantly we need to purchase a duvet as up until recently we only had bedding for double beds.

Ebay items that we sold at the weekend have to be packaged up, labelled and sold so that purchasers get them in a reasonable time frame.

In addition I have two pieces of work that I need to complete before Monday and tonight it is not possible because I hosting my book group. Something I engineered so that I could attend as I have missed the last few. Let's not get started on the state of the house which will need to be tidied up before they arrive at 8pm.

In addition I have until tomorrow to write an article for a magazine that I write for monthly.

To say that life feels a bit squeezed is an understatement. Why I am writing this blog with all of that to face you might ask. The main reason is that I thought this would be cathartic but in the process, my eldest who no longer sleeps has been unable to play on her own and my youngest, who is aware that the eldest is up, wants to get up and forego her nap. The second is a sense of duty. I want to keep posting something at least once a week so that there is new material for my readers.

Ah well onwards and upwards, I probably just have time to find the ralph lauren skirt I sold at the weekend and package it up to post it when we go out.